McKinsey wants to eat your lunch—what are you going to do about it?

The consulting industry’s most prestigious brand may have been harbouring one of its best kept secrets.

For many, the name McKinsey conjures up the classical image of the management consultant: The sharp-suited, smooth-talking, well-educated advisor who has lunch in the top restaurants with the top people in your business, directs a team of brilliant minions to address your most complex strategic questions, and then delivers a PowerPoint masterclass before pirouetting out the door with pockets full of cash.

But this image is increasingly out of line with where growth is coming from in consulting. Do what the classical management consultant does and your pockets might not end up full of much cash at all. Far more lucrative at the moment is work related to digital transformation, which dwarves pretty much everything else in the world of consulting.

The trouble is that the name McKinsey hasn’t necessarily sprung to mind in that space. Just last year, I spoke with a client at a UK energy company who said: “If it’s digital transformation I’m after, I wouldn’t go to McKinsey or Bain; I wouldn’t even put them on a shortlist. It’s probably a bit unfair, but I look more at the history of these firms.”

And yet, hiding in plain sight, McKinsey has been building its digital capabilities, beefing up its implementation arm, and acquiring creative agencies. Its share of the digital market is over 5%, behind only Accenture and Deloitte.That’s all the more remarkable because McKinsey presumably had a lot of catching up to do in initially building its technology capabilities, before the additional hurdle of then convincing clients that it’s the firm they should choose to help them in this space. And it’s all without ever really making a big splash about the full breadth of what it can do.

No more. This week McKinsey launched its new brand, setting out its stall and telling the world loudly and clearly that, in the words of Peter Dahlstrom, McKinsey goes “beyond just helping clients see the way forward, and are working much more actively to make the change happen, make the change stick.” The word “strategy” isn’t mentioned once in the introduction video that it has put together to announce the launch, but we do hear about digital skills (complete with a long-haired, bearded man, obviously) and its creative design capabilities, alongside funky data visualisation. A lot of time is spent talking about the new typography and logo (less interesting), but most people will have stopped watching by that point.

The new brand addresses three criticisms we frequently hear about strategy consultants, and perhaps McKinsey in particular:

  • Strategy firms produce too much PowerPoint and not enough action: Emblazoning its website with the slogan “creating change that matters” aims to deal with and puncture this perception from the get-go.
  • Strategy firms aren’t serious about technology: McKinsey emphasises that 4,000 of its 30,000 people are “fully dedicated” to digital and analytics. That’s 13% of the firm, which, when put like that, doesn’t sound that impressive, but is probably more than many people expected.
  • Strategy firms are arrogant, do things to you and not with you, and don’t listen: The new “Partnership Mark” may be a bit gimmicky, but it at least challenges the perception of McKinsey-the-machine and explicitly promotes McKinsey as an ongoing partner rather than occasional strategic advisor.

Whether the firm has truly changed much underneath its shiny new image is another question, but its new brand is certainly a bold statement of intent. McKinsey moving “downstream” and into new markets isn’t a new thing, but competitors have tried to dismiss it as mere dabbling—a side project to its main aim of delivering strategy. Now it’s officially the firm’s mission. McKinsey wants to eat your lunch, so what are you going to do about it?