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The next-generation consultancy

Those of us who run design consultancies embrace change. In fact, we are often our clients’ primary ‘change agents’. We foresee the emerging need in the ever-evolving market, and mould our clients’ brands and experiences to meet that new need.

And yet, for the great many of us, we have not moulded our own agencies to adapt to the immutable changes in our own industry.

No one needs to tell you that the design consulting industry is over-proliferated and under-differentiated. There are too many design firms in every area of expertise, on both sides of the pond, who use the same process, who have a great portfolio of relevant work and who work hard every day in getting their message in front of prospective clients. And yet, our industry’s hyper proliferation – combined with our clients’ ever tightening ‘blood from a stone’ squeeze on our fees – has much of our industry in ‘a race to the bottom’. Agree?

The question remains, how do you meaningfully differentiate your firm, justify your fees, increase your influence and optimise your profitability?

One exceptionally successful way to create meaningful and disruptive differentiation is to quantify the value you generate through winning DBA Design Effectiveness Awards. Nothing is more powerful than proving your value.

generationAnother successful strategy is hyper specialisation. Some firms, like Stranger & Stranger, have focused exclusively in one category, e.g. wine and spirits. Others have expanded internationally, specifically in Asia to better address these emerging markets. Still others have joined large management consultancies, like McKinsey’s partnership with Lunar. However, most of us remain independent, unchanged and under-valued.

There are a growing number of consultancies forming strategic alliances with other independent firms of complementing expertise. Together they offer truly synthesised, omni-channel communications. Together, they integrate insights, innovation, strategy, naming, product design, structure design, graphic design, web site design, social media, advertising, merchandising, etc, all coming from allied experts in each of these deliverables. This is what I believe will define ‘the next-generation design consultancy’.  

Be well aware that building effective strategic alliances is not easy. You will need to embrace synthesis in its every manner. If you simply claim integration as a ‘sales tactic’, you will surely fail. Clients will actively challenge you, looking for the chinks in the armour, wanting to expose the chain’s weakest link.

To become truly allied you will need to think and behave differently (checking your ego at the door). You will need to find the overlap in your and your partners’ processes and eliminate these inefficiencies (passing the savings on to your client). You will need to become more strategic so that you can contribute to the clear and actionable direction you and your allied partners will generate at the onset of every project. You will have to act on your partners’ direction on your work – knowing that you have as much influence on their deliverables as they have on yours. You will need to embrace mutual accountability for each other’s work. And again, that takes a full commitment to change.

In the design industry, success is now defined as ‘the survival of the fastest’, meaning the fastest to adapt to change. International expansion and truly synthesised omni-channel strategic alliances may be the change your agency needs.

About: Rob Wallace

Prior to founding Best of Breed, Rob managed Wallace Church, Inc for 30+ years where he lead comprehensive branding projects for P&G, PepsiCo, Bacardi, Pfizer, Brown-Forman, Nestle, Gallo, Colgate-Palmolive, Target, and more than three dozen corporations of equal caliber.

Rob has spoken on branding at more than 50 industry events across the US, UK, Europe, Latin America and Asia. He served on the Board of Directors of the Design Management Institute, and co-chaired its Design Value Project. He lectures at Columbia Business School, The School of Visual Arts and other MBA programs.

Often referred to as “the design industry’s thought-leader on quantifying branding’s return on investment”, Rob’s primary goal is to prove that design is marketing’s single most effective tool. Learn more at here.

If you share this passion, contact Rob at and share insights for future articles on this and other design industry topics.

Image credit: Frannyanne | Dreamstime

Image credit: Marianne Campolongo | Dreamstime


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