Sturm und Drang: Roland Berger Repositions Itself as the World's Plan B

Roland Berger website cropped

Consultants are well known for their penchant for hyperbole, a tendency to which even the Germans, normally more culturally reserved than their North American peers, are apparently not immune. Exhibit A is “Plan B” , the new branding campaign launched this week by Roland Berger in support of the German strategy consultancy’s efforts to re-position itself in the market from stodgy but competent incumbent to spunky challenger. Not content with reinventing itself, challenging though that promises to be, Roland Berger evidently wants to transform the entire management consulting industry, if not the world as we know it, promising “a new form of consultancy” that aspires “to set new rules for ourselves, the industry, and the future of us all.”

Putting aside for a moment their underwhelming new logo (a flat, grey, capital letter ‘B’ that looks a bit like a sideways rain cloud) and unfortunate choice of tagline (positioning itself as the world’s second choice does nothing to dispel concerns that the firm has struggled to keep up with its larger, more global peers), this development raises three key questions:

1) Is this real or is it just window dressing? Consultants often chide their clients for thinking that a branding change or a website refresh will suffice when what they really need to do is to make more fundamental strategic or operational changes.

Roland Berger needs to avoid falling into the same trap. Hyperbole aside, if Roland Berger expects to improve its position in the hyper-competitive global strategy consulting market, it will need to prove to clients that it has made fundamental changes and improvements to its capabilities. No amount of branding or marketing will help Roland Berger win over the market if all it is doing is re-packaging existing capabilities.

2) What does Plan B entail? The firm doesn’t get into details about how it plans to deliver on its ambitions, but its promotional video offers clues: It would address its lack of scale by “providing access to an ecosystem of capabilities” while “collaboration within a network of global partners” would address the firm’s geographic imbalances, which leave it excessively reliant on its German home market. Finally, the reference to “a plan that is governed by the clients, personally customized” can be interpreted as an attempt to develop closer and more collaborative client relationships.

A strategy based around using partnerships with third parties to close gaps in their own capabilities and geographic reach, while paying more attention to client relationship management and positioning themselves in the integrator/coordinator role is perfectly reasonable, but hardly unique or revolutionary as Roland Berger claims. In fact, many firms are pursuing some version of this strategy, with varying degrees of success.

3) Is this too little, too late? This begs the question, why now? Although it is positioning itself as oriented towards the future, the impression is more a firm that is playing catch-up than setting the agenda, leading to the suspicion that this is this a move born of weakness, not of strength. That in itself is no reason to believe that Roland Berger won’t be successful – history is replete with examples of firms that have turned adversity into strength, and some firms perform best with their backs against the wall.

More worrying is that, even if this new approach resonates with clients and Roland Berger succeeds in repositioning itself in the market, it still will not address the biggest challenges facing the firm, which are a function of the fundamental dynamics of the management consulting industry. With the trend towards consolidation in the management consulting industry showing no signs of stopping, what Roland Berger needs is a plan which will save them from a fate similar to that of the Monitor Group, another leading mid-sized strategy consultancy which was acquired by Deloitte in 2013 at a fire sale price after an aggressive push to build scale ended in bankruptcy. Time for Plan C?

Brendan Williams is Associate Director, Lead for Digital Consulting Research Kennedy Consulting Research & Advisory.

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