GCC client perceptions data – It had us climbing walls

  • Julie Ahadi

Let’s start with a predefined notion of “normal” from a western perspective:

  1. A western male teenager: Dresses in a hoody, wears expensive trainers, and spends time either graffitiing or climbing walls.
  2. A young Arab man: Walks aimlessly around malls for hours, dressed in a sparkly white, freshly laundered thawb and headdress (with sandals).

Perhaps that’s the reason, therefore, that a video, showing an Arab man in traditional attire as described above, scaling multiple buildings in sandy (undisclosed) locations, went viral earlier this year. His speed and dexterity has earned him the nickname “Spiderman of the Gulf”. But, aside from the fact he was wearing the most inappropriate footwear–yes, sandals–is it that much of a big deal? A young, fit man with time on his hands and energy to burn choosing to climb a building or ten? It seems pretty standard for any–and all–silly antics to be filmed by your mates and uploaded onto YouTube these days. And that’s exactly what happened here. So it’s not the act so much as the circumstances–i.e., someone doing something which is completely at odds with our cultural stereotypes–that amuses us so.

Not so much amusing as bemusing, were the results, in their raw form, from a survey of 543 clients in the GCC about their perceptions of consulting firms working in the region. Contrary to what we have heard elsewhere, these opinions were very different (we have surveyed clients across the Nordics, UK, France, the US, and Germany for our “Client Perceptions Programme”). For example, rated second in terms of quality for risk & regulatory services was…errm, Hay Group.

To help make sense of this, and plenty like it, we had to take a step back and apply some deeper thought as to why this could be, especially when the responses we had were often at odds with what we expected. Just because things are pretty established in more mature markets regarding which consulting firms do what (i.e., McKinsey does strategy, Hay Group does HR etc.), doesn’t mean that is necessarily a true reflection of how they are positioning themselves today. Indeed, if an asteroid were to hit, and consulting firms somehow managed to survive (you just know they’d find a way), they’d no doubt want to tweak their brand appeal slightly, to bring it more in line with what they actually do and what they truly want clients to know them for.

So, as tempting as it is to file the results from GCC-based clients in the “odd results from emerging markets” box (as has been done to a normal teenager having a bit of fun climbing buildings and taking advantage of the digital age), what we are eminently aware of is that emerging markets do not necessarily bear witness to, and abide by, outdated notions of how consulting works. Clients here have built up their own understanding about the suppliers they work with, which is based on experience rather than legacy: So Hay Group being rated so highly in the risk space may be the result of clients there seeing risk from the perspective of talent more than anything else (while those outside the GCC are conditioned to think about it in financial or technological terms). It’s with this kind of thing in mind that we believe our GCC Client Perceptions report may hold the answers for how and for what clients may come to view consulting firms in the future. As for youngsters climbing on buildings; I think we are universally in agreement that we’d rather they didn’t.