With the emergence of creative consulting firms such as frog design and IDEO, the role of marketing is undergoing a dramatic shift. While lessons can be drawn from marketing for other professional services firms, in particular traditional business consultants, the creative consultancy requires marketers to weave together thought leadership communications with inside innovation in an unprecedented manner.
Marketers find themselves confronted with heightened expectations from internal and external stakeholders both of whom have become more sophisticated. On the outside, clients do not just buy a service; they buy value in the form of reputation, strategy, and a certain thought process. The marketing function is expected to match the standards of the firm’s client work. On the inside, employees are marketing experts (or at least think they are). Rather than just market the company’s services outbound, marketers are tasked not only with creating efficient processes and venues for internal customers to contribute to marketing programs but also setting up effective communications to defend them. Knowledge management, internal branding, and internal PR become the most critical tasks and are often executed in close collaboration with HR and operations. For external audiences, marketers must create meaningful conversations and provide premium content – clients do not want to be sold, they want to be informed and entertained. Only by constantly engaging them in meaningful conversations will the creative firm demonstrate thought leadership and be in their “peripheral vision.”
Adam Lerner, in his seminal article “Marketing Your Design Firm,” put it this way: "You must resist the temptation to position your firm's brand as a collection of capabilities. Capabilities in industrial design, engineering, and research can be easily added and subtracted by competitors within a short period of time. This makes a capabilities-based brand strategy unsustainable, and potentially ineffective in differentiating any firm from its competition. Your firm's capabilities should support your brand, but not become it."
To me, becoming a media company is the answer to these new challenges and the Holy Grail for creative firms that have to provide “marketing for marketers.” Generating unique content and establishing effective distribution channels (blogs, newsletters, widgets, etc.) can build credibility and yet does not jeopardize the mystique and aura that is vital to a creative brand. Ultimately, marketing will become a function that is fully integrated into the creative firm’s services portfolio. Creatives become marketers and marketers become creatives – and traditional marketing ceases to exist.