Getting marketing right, right now

  • Margaret Cameron-Waller

What marketing is appropriate right now?

That’s a question we’ve been asked on a number of occasions over the last few days. Obviously, face-to-face events such as roundtables, conferences, and exhibitions are all on hold; but in an age of digital marketing, there’s still a lot that can be done.

Still, there’s an important difference between finding things to do and doing the right thing, and this is a tricky balance to strike. Marketing teams need to be able to give good guidance to consulting partners and staff, because getting it wrong could prove damaging for a consulting brand.

Doubtless the situation will continue to evolve, and responses will need to evolve correspondingly, but here are a few early ideas about getting it right based on conversations we’ve been having and our own experience:

Firstly, it’s important to remember that clients look to consulting firms for new ideas and new ways to approach problems. In other words, clients are looking for innovation. In their positioning messages, many consulting firms reference that their mission is about “building, creating, leading, imagining …” so the time could never be better to demonstrate, through their marketing, how they do this within their own business operations. It’s time, in other words, to lead by example.

One obvious early approach that’s appropriate right now is to share stories of how the consulting firm itself is responding to the COVID-19 situation, for example, by home and remote working. As a sector, consulting has been at the forefront of developments in this arena and putting this into practice now will arguably be less of an upheaval for most firms than it is for many of their clients. Real-life examples of co-working, sharing materials, conducting video conferences, brainstorming, and other business activities now being done remotely will be of interest – particularly where these are cutting edge and, for example, working across borders.

But we’re also hearing examples of consulting firms offering their services to organisations that need help on a pro-bono basis, or at least on a basis where different approaches to pricing are brought to bear. From a marketing perspective, this doesn’t mean leaping on the opportunity to bombard social media with a list of all the fantastic things you’re doing around the world. Instead, it’s about putting in place a serious, top-down response that aligns with a firm’s brand values and is aimed at demonstrating to clients that the firm is really there for them when they need it most.

Alongside these initial communications, consulting firms need to turn their attention to supporting business development activity. From the conversations that we’ve had recently with consulting firms around the world, it’s clear that new business development is likely to come under stress in the coming months. Building relationships, particularly with new clients, is very hard when you can’t meet face-to-face. This means that thought leadership has an enhanced role to play for a consulting business right now – to help fill the void in demonstrating what a firm can offer to clients and why it is different.

Getting that right can be tricky though. Like most people we’ve already been inundated with articles flooding our inboxes along the lines of “what COVID-19 means for XYZ sector …”. This type of material clearly has an important role to play but it’s also likely become tiresome for readers quite quickly. (For those old enough, there are parallels here with the millennium bug which prompted acres of “Y2K” articles.) And with consultants at home, perhaps with more time on their hands, the tendency to scribble down 1000 words on a topic and push it out rapidly is to be avoided. This is most definitely a situation where less is more. What clients need right now is not a constant stream of half-baked thoughts, but a few carefully-selected and high-quality pieces of thought leadership that provide genuine insights into the challenges they’re facing. Of course that’s true any time, but it’s all the more important at the moment. And, counter-intuitive though it may seem, clients may also thank you if COVID-19 does not always dominate the narrative. And remember to bear in mind how well your thought leadership is aligning with your firm’s brand values and its purpose – it’s time to be strategic in your approach to thought leadership, and to marketing generally.

In the meantime, with the situation evolving rapidly, we’d be really interested to hear your views about what’s working and what’s not.

You can view our latest update on the impact COVID-19 is having on the consulting industry here.