The Uphill Battle Facing Marketers in Management Consulting Firms

Natalie Koay

Natalie Koay

The management consulting world is undergoing a seismic shift.

Back in the 80’s and 90’s, getting published in Harvard Business Review was enough to start a conversation and ride that wave all the way to a client’s office. But there’s a high level of difficulty to get published in HBR – the limited number of submissions accepted combined with the amount of resources it took for firms to publish high-quality content made it a challenge.

McKinsey famously upended that model in the 90’s and started not only self-publishing but expanding where they publish. Investing in their own platform and carefully selecting alternative places (like The Wall Street Journal) to publish was a brilliant bet on the future of content strategy. And with social media exploding in the early 2000s, McKinsey confidently strode into this new age and had a sizeable, healthy social media presence driving the conversation about their brand. To this day, McKinsey is considered a leader in the consulting space – no surprise there.

Thought leadership has always been a focus for consulting firms – it’s what sets them apart from competitors. And clients are willing to invest in a firm that demonstrates a comprehensive understanding of their unique needs. But a fear of buyers remorse and budgeting is causing clients to thoroughly review spending. Clients are now demanding highly specialized services and turning to more agile boutique firms to serve specific needs. Larger firms are responding to these demands by snapping up digital-savvy, boutique firms to enhance their portfolio of practices.

And with 71% of consultants citing attracting new business as their top priority, firms are now looking beyond existing relationships and trying to build additional value by investing in completely new lines of expertise.

In this environment, management consulting marketers face an uphill battle. They can no longer rely on bulkhead publications that only publish quarterly and require heavy resources and investment. They need to move much faster in the battle for the “last intellectual mile” of their clients’ journey. Agility is the name of the game.

They’re also working in a crowded marketplace where every firm is using buzzwords like “digital transformation”, “innovation”, and “The Future Of Work”. Despite dominating the conversation, their significance and impact is still debated. This ambiguity blurs audience perceptions and actually makes it difficult to differentiate between firms. If everyone is a “the leader of digital transformation” – is anyone really the leader?

Firms are looking at their strategy, their teams, their resources, and asking, “So, what else can we do to set ourselves apart?”

The Changing Online Landscape

They have a social media strategy and content calendar because social channels are where clients go first to find information. In fact, 75% of B2B buyers are likely to use social media when making a buying decision. 89% of B2B buyers said they’d like to receive educational content from vendors via social media.

Social plays an enormous role in the selection process, but the fact is, trust in brand-owned channels is falling. 40% of internet users say they have little or no trust in advertising they see from brand pages on social media.

Investing in content alone isn’t enough – management consulting firms now need to get this content in front of businesses who are looking for their expertise, and they need to do it quickly and creatively. Publishing an ebook with the latest insights, then sharing it on brand-owned channels is no longer effective.

Clients want to see expertise. They want to trust they’ve made the right decision in selecting your firm as a partner and advisor. Firms are realizing that to achieve this level of trust, they need to showcase their greatest assets: their experts, partners, and associates! By helping their partners share content on social, they’ll increase their share of voice and trust online.

Firms are using employee advocacy to increase the visibility of their thought leadership and expertise. As a strategy for differentiation, it’s a great idea but it’s far from a one-size-fits-all solution. There are key questions to answer in evaluating your firms’ readiness and the gaps that will need to be bridged for employee advocacy to work.

If you’re a marketer reading this and nodding, you’re not alone. But fear not! In the last year, the explosive growth in organizations using employee advocacy proves that it is not only achievable but valuable, even in highly regulated industries.

Part 2 of this series outlines how consulting firms can get started with an employee advocacy program. Read it here, and if you have any questions, connect with me on LinkedIn.

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