Everyone’s a “Marketing Consultant”

Everyone’s a “Marketing Consultant”

I was speaking to someone the other day who told me he’d never imagined how many marketing companies there are.  He also went on to say that, having met with many of them, he’d come out of the meetings with a clear understanding of what they’d cost him but no idea of what they proposed to do for him.

We stepped back, of course; and I explained to him that anyone who tried to impress him with a blizzard of jargon probably couldn’t help him get real-world solutions to his real-world issues.  Jargon does not equal knowledge, and it certainly doesn’t equal practical expertise.  We discussed what market research could provide, what marketing strategy is, and how implementation tactics should be designed to drive sales.

His relief was palpable.

So here’s the point:

It seems as though everyone and his pet Chihuahuas set himself up as a “marketing consultant.”  (I found 36,800,000 results for “marketing consulting” on Google in 0.29 seconds.)  People who have never been responsible for a product, a campaign, implementing a strategy, or growing a bottom-line have set themselves up as marketing gurus.

Part of the problem, of course, is that there are virtually no barriers to entry in the field.

Part of the problem is that marketing concepts, at the core, are pretty straight-forward; and so they seem simple.  Effective implementation is difficult, but these “consultants” don’t concern themselves with that kind of petty detail.

Part of the problem is that too many people have learned to “talk the talk” without bothering to “walk the walk.”  And self-absorbed pundits and academics have focused the conversation on angels on the head of a pin, hair-splitting discussions of the proper use and true meaning of each piece of jargon.

Part of the problem is that fewer and fewer people look at marketing as a whole anymore.  Over-specialization is becoming endemic.  If you look, for example, at the myriad “marketing” discussion groups on LinkedIn, the vast majority of people posting or participating are trying to explain why their part of the tail is wagging the dog.  (I even came across someone the other day who was trying to get a discussion going based on the premise that what you need to be a marketer is a database.)

Yes, it is true.  I find this nonsense upsetting.  But I am also bored to tears with the pontificating, positioning, self-promoting, and just plain silliness that passes for a marketing discussion.

Marketing has a place – and I believe an important place – in creating a successful product and profitable enterprises.

But for the average businessperson, searching for someone to help with his/her marketing questions and issues has become a true case of “buyer beware.”  There are hundreds of so-called marketing firms, consultants, and practitioners out there.

There really aren’t all that many who can produce results on the ground.  But they stand out from the crowd because:

  • They can explain simply (in language you can understand) what they can – and cannot – do for you.
  • They can draw a straight line between their services and your profitability.
  • And they can show you they’ve done it for others.

It’s really not much more complicated than that.

So, Practical Business Rule #1:  If you don’t understand how someone who says he’s a marketing consultant can help you, he probably can’t.  Don’t hire him.







8 thoughts on “Everyone’s a “Marketing Consultant”

  1. Dr. Coleman,

    I heartily agree with your assessment – all this nonsense is giving us hardworking practitioners a bad name, and diluting the impact of our efforts to find meaningful client relationships by burning bridges we’ve only begun to build.

    Everybody with a briefcase and a business card is NOT a good consultant, and most people who think they know marketing’s ins and outs have only worked for one or two companies in a minor role and only know how to extrapolate from that position.

    I’ve been helping companies improve their bottom line through higher penetration and greater impact on their potential customer base for over 30 years, and the fight for credibility is getting worse, not better, due to the increased level of “competition” from new entrants into an already poorly defined and crowded field with little in the way of credentialing or certification.

    Solution? Credentials will help, a more aware and educated market place will also help, as it’s still going to be ‘buyer beware’ no matter how many letters I can accumulate after my name. Results and happy evangelistic clients are the best defense, but its a slow slog uphill . . .

    Thanks for bringing this to light in an intelligent and non-self-serving way. Kudos!

  2. I think you are right on the money Dr. Coleman. I think that one of the reasons why there are so many people claiming to be marketing consultants, is they have either been misplaced, by another company and lost their job, or they felt that they knew more than the other guy and could make a lot of money telling people so.

  3. Thanks for another great post!! Anyone can hang out a shingle, but those consultants who provide real value to their clients are those who will have staying power.

  4. I like this post. Â It is appropriate for IT as well and I have been preaching the same concept for years.

    There is a saying in gun fighting:

    Situations dictate strategy, strategy dictates tactics, and tactics dictate techniques……techniques should not dictate anything.

    I believe this to be true in all areas of life.

  5. I would just suggest that “credentials” should be real-world, not academic. The last thing we need is more pundits who’ve never been responsible for a bottom-line telling everyone how to do things. Otherwise, couldn’t agree with you more.

  6. I like this question, for sure. And, I see another facet – which is that so many that would hire a marketing consultant, don’t know what to ask for, or how to measure it. Like in any industry, that leaves opportunity for the less competent, to present themselves as solutions.

    This misrepresentation is not specific to just Marketing – think of Contractors for building and home maintenance? Anyone with a hammer and tool belt can come in and say they can fix your Mold problem…, how do you know? For me, I had a great set of parents that taught me enough about common sense, that I know how to vet out a contractor. But,…

    As corporate Board of Directors continue to push finance and operations types up to CEO, and as we see “marketing as strategy” become a tertiary subject in business school, is it any wonder that there is opportunity for lesser “marketing consultants” to come in, offer a low-cost proposal, and fail to deliver. The leaders lack this creative marketing “common sense.” What CEO will admit they made the mistake? Meanwhile, the negative reputation of the Marketing Profession continues to propagate.

    Broadly speaking, we can complain about the flood of low-quality consultants – and that IS a problem, but I think that over the last 4 years of economic crisis, corporations have cost-cut budgets, and made operationally efficient their production as far as it can go. Boards have to examine the leadership “creativity quotient” in the C-suite and ask “is it any wonder that there is no innovation in terms of creating sustainable value and growth?

    As waste on the “marketing activity du jour” continues to miss the mark relative to vision, positioning and core message frameworks around a pivoting strategy to acheive them. It misses the fundamental need to create and capture value for an organization. We can blame the consultant, but should we also look to the hiring C-suite executive for not knowing what they wanted, how it should build value for the company, and so on?

    More food for thought on your powerful blog post, Emily.

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