Are you a ketchup firm or a mustard firm?

Is your company a ketchup firm—or a mustard firm? Stick with us, we promise that will make sense in a bit…

In our recent research on “The Value Problem” in consulting, we identified the five dimensions of value. Positioned as possible responses to an important question—Why use consultants instead of doing things yourself?—these dimensions were our attempt to recognise that the word “value” can mean very different things to different clients.

Supporting that idea, our survey of clients found that some firms were much more strongly associated with some of the five dimensions than others. We were able to use this data to put together a visual “value topography” of the industry, mapping out which firms were seen as emblematic—in the minds of clients—of each of these types of value.

This is where condiments come into the picture (we promised!). In 1876, a Pittsburgh businessman named Henry John Heinz decided to cut his losses selling pickled horseradish and get into the ketchup game. Heinz Ketchup quickly became one of the nation’s—and the world’s—favourite sauces.

And the secret to its success? A perfectly balanced flavour profile. Bite into a Heinz-covered burger and you’ll detect notes of all five of the fundamental tastes; regardless of your flavour preferences, it’s difficult for anyone to really dislike ketchup all that much. But while Heinz has dominated the ketchup game, there is much more variety when it comes to mustards. There are spicy mustards, sharp mustards, sweet mustards—a cornucopia of condiments, each dominated by a single culinary note.

Can you see where we’re going with this? Just as there are benefits to be found in a balanced flavour profile, there are a lot of advantages to being a firm with a balanced value profile. The PwCs and Deloittes of the industry are the equivalents of ketchup—reliable choices, regardless of the type of value you’re looking for. But sometimes, you need some mustard on your fries. Neither is objectively better than the other; there is room in the industry for both firms that straddle the five dimensions of value and firms that excel in one or two of them. And knowing which you are—and which you want to be—is critically important when it comes to selling your value proposition to prospective buyers.