Choosing a brand consultant can be tricky. First, you must determine what you are seeking in a brand consultant. Do you want to know how your brand stacks up against competitive alternatives? Are you concerned about an emergent competitor? Has your brand lost its competitive edge? Do you need to reposition your brand? Has your brand’s architecture gotten too complicated? Are you seeking an updated identity? Does your brand need a new tagline? Do you want to create a new marketing campaign? Are you trying to rally employees in support of the brand? Are you trying to create an improved brand building culture within your organization? Do you need to understand your brand’s customers better? Are you looking for ongoing education for your marketers? Be specific and clear about what you are seeking in a brand consultant.
Next, find out what the consultant’s skill sets are. Marketing research? Brand equity measurement? Brand valuation? Marketing strategy formulation? Brand (re)positioning? Brand identity development? Brand plan development? Advertising campaign development? Brand extension? Ask not only for a client list, but also for case studies on the services in which you are most interested. What type of person is the organization mostly comprised of? Brand strategists? Marketing researchers? Graphic artists? Copywriters? Account executives?
And, know this, if the consultant’s tool is primarily a hammer (or copywriting or marketing research) every one of your problems will seem like a nail (or a copy writing exercise or a research exercise) to him or her. People and organizations mostly use the tools with which they are most familiar.
While a list of big name clients can be impressive, ask what project or projects the consultant did for specific clients. Many of the biggest brands have used multiple consultants over time and even in a given year depending on the division or specific need. Sometimes a consultant’s best work may be for a smaller, lesser known client for which there is a greater chance for enterprise-wide impact.
We often are asked if we have extensive experience in category XYZ. Sometimes the same people also want us not to have worked with one of their competitors recently. Other than the pharmaceutical industry, I have found that brand work does not vary much across branded entities, from consumer packaged goods, B2B, healthcare and professional services companies to universities, museums, municipalities and start-ups. While there are some differences, deep knowledge of a specific industry or product category is generally far less important than specific brand consulting knowledge and experience.
A good consultant is good at listening. Have the consultants you are considering feed your situation and issues back to you. The one who has the deepest understanding and insight is the one most likely to do the best job for you. That is probably also the one who asked the most probing questions before crafting a proposal. Watch out for the consultants whose approach is “cookie cutter” – replace the last client’s name with your brand’s name and the proposal is “good to go.”
Client references and testimonials are also very helpful. Don’t hesitate to ask the references detailed questions about their branding projects and the value that the brand consultant added to those projects.
Be wary of large consulting companies that send in their business development “A” team to make the pitch. They will knock your socks off (because that is what they are supposed to do), but you will likely never see those people again. Someone else will be assigned to your project. Make sure you have met the people who will be assigned to your project and especially the day-to-day team leader. That is the person on whose shoulders your project’s success will rest.
I wish you great success in selecting the brand consultant who is right for your brand’s specific needs.