The seven unmistakable signs of a shit brand consultant

Your portable toilet business has nothing to learn from Steve Jobs, and if a consultant even mentions Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs you should kick them out of the door.


I had a long and eventful evening last Friday in Soho with an old University friend, who had just been stung for one of the worst bits of brand consulting I have ever seen. Then it was my turn to feel the pain as he admitted how much he had paid out for the worthless report and consulting advice. Many beverages and an incendiary curry later, we had hashed out a foolproof seven-point system for identifying shit brand consultants before they can take your money and/or lead you astray.

First, any mention of millennials means you are dealing with a marketing moron and should lead to immediate cessation of all discussions. I’m serious about the “moron” tag. Anyone dumb enough to think that the 14 million British millennials qualify as a segment needs their head examined. They fail every possible test of segmentation and anyone who refers to them in any context other than to point out that they are a total load of clichéd bollocks should not be trusted.

Second, look out for consultants that are happy to advise without any data or with just qualitative or quantitative data and not both. Any decent consultant should be asking for or generating significant amounts of qual and quant data to understand your brand from the target consumer’s point of view and avoiding the naïve ‘expert’ approach of giving you their personal experience of your packaging, pricing, store layout and new ad campaign. One of the signals of a bad consultant is a comfort with making big decisions with no data and one of the most reassuring things you can experience from a good consulting firm is a resolute refusal to avoid knee-jerk recommendations without data first being collected.

You can also judge the quality of brand consulting advice by the number of concepts the consultant tries to sell you. There is no one accepted term for what most call brand positioning. You can call it brand values, brand attributes, value proposition and so on. But a decent brand consultant will focus you on one concept to represent what you want to stand for in the market. The crapper the brand consulting firm the more concepts they try and sell you. Circles atop circles, concepts upon concepts, and before you know it you have a brand essence that looks like the D-Day launch strategy and your staff need a PhD to work out what it all means. You can rely on some shit brand consultant in the comments section below to explain why brand attributes are distinct from brand emotions or how a value proposition is different from a positioning statement but ignore them. They are, by definition, shit.

Next, look out for certain trigger words, which, if your brand consultant proposes them, mean he or she is unworthy. Innovation is a product-orientated word and worthless as a result. For every customer who tells you they bought your brand because it was the most “innovative one” I will give you a thousand quid. Remember as well that thousands of brands, badly advised by an army of shit consultants, have already claimed innovation as their own differentiating value, so the only way to be innovative is not to use the word. Words like “lifestyle” and “aspirational” mean absolutely fuck-all too and should tell you volumes about your consultant’s abilities to guide your brand. And if anyone from your consulting firm even starts to utter the dreaded words ‘integrity’ or ‘trusted partner’ stand up and run for the nearest exit.

If they even say the magic words ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs’, throw something heavy at them and ask them to leave. Ditto, if they have a picture of a cow being branded in their slide deck or a quote about reputations taking decades to build, you know what you have to do.

If your consulting firm has a trademark attached to their special branding methodology or they have an approach named after an acronym that spells something sexy like “RESULTZ” or “PERFORM” you should immediately stand up and write WANK on the nearest whiteboard and exit the meeting room stage left.

A separate but equally indicative failing is to incessantly cite Apple and Steve Jobs to any and all clients as a paragon of excellence and instruction for brand building. If you find yourself sitting through a ninety-minute sermon on the power of Apple’s branding and its relevance for your portable toilet business it may be time to press the escape button.

It’s not a magical list but, in my experience and that of my slightly depressed marketing mate, it could just save you a six-figure sum and a report that is literally not worth the paper its written on.

Read more from Mark Ritson here.