It may come as a surprise that clients respond favourably to the ‘branded offers’ a handful of the more thoughtful consultancies have created. They can so easily be dismissed by sceptics as just a way of boosting fees – a bit like adding the word ‘strategic’ to a consultancy’s descriptor.
Though many schemes, like Nucleus’s brand evaluation offer BrandDueDiligence, boast awkward names, their essence is spot on. It is about building trust and firm relationships on a foundation of openness and dialogue, often with hard data thrown in.
Of course, this isn’t new. Over the years groups such as global giant Ideo and WPP Group-owned branding specialist Coley Porter Bell, have developed ways to involve clients more closely in the creative process. Others have undertaken research into areas of possible interest to clients to edge their way into emerging markets – the approach pioneered in the late 1980s by the old Michael Peters Group’s new-product development arm Brand New has, for example, been picked up by the likes of Ergo and Pearlfisher, both of which trace their origins to MPG.
But with clients now more attuned to design and, arguably, more exacting they seem to be more willing for consultancies to take on a broader advisory role. This has enabled the likes of Nucleus, Elmwood and CPB to formalise and develop what they were already doing for clients and market it as an added strength.
There are three main advantages to most branded offers. First, they create a way of evaluating design. This is vital if design is to prove its effectiveness to business – and the success of the Design Business Association’s International Design Effectiveness Awards shows how keen clients are on that.
Second, they generally cut across the ‘us and them’ culture that so often mars consultancies’ dealings with clients. Language is vital here and the best schemes put communication at their heart.
Third, they show a real point of difference between one group and the next. This is crucial, given the very similar claims and portfolios presented to clients by groups maintaining that they stand apart from the rest. To offer a tailored service such as Elmwood’s Step Change or Rawls & Company’s Echochamber really does say something about a consultancy’s personality.
So go ahead and develop offers as a way of attracting or hanging on to clients and a way of learning yourselves. But be sure you build on your strengths and complement your main business before you brand them, rather than bombard clients with another raft of hollow claims.