Consultancy costs!

Posted on in BrandBlab

I was recently asked by a journalist about the costs of our consultancy for a particular client.Apart from never divulging individual client fee agreements, I was more disappointed with the attitude towards us as a cost, as opposed to an investment.It touched a raw nerve as it reflected the view of many that you can buy brand development and treat it as a one off cost.A view that I have tried for many years to change but clearly many do not get the message.By definition, branding is about creating a differentiated profile and reputation.Building a reputation is a long term exercise – an aggregate of user experiences which meet and justify the desired image of the company.The true costs are therefore an integral part of an organisation’s expenditures.

Separating out a fixed one off cost – typically say a consultancy fee and maybe some additional marketing and real estate budget misses the point. The negative implication is that consultancy cost is, like lawyers, seen as a distress purchase, a necessary evil.The aim then is to minimise the cost by finishing with the consultants once the concept brand book and drawings are handed over.

Accepting the point that branding should be a company wide initiative, it can be particularly frustrating to work with managements who do not see the value of utilising our wide experience in developing and implementing new concepts and roll-outs.There is a tendency to see the final ‘brand book’ as the point where the consultancy can be ended and the in-house team then left to make it happen.In every consultancy proposal we make the point we are keen and able to help with such activities but often the budget cost has only allowed for the front-end consultancy on the belief this will minimise costs for the company.This is particularly ironic for us when, without a massive investment, we can continue to act as brand guardians and cost effectively support and direct the in-house team and their consultants. 

Luckily, many of our clients realise this and we have long term relationships based on this approach.But some do not.Inter-department politics and disinterested top management can make the investment in our services of less value when our implementation knowledge and expertise are not utilised.This could be due to middle management pride, pressure from top management and, from our perspective, a lack of trust and confidence in our consultancy relationship.This is to be regretted when we see good ideas scrapped or diluted when effective commercial solutions could have been delivered.We are sometimes told a roll out is too expensive but a ‘cardboard’ relaunch e.g. marketing, print and point of sale can represent a highly cost effective refresh strategy and the more expensive shopfitting change overs delayed or reprogrammed to suit general refurbishment programmes. 

It comes back to cost/investment discussions – if we are seen as a ‘cost’ then our potential to help companies more than recoup their investments is lost. As an architect I often see unnecessary costs on expensive real estate that can be ‘saved’ effectively with a bit of creative thinking. Equally, excessive marketing costs for predictable expensive media awareness campaigns could be avoided with some more strategic focus on effective loyalty database marketing or viral marketing based on clever event activity.

Achieving the best return on investment from a consultancy starts with agreeing a clear strategic commercial brief.Our heart often sinks when the brief is to create a ‘wow’ solution. This can reflect a management’s wish to have a ‘big idea’ as this is more attractive than the more difficult ‘every little helps’ approach of Tesco.Incremental improvements on every front are
often the key to success and the ‘wow’ factor is often of limited long term value.Big ideas are great but potentially short term if cosmetic fixes are not accompanied by substantial management input and cross departmental initiatives and effective resourcing.

Everyone preaches about the need to achieve real value.Clearly we need to be better in communicating our real value to an organisation, avoid that ‘cost’ question and encourage an ‘investment’ discussion. I live in hope!