Consultants: “Do We Make Things Better … or Things?”

Branding consulting firms has always been a tricky proposition. The industry’s stalwarts all followed the values-driven underpinnings of their founders. McKinsey, Bowers, Kearney, Henderson, Bain were the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, and Carnegies of consulting.

Accenture serves as the model for successfully pivoting from its well-established Andersen Consulting brand. While many think the demise of Arthur Andersen necessitated that move, the reality had to do with the firm’s rather ugly divorce prior to the scandal that undercut AA.

BCG recently announced a rebranding with much ballyhoo, including a slick video that showed a montage of UN-worthy Millennials pondering big thoughts in glass-walled, open-concept offices. It reminded me of the German chemical conglomerate, BASF, and a tagline from a commercial that aired years ago: “We don’t make things, we make things better.”

Consultants have historically mimicked that same philosophy. They help their clients grow/cut/save/win while demurring any ownership of the results. Yet today’s pronouncements from the Big 4 and others on “solutions” counters that proposition. In fact, one would observe that the majority of global management consultants now attempt to “make things better by making things.”

BCG’s refinement to its brand demonstrated how traditional management consultancies straddle this new world. Dropping “The” from Boston Consulting Group was deemed extremely significant (Ed note: that leaves only THE Ohio State University to use THE for pretentious purposes). But the bulk of BCG’s modernization message reinforced the concept that it helped clients by allowing clients to help themselves. In other words, BCG still believes its mission is to partner with clients, not subsume them.

Such notions might seem quaint, but also offer a glimpse into a fundamental issue confronting management consulting as an industry. If consultants cease thinking of themselves as advisors to their clients, clients will inevitably start viewing them as competitors.

 

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Tom Rodenhauser