Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Consulting assignment life cycle 21: professionalism and professional image, and developing a brand 1

Posted in career development, consulting, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on June 29, 2012

This is my twenty first installment on consulting and the consulting assignment life cycle (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 225-244 for parts 1-20.) So far I have discussed consulting as a career choice, and the consulting process as viewed from the perspective of carrying out the various steps and stages of a consulting assignment. I then began discussing consulting as a business, with postings on finances and on setting up and incorporating a consulting firm. I continue my overall discussion of consulting as a business here, turning to consider professionalism and professional image, and the issues of developing a consulting brand. And I begin that by citing two large and well-known consulting company examples, simply noting up-front that most of what I could write about them in this type of discussion would apply with equal value to smaller firms and to single consultant operations too, at least for basic principles.

The two example firms I would cite here are:

McKinsey & Company, and
Bain & Company.

Bain has recently, and as of this writing faced some very negative publicity as fallout from the 2012 US presidential election and the heavy involvement of one of the leading presidential candidates for that election with that company. But both companies have developed solid reputations:

• For their consultants and their technical hands-on skills,
• For their business savvy in applying those skills to address real-world business challenges for their clients, and
• For their track records of success in doing so.

Both companies have studiously, systematically developed their own brands and brand recognition. And considering the first of them for more detailed analysis, clients have come to expect McKinsey consulting teams to come in and systematically, effectively apply the McKinsey way – the tried and proven McKinsey consulting methodology to solve their problems.

And this consulting firm in fact preferentially hires bright, ambitious young college graduates and Master’s degree graduates (MBA’s and others) and trains them in their consulting methodologies. And they prefer hiring relatively clean slates for most new hires, at least as far as consulting per se is concerned so their consultants will consistently follow their approaches and methodologies. This is all as much a part of their branding as any logos or tag lines and this performance and track-record based branding is in fact more valuable to them than any tag line or communications message-based branding could ever be. Virtually all major consulting firms employ variations on this same approach in setting themselves apart.

But even when just considering a consulting firm’s marketing messages per se and the overt text and images that their marketing is conveyed in, core branding includes demonstrated expertise and excellence in consulting per see, and in that I cite a book I have referenced before in this blog, written by two McKinsey consultants:

• Bryan, Lowell B. and Joyce, Claudia I. (2007) Mobilizing Minds: creating wealth from talent in the 21st century organization. McGraw-Hill.

I could as easily have cited professional journal citations or symposium citations. Effective consulting businesses and effective consultants get their names out and they actively convey and share a message of their expertise and their success on behalf of their clients.

• And starting an effective consulting practice, or a successful consulting firm means starting this process of developing name recognition reach and positive branding.

New consultants are unlikely to begin with a nationally published book, or by giving keynote addresses at professional meetings or symposia. But even there, participating as exhibitors, and presenting workshops highlighting consulting practice-defining expertise in niches worked in can be a crucial approach for developing that name recognition and for getting a brand developed and out in public view.

This, however, is just a part of the puzzle of developing a name recognized brand, and it is not necessarily the first part to developing and assembling that puzzle either. The internet in general and the interactive internet and social media are the great equalizers. They create opportunity where even individual consultants can and do compete directly and effectively with even the largest corporations. I am going to turn to the issues of online and social media marketing, and of niche marketing as a starting point to effective brand building in my next series installment. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2. I have also posted extensively on jobs and careers-related topics in my first Guide directory page on Job Search and Career Development.

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