Marketing Consultants — And Why Elephant-Spotting Should Be A Core Part Of What They Do
Before looking for finesse, make sure that your basics are all in place
Over the course of the past five years I’ve been working with companies in various outsourced guises: sometimes as a writer, responsible for getting written deliverables cranked out, and more recently as a consultant looking at companies’ strategies in order to make solid recommendations about things that I think they could be doing better.
It’s Your Duty To Tell Your Clients When They’re Doing It All Wrong
Navigating the uncomfortable problem of raising obvious problems when selling advice to companies
One of the great things about life in the rocky world of self employment is getting to work with a lot of different companies — and seeing up close and personal how different business owners approach marketing.
During the past year alone I’ve worked with:
- A startup founder who was convinced that automated wire pickup and syndication was the same thing as meaningful media coverage and was ploughing large sums of money into press release distribution services all while depriving his marketing team of useful spending avenues. This was one of the most salient examples of what I call ‘illogical cheapness’ that I have come across;
- Another founder who stubbornly refused to listen when his customers –and even colleagues — all told him that prospective clients and even potential new hires had absolutely no idea what the company really did because the website was too saturated with buzzwords to actually communicate anything;
- A marketing agency owner who was frustrated by the endless merry-go-round of writers at his agency (I was one of them). The agency was selective and aggressive about recruiting writers — and had some great names on their client list — but couldn’t understand why these pesky writers needed more than $200 to put together highly complex white papers.
And what were the commonalities that tied all these companies together?
- None of them were able to spot the fundamental problems standing between them and progress.
- All thought that they had different problems.
Marketing Consultants — And Why External Perspectives Can Be Helpful
One of the fulfilling things about working as a freelancer or consultant in the marketing space is getting to provide independent feedback about how businesses are tackling a very common and axiomatic marketing problem: How do we explain what we do in a way that is actually going to get people interested in us to buy from us?
Sure, content marketing and inbound tend to be among the primary go-tos for today’s generation of marketing professionals. But ultimately — irrespective of the tools we leverage to get there — that remains what we’re trying to achieve.
A question that has plagued many who work in marketing but do so from a distance — namely consultants — is how many otherwise brilliant startup founders can have such a hard time seeing answers that are often right in front of their face.
The guy might have been bright enough to build his own facial recognition algorithm at 15. So why can’t he see that the language his company is using on their marketing homepage is only going to be intelligible to the tiny proportion of humanity that understands AI on a deep level?
Specialists tend to underestimate how esoteric some of their knowledge is. It’s consultants’ job to get them speaking at a level that will get heard.
Some common answers:
- Startups who lack a marketing member on staff may be so enwrapped in product development and R&D that they can’t see the basic marketing issues in front of them.
- Specialists tend to underestimate how esoteric some of their knowledge is. Terms and concepts that they think about day to day might be completely foreign to the uninitiated reader. This becomes problematic when that uninitiated reader comprises the core of the target customer base.
Using a marketing consultant or freelancer to help with your content marketing can be a good ‘fix’ for these issues because:
- They tend to work with a number of clients and so are experienced at trying to decipher the bigger picture from the details that they know are going to bore prospects to sleep
- They bring unique perspectives to bear upon their clients that are the composite of having provided input to a number of different companies in different sectors and having had a chance to observe what works and what doesn’t
Why Elephant Spotting Is A Core Activity For Marketing Consultants
While many tend to think of freelancers and consultants as short term fixes for manpower gaps, the reality is that marketing consultants can actually be leveraged to provide long term guidance to companies.
Over the course of a sustained relationship, input can be provided at several levels:
- Initially, focused on elephant-spotting: identifying any glaring gaps between what companies need to communicate and how they’ve actually communicated their vision to date.
- Also early on in the engagement: providing moments of education, when appropriate, to educate clients upon marketing best practices.
- Helping clients to make responsible use of marketing budget and steering them away from potential low value ‘vanity’ exercises, such as pay for play publication opportunities in low tier publications with small readerships. Often, these can traced back to misunderstandings about how marketing works.
Consultants themselves have an equally important part to play in this process.
We need to understand that when companies pay us to provide advice upon their marketing — or their marketing collateral — that we’re not being paid to tell them that everything looks great (or that it doesn’t).
Rather, we’re being paid to bring our experience and thinking to bear upon the problems that are standing between them and success.
For marketing consultants and freelancers, pointing out the elephants that may stand between our clients and whatever their version of success looks like isn’t a nice-to-have activity that we can tack on when we feel like we’ve built sufficient rapport with those for whom we work.
Rather, it’s part of the essential value that we can bring to their businesses.
And we shouldn’t be shy about trying to interject it. From day one.