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Marketing consultancies and consultants are abundant, yet their roles can be unclear. This leads to questions such as “What does a marketing consultant do?” and confusion between a consultancy and an agency. The root of the uncertainty lies in understanding marketing and the diverse responsibilities of a consultant.

Understanding the role of a consultant

The first thing to understand is that there is no such thing as only one type of consultant. The framework below is a well-known breakdown of the different consultant roles, ranging from someone who will work for you to one who partners with you, teaches you, or observes.

Depending on the needs of a business, a marketing consultant – or consultancy – can fulfil any of the above roles or a combination of them. The trick is to understand what you need.

The strategic importance of marketing

Marketing is derived from the term “market,” which refers to activities that occur outside the business. Unlike other functions that begin with an internal perspective, marketing is the only business function that focuses on an external viewpoint. Looking at the business from the customer’s perspective can provide valuable insights and enhance competitiveness.

Marketing is more than just communication – it encompasses all points of contact with the customer. Its focus is on the market. These contact points are commonly referred to as the “4Ps of marketing”: Product, Price, Place, and, lastly, Promotions (or “advertising”). However, in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the marketing role is often limited to the promotional “P”. The business owner and senior managers handle product specifications, pricing, and placement (distribution). Despite the emphasis on promotions, the marketing function in an SME always has a strategic component, even if delegated to a junior employee. This is because marketing deals with how the business presents itself, making it inherently crucial and risky. Essentially, marketing is always strategic.

Collaborating with a marketing consultant

Many small businesses hope to find a marketing consultant who can take over their social media management and overall marketing efforts. However, it’s important to realise that marketing is a strategic function that cannot be fully outsourced. Instead, it’s best to work with someone who can collaborate with you and add their expertise to your ideas. Marketing is a team effort, and a consultant can only be valuable if they become part of your team.

The role of a consultant is to have a strong understanding of the fundamentals of marketing, especially the strategic aspect. A good consultant not only keeps up with the latest trends but also knows how to develop a marketing strategy that guides all tactical activities.

Finding the right marketing consultant for your small or mid-sized business

When looking for a consultant, many people assume that industry-specific experience is essential so that they can replicate what they have done elsewhere. However, in our experience, having expertise in a particular industry is less crucial for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). What matters more is understanding how to apply the fundamentals in a fast-paced, budget-constrained, and highly entrepreneurial environment. Therefore, it is more valuable to have a marketing consultant who specialises in the “startup” environment than someone with industry-specific experience.

When looking for a marketing consultant, it’s important to find someone who can connect well with your business and its values. In small or mid-sized companies, there’s a personal touch to everything since there’s no corporate culture. The business’s owner, founder, or management team plays a vital role in shaping its identity. Effective marketing requires teamwork, so finding a consultant who can seamlessly integrate with your team is crucial. Overall, a collaborative approach is the most effective way to work with a marketing consultant, except for routine tasks.