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Returning from the Festival of Marketing held in London last month, I was struck by a couple of things. First, that marketeers in all industries, not just professional services, feel somewhat unloved by colleagues in other functions. Second, that so many of the presentations were essentially about justifying the existence of marketing to bogeymen like CFOs and other people who like to measure things.
I happen to think marketeers, especially those in professional services, have a really tough gig. It’s difficult enough to communicate what’s different about products that are essentially very similar to what’s already out there, let alone doing that with services that are often intangible and amorphous. And it’s extremely hard to show a return on big ticket brand-building investment, which, by nature, takes a sustained effort and a long time before it yields results.
But before you get out your tiny violins for the marketeers of professional services, I’d like to present evidence that not all marketing budgets are spent entirely wisely.
Sparked initially by the news that McKinsey is to “start selling underwear and make-up”, I Googled various consulting firm names and “merchandise” and found myself sucked into a black hole from which I could not escape. It was an emotional rollercoaster I had not expected to be taken on, finding myself at various points shocked, amused, baffled, and alarmed.
First, shock. Shock that so many firms have the resources to create entire clothing lines bearing their name. Shock that there is (presumably) a market for this. On more than one occasion, shock that these websites are actually available to the public (“Surely, this is a mistake—it’s meant for the firm’s intranet?”)
Next, amusement. Imagine how gangster you’ll feel wearing a Deloitte ball cap, which, perhaps showing that it knows its audience, the website helpfully explains “offers an old school look that is popular all over again”. You could wear it with Accenture’s Beats-style headphones which it implores you to buy “while supplies last”. Next, I found myself wondering how many units it takes to enter EY’s “bestsellers” section, with its inspiring selection of mugs and USB pen drives.
Amusement soon gave way to bafflement. Who on earth signed off Grant Thornton’s essential oil blend? The blurb encourages you to “spoil the senses of your cherished clients” by providing their bodies with “a cooling, relaxing, and calming effect—and Grant Thornton is all about letting its clients know they can relax.” Who wants to smell like auditors? What was the thought process behind this product? Surely no one wants to smell like ten accountants trapped in a windowless room for 14 hours during busy season.
Finally, alarm. Alarm that someone has created a white baby onesie with a printed lanyard on that says “Future Deloitte Partner”. Available in sizes from newborn to 24 months, this baby onesie is perfect for parents that want to project their failed ambitions onto their own flesh and blood at the earliest possible opportunity.
Seriously though—has anyone ever bought anything because of firm-branded tat? Does some of this not amount to the opposite of its intention—brand destruction? Every time I think about Eau de Grant Thornton I laugh out loud. An egocentric partner may think his client will appreciate an Accenture-branded Tiffany bowl but I suspect it just highlights a misplaced sense of their importance in their clients’ lives. My advice to marketers: The next time someone approaches you with an idea to put your firm’s name on a water bottle that’s also a bluetooth speaker, smother them with one of those firm-branded blankets that have been gathering dust since they were ordered.