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What We’re Talking About: Consultancies and Content Marketing


Generally speaking, the mass emails that circulate the D Custom office pertain to one of two things: free food and food for thought. The former usually leads to eating too many cookies. But the latter — linking to a must-read report or article for us marketers — often starts a company-wide conversation. Such chains have inspired new initiatives and approaches to our inner workings: Just this month, we reframed our mission, vision, and purpose statements thanks to some insight from the Harvard Business Review.

A particularly good thread came up a couple of weeks ago when our director of digital media strategy shared an article from Ad Age about the rise of consultancies from organizations like IBM, Accenture, PwC, and so on. Despite the ascent of consultancies and the increased competition with marketing agencies, the piece concludes that, in the future, consultancies and agencies may be working hand in hand to meet the ever-evolving demands of consumers.

Related: Digital transformation has rewritten the rules for reaching your consumers. Don’t lose touch.

Two key quotes she highlighted:

  • “‘We don’t believe brands are built from advertising anymore,’ said [Brian] Whipple, a former ad agency executive who is the senior managing director of Accenture Interactive. ‘They are built from an amalgamation of customer experiences, so that is what we are focused on.'”
  • “‘The big consultancies are underestimating the value of creativity [and] the agencies are under-exploiting the value of business analytics,’ said Ivan Pollard, senior VP-strategic marketing at Coca-Cola Co. ‘Someone’s going to crack that soon because data plus creativity is the future.'”

Here’s some insight from a few voices on our team who weighed in:

Cory Davies, director of client services

“What Whipple says in the first quote has been true forever. If the customer experience doesn’t match the promise you make in your advertising, you will always fail even if you don’t fail overnight. The difference between today and 20, 30, 40 years ago is that people used to trust advertising a lot more, or at least be willing to let it inform them about products and services. Now we see ads as atmosphere — the bad ones are just nuisances or necessary evils; the good ones are entertainment. If we actually want to learn, we go online. And obviously identifying where, when, and why we go online to learn is why these consultancies are doing well. They’ve got the data. But this quote by Pollard is really key because he’s absolutely right — business analytics get the horse to water, but creativity (helpful, useful, entertaining content done in a way that respects the consumer’s time) makes it drink.”

Rebecca Wong, director of client services

“I think as companies become more evolved with data and sophisticated with marketing, both the data and the creativity will become increasingly important. The marketing industry will have to adapt with this change. The article talks about how CMOs are becoming more responsible for business goals, not just brand awareness, so agencies will need to work with companies more to demonstrate the value of their work.”

Travis Stewart, director of production and digital delivery

“Agencies would be wise to keep an eye on this trend. If anything, massive companies like IBM and Deloitte have proven that they know how to make money. They’ve already been fairly successful infiltrating this market, and their preexisting relationships with clients’ C-level employees is a dream scenario for most agency business development teams. That being said, consultancy groups for companies like IBM are, for the most part, going to be subject to a variety of obstacles inherent in colossal organizations: bureaucracy, long sales cycles, etc. Small agencies aren’t burdened by such structural red tape — they are built to be nimble; and while they may not have the financial backing of a global enterprise like Deloitte, they attract the kind of creative mind that tends to shy away from the monolithic and constrictive structure of gargantuan competitors. Consultancies are going to have their place in this industry, and rightfully so — but in a marketing landscape chiefly concerned with authentic engagement and direct consumer relationships, wouldn’t you rather trust your outreach efforts with teams that exist outside of traditional corporate management structures?”

Melissa Chowning, director of digital media strategy

“I think the biggest takeaway from this article is not the groundbreaking news, but the reminder as to how much the advertising environment is changing. Any marketer worth a dime can tell you that you can’t merely reach your consumer solely through pushed out advertising messaging. I try to think of myself and my own habits to wrap my head around the new marketer’s dilemma. I probably fall into a fairly desirable target for a lot of companies: I’m a mom of two young kids, a homeowner in a dual income household. But I’m also a cord cutter, I don’t listen to the radio, and I have an ad blocker on my phone and computer — and I’m probably not that uncommon. The brand affinities I do have have been largely if not entirely formed on convenience, customer service, and technology. I don’t buy kids shoes anywhere but Zappos. Why? Because they have made my life easy and have proven that when a problem does arise, it gets addressed beyond my satisfaction. And I think that’s what Whipple was getting at when he said that brands aren’t being built from advertising anymore, rather by the ‘amalgamation of customer experiences.’ And beyond that, this article is just another example of traditional industries experiencing disruption, this time in the case of traditional advertising agencies. There isn’t an industry immune to potential disruption which, again, isn’t breaking news, but rather a solid reminder to always be on your toes and looking over your shoulder.”

Jas Robertson, general manager

“D Custom has pushed all current and prospective clients to what [Deloitte Digital CMO Alicia Hatch] refers to [in the article] as the ‘data-driven approach to world-class creative.’ Getting the data-driven strategy part of our work to feel as exciting and appealing as the creative work is something that Paul [Buckley, D Custom president] and I have made a priority in client conversations since we first took our roles at D Custom. And so, I love seeing this echoed from the mouths of the largest agencies and consultancies. It will be interesting to watch that power struggle play out among the titans. And I believe it will also accentuate to marketing decision-makers from companies of all sizes how agencies like ours can bring incredible value to this need for creating amazing content and customer experiences beyond the reach of what any advertising message can provide.”

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