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Speaking as someone who was part of an online marketing strategy consulting team which, during the dotcom boom and bust, went from 0 people to 40 and back to 0 within 6 months, I now find myself wondering - why aren't there more people out there selling themselves as online marketing strategy consultants?

We get a lot of calls and enquiries these days from clients who ask us "Can you recommend a consultancy, or consultant, who can help us define our online marketing strategy?". (Ranking 3rd on Google for a global search on "consultancy" certainly helps drive some of these enquiries).

It's only really in the last 9 months that we've seen a real rise in this sort of enquiry suggesting the market is there now in a way it hasn't been in the past (witness the death of the team I was part of many years ago).

And those same clients usually want a strategy consultant, or consultancy, which does not do "design and build", or indeed any form of delivery of execution. They want completely unbiased, impartial, brain power to help them work out what they should be doing online, and why, and help with the business planning etc. And they're quite happy to pay good money for it.

And the strange thing is, I really struggle to think of such consultancies (in the UK). There are plenty of good agencies, no doubt with excellent strategy and planning talent, but they typically all 'do' stuff as well. Where are the pure online marketing strategy consultancies? We know a number of individuals, but very few companies.

Would you entrust your online marketing strategy to a strategy consultancy like McKinsey? Much as I respect them, I don't think I would as they're just not close enough to understanding the importance, say, of SEO, or user experience. And they don't even seem to try and market any expertise in this area.

Would you entrust your online marketing strategy to a systems integrator or management consultancy like Accenture? I certainly might consider them for implementation of complex systems, change management, program management, workflow and the like - but online marketing...?

Would you entrust your online marketing strategy to an advertising agency? Don't get me started...

Personally I'd only want to entrust my online marketing strategy development to someone who really understood the medium (as well as our business) and had proven experience across all the online marketing areas. And there aren't that many of those people around. And certainly not, it would seem, any who have got together to form a proposition which is a pure online marketing strategy consultancy.

Am I missing something here? Is this a gap in the market?

Try a search for "online marketing strategy consultant" on Google - you get no results!

Feel free to contact us if you are this consultancy as we might be able to put work your way.

(BTW, though we're called "E-consultancy", we don't do consultancy. Confusing, I know. A long story to do with domain names...)

Ashley Friedlein
CEO
E-consultancy.com

Ashley Friedlein

Published 16 August, 2006 by Ashley Friedlein @ Econsultancy

Ashley Friedlein is Founder of Econsultancy and President of Centaur Marketing. Follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

86 more posts from this author

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Tim Leighton-Boyce, Analyst at CxFocus

I'm surprise that, so far, this hasn't flushed out a few more comments. This seems to confirm what you say!

I'm an individual, not part of a team, who does this kind of work. That seems to be a common situation, as you point out.

Perhaps one of the reasons that groups don't form is that the appetite from clients tends to swallow up the potential members? I've experienced suggestions that I should go full-time employee, or increases in the amount of time taken up by individual clients as they we get into more and more areas together. On the other hand I've also noticed a tendency from others to want to push me into one pigeon-hole (usually web analytics, since this seems to be in short supply) rather than go for the overall strategy approach. Fortunately nobody has suggested that I should go back to building things, but even so the broader view is being subtly undermined.

The client's behaviour is understandable: you tend to develop a very intimate relationship with the client if you're doing this work well and so you do end up embedded. But it does leave a gap in the market, and in the long term it probably reduces the effectiveness of the consultant as they 'go native' and simultaneously begin to lose the the broad perspective of working across many clients' markets.

Tim

about 10 years ago

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Heather Hopkins, Director at Hitwise

Ashley,

We offer consulting from a foundation of Hitwise data to help companies develop their internet strategy, understand their competitive set and to improve online customer acquisition.

Feel free to see business our way!

Best,
Heather Hopkins
www.hitwise.co.uk
weblogs.hitwise.com/heather-hopkins/
+44 20 7378 3600

about 10 years ago

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Fred Bassett, Director Of Strategy at Blue Latitude Network

Blue Latitude is precisely the business you describe. Founded in the depths of the dotcom crash, we provide interactive business and marketing consultancy to clients including Eli Lilly, Robbie Williams and The Early Learning Centre.

Since we started, interest in independent interactive strategy has grown as companies have understood the value of an approach that intersects the analytical approach of a management consultancy with the customer-centric skills of an agency.

There are several factors contributing to this growth.

The first is that many of the predictions made during the boom and ridiculed during the crash are now becoming a reality. For example, although the web did not spell the immediate death of traditional newspapers, the commercial pressures being placed on publishers six years later are resulting in fundamental changes to their business. These pressures are caused by well documented changes in consumer behaviour, and fuelled by ever improving technology. The impacts will cascade through every aspect of their business.

The result is that successful businesses need to embrace an approach that marries interactive marketing techniques with business structures capable of delivering value to the customer and profit to the organisation. It is by understanding both points of view that innovation can be nurtured and the bottom line improved.

Secondly, clients value our independence. Because we only provide strategy and project management they understand that our recommendations are not influenced by the resources we have available, as can be the case with the full service model. We are free to use and recommend the most appropriate data sources, technologies and partners. In this regard, the clients receive advice that is agenda-free.

Thirdly, the notion of intersecting the appropriate skills from both the agency and management consultancy disciplines excites companies who are looking for specialist assistance that enables them to leverage changing consumer behaviour utilising interactive techniques.

We do seem to be firmly ensconced in the gap you describe!

Fred Bassett
Director Of Strategy
www.bluelatitude.net

about 10 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

Hi Fred

Your comment about "an approach that intersects the analytical approach of a management consultancy with the customer-centric skills of an agency" is particularly valid.

The best online marketers I know understand both technology (what can be done) and data (metadata, segmentation etc.) and processes (for speed and efficiency as much as anything) as well as understanding customers and their needs (including usability, user experience, information architecture etc.) as well as understanding business (KPIs, metrics, strategy etc.). It's an interesting blend of hard and soft skills.

Ashley

about 10 years ago

Ian Jindal

Ian Jindal, Founder and Editor in Chief at InternetRetailingSmall Business Multi-user

Interesting post, Ashley. You have put your finger on a gap in the market, but I wonder whether it mightn't be a case of 'naming' rather than substance. Ideally a company has a customer- or business-focused over-arching strategy, under which a marketing strategy is formed, to which the _online_ marketing strategy contributes. Much of the rush to 'online strategies' is due to a tactical knee-jerk. It exposes both the limitations of the overall strategy and the understanding of the technical possibilities that 'online' offers to deliver the strategy.

There's no wonder then that clients who are less than totally confident in their strategy find that they need help when out of their normal operating domain. Uncomfortably for the client this very underconfidence means that they're not then well equipped to select an appropriate set of advisors. The fragmentation in the industry into innumerable specialist marketing providers means that the problem of building a team of teams, of co-ordinating inputs and managing the programme is left solidly with the client.

In looking for help in this area the tendency is for them to look for people who have a deep understanding of their business or sector. This is on the basis that if you correctly identify the problem then any sensible person can work out an answer. However, if you are bombarded with solutions and 'answers' then you're left with the same questions, niggles and concerns that you had before - you just have a massive collection of high-quality business cards to file and try to remember all the various acquisition-led, software serviced, technology enabled, SEO-optimised, affiliated and syndicated, Web2.0ified, eCRM-based, insightful presentations given by the angels on the head of a pin...

Are you sure, Ashley, that now isn't the time to put the 'consultancy' into e-consultancy??

;)

ikj

about 10 years ago

Jon Bovard

Jon Bovard, Director of eCommerce at A well known Telco

Hmmm there can be fundamental problem with this concept of hiring in an outside opinion.

A company hires a permanent eCommerce/IT/Marketing Director who tells the rest of the Senior Management team that the Sun rises in the West.

How is the Senior management team going to know IF the sun actually DOES rise in the West?

So the company hires an external consultant to validate the work of said manager.

So if the external consultant comes back and says "your guy doesnt know what he is talking about".... what then?

..reminds me of the old saying "Never go to sea with two compasses - always take one or three"

jon

about 10 years ago

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Matt Ambrose, Copywriter at The Copywriter's Crucible

I provide business blogging services which should be a major part of any online marketing strategy. Blogs 'organically' optimise your website for search, can develop the sales process and provide ammunition for your marketing campaign.

There might not be many of us around at the moment, but just wait for Internet Explorer 7 to land with its RSS button bolted into the toolbar.

When people start using RSS to bookmark sites I think you can expect people who can write persuasive copy that doesnt read like a sales letter to be increasingly in demand.

about 10 years ago

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Tony Stockil, CEO at Javelin Group

Hi Ashley

Our story might help answer your question.

In 1998 I set up a consultancy (Javelin Group) to help retailers plan their ecommerce strategies. It went well - in our first couple of years we were helping clients like M&S, B&Q, Woolworths, and Comet to develop their online strategies. But by 2002 we found this specialism too limiting to sustain our growth (we'd grown to a team of about 25 by then) and we chose to diversify and become a "retail" consultancy rather then just an "eretail" consultancy. Today, with 50 consultants, ecommerce is still a very important part of what we do but, having diversified also into "mainstream" retail strategy & processes, it is hard to market ourselves just as ecommerce consultants despite still having very good strengths there (although you will find us if you look for "eRetail strategy" in Google UK).

Maybe the reason it is hard to find specialist "online strategy" consultants is that online strategy is increasingly just part of "strategy", just as eretail is increasingly just a part of retail. It is hard to do one well without the other, and those who do both well are unlikely to promote themselves as specialists only in online strategy.

Regards

Tony Stockil
CEO, Javelin Group

about 10 years ago

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Steve Simmonds, Head of Business Development at Design UK

Ashley

Confused of Piccadilly here….

I recently joined Design UK, who I was attracted to largely because of its consultative approach. It’s “more human than digital ethos” is based around creating online experiences that meet the rational and emotional needs of customers by getting inside their heads - therefore minimising the resistance to conversion and maximising revenues.

It’s a philosophy that has struck a chord in the retail and leisure sectors, where although we get paid to create websites and campaigns more often than not, a large slice of our revenue is for our thinking.

As examples the company has previously created the house strategy document for luxury brands company – Richemont, has converted Butlins to being an online-marketing driven organisation (we act as one of their lead agencies now and online strategic partner), and helped Odeon to create its online vision for the future (as well as revamping its current site). Kurt Geiger, Chloe, Blackwell are further examples of where we have had positive impact on online businesses through our thinking but without resorting to code!!

Design UK has capitalized on the proliferation of agencies with singular focus, all of whom will tell you that their way is best, whether it be - usability, SEO, PPC or design - and seized the middle (call it higher) ground of a balanced and full user-centred, full service provision.

Yes we “do the other stuff” – but I would argue that without having some experience in doing the design, technology, usability etc. you’re not going to understand the realities of the online channel and therefore the consultancy becomes of little practical value. Therefore from our point of view the two go hand in hand….and we have the commercial results to prove that they do.

Point taken, though and thanks for the promotional opportunity! Perhaps we need to flag up our expertise a little better. . . …Consultancy UK could be the way forward!!

. . . would be delighted to have some of your referrals xx

Steve Simmonds
Design UK

about 10 years ago

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James Aston, Managing Director at Moneyspyder

Ashley

I read your article with interest and have to agree, baffling indeed. To be honest part of your thinking is the reason why a number have joined forces to form the moneyspyder business (www.moneyspyder.co.uk).

To be frank, for me it builds upon the fact that any company requiring consulting services, wants to hire people whom have been in the industry and can bring business life experiences to bare in new situations. As the industry is c.5 years old, the number of people with the required experience is small. To this point all moneyspyder employees have worked client side.

But more fundamentally for me it is about the ability to effect change, as with out delivering improvement to the Client’s core online retail KPI’s, how can the consultant deliver value? With c.500 middle tier companies outsourcing their e-commerce platforms to c. 12-15 technical platform providers, the issue now faced is one of constant best practice iteration and not being stuck with a 3 month technical work stack. Thus the deliverance of change is becoming the premium and hence if a consultant can deliver this, they then have real value to the Client. In my view only by owning the e-commerce platform can this be achieved.

For a select few, this is the moneyspyder aim. Let me know if this of interest.

almost 10 years ago

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Adam Boettiger

Hi Ashley,

I've been helping businesses in online marketing strategy since 1996. My website provides extensive background information, testimonials and references. Any referrals would be appreciated! http://www.adamboettiger.com/

over 8 years ago

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Craig Dewe

Hi Ashley,

It's interesting that a year and a half later and it still seems this niche is wide open. I too saw a gap in this area, particularly with small businesses. As I dug deeper I found that online marketing wasn't enough, they needed total website makeovers as well!

So now my business works with small businesses to develop and implement a successful web strategy. From helping them get the best out of web designers to positioning to online marketing and everything in between.

It's fun, challenging, and very rewarding when clients start complaining because suddenly they have too much business...in their 'slow' season.

I look forward to seeing how this niche develops in the future.

Craig
www.connexted.com

over 8 years ago

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Mark Brewerton

Hi Ashley,

Unfortunately in our experience the lack of independent strategic marketing advice goes a lot further than just online marketing strategy. The whole marketing space is heavily populated with delivery focused agencies - whether it is web-based delivery or more traditional off line delivery agencies - but there are far too few consultancies out there who encourage their clients to take a step back and think through a holistic and strategic approach to marketing before they dive into delivery activity. The unfortunate result of this is that time and time again clients do 'marketing stuff' that is ill conceived, poorly thought through and most important does not relate back to what they are trying to achieve at a strategic level - not surprisingly this type of activity usually doesn't deliver the results that clients are looking for and this usually has the effect of leaving the client disenchanted with marketing as a whole. To be frank - it drives me mad the amount of time we have to spend picking up the pieces and working hard to convince clients that marketing is an essential business discipline that they need to invest in and do well. As I say this is as true for overall marketing strategy as it is for online marketing strategy. We formed Total Marketing Solutions back in 2004 to help clients adopt a strategic approach to marketing - both online and off-line - and we'd be happy to help!

over 8 years ago

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Mark Brewerton

Hi Ashley,

Just to add to my earlier post, check out or website if you want to find out more about the work we do as strategic marketing consultants http://www.totalmarketingsolutions.co.uk/ or you can read some of our latest thoughts on many different strategic marketing issues on our blog http://www.blog.totalmarketingsolutions.co.uk/ I hope this helps you understand our marketing expertise & demonstrates how we may be able to help.

Best regards,

Mark

over 8 years ago

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Paul Mallett

Hi Ashley,

It's Paul Mallett here - I head up swamp, a leading UK digital agency.

My blog ranks 5th on Google for the keywords 'online strategy consultant' :)

We actually do a lot of consultancy at swamp - and see an ever growing need to deliver insight across all aspects of internet marketing to our clients.

One of my particular areas of interest is the joining together of media and web content strategies to deliver seamless customer journeys. Also in how virtual online journeys link back into real world experiences and purchase behaviours.

Happy to get involved with you guys and share some Case Studies,

Cheers,

Paul

over 7 years ago

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Nic Windley - Marketing Consultant

I totally agree with the need for impartial strategic consulting advice.  Knowing where to start and why in order to determine where the best return for your time and efforts are and the likely outcomes is essential to getting it right in this confusing, complex and diverse marketing world and especially so in the online marketing sense.

One of the challenges I see is that companies tend to focus on just one area such as online or offline marketing but they invariably fail to get the core principals right, meaning that their attempts are flawed before they begin resulting in untapped profitable gains left hidden to both client and their customers.

Having spent time myself in direct and channel sales as well as direct and online marketing you build a different mindset to just tacking it from the "online" or "offline" sense wiithout the knowledge of how you are going to following through, support and deliver.

Never the less we would love the opportunity to provide impartial marketing advice and would recommend an holistic approach first, but have skills and expertise to focus just on online marketing strategies.

Here is a link to the consulting website http://www.nicwindley.com, and there is a dedicated marketing site coming soon and I will be adding a blog post about your blog post shortly.

almost 7 years ago

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Gijsbert van der Sleen

Hi Ashley, 3 years on and the same question has been on my mind over the past few months. In my view there are a number of elements which need to be addressed to untangle this discussion. First off, definitions. There seems to be a big confusion on strategy, what it is and on what level it works. As I see it, there are 3 levels of strategy

Level 1: corporate/business strategy – strategic
Is often consulted by the big strategy consultancies and/or specific niche players. They talk to C-levels and have according rates (which are a bit steep for implementation). Their focus is on strategy and tactics on an organizational level. Online as a channel and even multi-channel operations, tactics and strategies are not their strong suit.

Level 2: multi-channel - tactical
Well, I don't see that many players from over here (Netherlands) on a European level. Tony's Javelin Group is one of the few which come to mind. Key is to integrate other channels in the offering. Ownership of multi-channeling in organizations is often an issue, making it often hard to 'sell' strategic consulting in this area. The ability to consult strategies with true impact on business performance is a pre-requisite to be successful.

Level 3: channel - operational
Abundant with parties from digital design companies to solution providers crouching the market. Most of these are focusing on parts of the digital value chain, but not including all elements. Audience are channel managers and/or marketing/sales/service directors. Specifically for smaller organizations a challenge to 'sell' them strategic consulting. Too expensive. And their focus is much more operational.

Apart from this, also the scope of consulting should be much clearer. Scope can be anything from supporting clients on business management issues (do the right things), to organization and operations design (do things right) to platform definition and implementation (make it happen). In my opinion, a strategic consultancy must be able to provide value in all areas.

So, if a consultancy was to be set up to fill the gap, what should it offer?

  • Be at the right level: consulting on a multi-channel level
  • Focus: be clear on markets and expertise’s
  • Bridge the gap between envision, design and deliver
  • Scope: include expertise and experience on strategy, organization, operations and platforms

 Would be interesting to get your feedback.

over 6 years ago

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