A person looking through a magnifying glass symbolising a business owner trying to understand what are the duties of a marketing consultant?

One of the most asked questions on Google relating to marketing consulting is “What are the duties of a marketing consultant.”

The problem, of course, is that these days anyone can call themselves a “marketer”, and a “consultant”. The term “marketing consultant” combines two of the most overtraded words in business. No wonder no-one knows what they do, or should be doing.

Our view is that a marketing consultant should focus on developing marketing strategies for businesses and products. We take it a step further by introducing another term: a marketing contractor.

A consultant is not a contractor

Although it is easy to call yourself a marketing consultant, most are not consultants, but primarily contractors. A contractor is not a consultant.

A contractor is someone who executes a job already defined by someone else. They do the work on behalf of someone. If you’ve determined that you need a swimming pool, you get a contractor in to dig it for you. The same is true for marketing. If you already know you need social media, or a magazine advert, or attend a certain conference, and merely want someone to come and put it in place, you are not looking for a marketing consultant; you’re looking for a marketing contractor.

Because marketing strategy and business strategy tend to overlap heavily, many business owners are reluctant to involve a true marketing consultant that will inevitably come and ask business strategy questions. Rather, they are looking for a contractor to merely come and execute on marketing tasks that the owner believe is needed. This is the involvement of most external marketers in small to medium-sized businesses. They are merely suppliers of marketing services and offer more contracting and less consulting.

A marketing consultant is someone who primarily solves marketing problems through a process of strategising and planning. At a fundamental level, they determine how marketing can be used to help the business achieve its growth objectives. This is a role that sits very close to that of business strategist, or business consultant and requires close interaction with the business owner. It is not a role where you “take an order and execute”, but rather work collaboratively to investigate market opportunities and devise value propositions and communication strategies.

Developing and implementing a marketing strategy

Most business owners have a narrow definition of marketing – they view it purely as activities that communicate the business (or product), i.e. advertising. But behind a good marketing campaign sits a strategy, and this is truly where a marketing consultant’s role fits in. The execution of the strategy, on the other hand, can be left to employees, or freelance marketing contractors, as explained in the first section.

Developing a marketing strategy is the main focus of a marketing consultant and the tasks associated with developing such a strategy. In the following section, we look at what these tasks are.

Position the brand

Firstly, no business can do proper marketing without a clear brand position, which is essentially the unique value you offer to customers. Without a brand, marketing communications will essentially look like everyone else’s and be a waste of money. Defining a clear brand position for business or product should be a core part of what a marketing consultant does.

Define a target market

Successful marketing depends on focusing all communications on as tightly defined an audience as possible to maximise impact. Helping a business analyse its entire market, and developing a market segmentation to visualise the various opportunities before selecting a target market is another core duty of a marketing consultant.

Analyse the competitors

Conducting a review of competitors and understanding how they promote themselves through key messages and marketing tools is a regular exercise for most marketing consulting assignments. A good marketing consultant will use the internet and interviews with the business owner and sales team to understand the competitive landscape and define areas of weakness that can be exploited through marketing communications.

Understand customers

Marketing is ultimately about customers, and the primary role of any good marketer is to understand them on behalf of the business. Most marketing consultants are, however, outsiders to the business and won’t have an immediate and intimate understanding. What is, however, required, is to work with the business to review all customer-related information available and extract any important insights to assist with marketing (and sales) efforts.

Set marketing objectives

Following a good analysis of the business, customers and competitors, a marketing consultant to conclude together with the business executive about what marketing should achieve. What do we want marketing to do for us? The ultimate answer to this is always “grow sales”, but there should be intermediary goals that lead to more sales. Growth in website visitors, more enquiries via email, higher awareness of the business and more customer visits. These are all important goals before the actual sale happens and should be clearly defined by the consultant.

Develop a marketing plan

Ultimately marketing should become action – predominantly communications activities that the business will use to build its brand awareness int the market and drive leads to convert to sales. Deciding what activities to do is ultimately what a marketing consultant should deliver in the form of a marketing plan. A good plan should go beyond merely recommending communications activities but build a marketing campaign around a central theme, or marketing message that in turn, ties into the brand position. A good marketing plan reads like a battle plan for the business over the short to medium term to drive growth.

Assist with implementation and refine

A marketing consultant should not leave the business after completing a marketing plan. Rather, they should “hang-around” for a while to ensure the plan is implemented successfully and any issues ironed out. Ultimate there should also be a report of how marketing efforts are progressing and the results achieved. The marketing consultant’s role can be regarded as done when the business has internalised the plan and taken over execution and measurement with initial results starting to show.

How marketing consultants (should) work

Ultimately a marketing consultant – a good one – does not come with the answers. Rather, they facilitate a process of discovery with the business executive team, sales team and general staff to build a roadmap for growth. The process is inherently interactive and collaborative. Importantly, the process is not the same for every business, although the tasks listed in the article provide a standard tick-list.

For a marketing consultant to be successful, everyone must be able to work together. Marketing is fundamentally a human-centric activity, and this starts with how a marketing strategy is prepared. Without human interaction, clear and free-flowing communication and teamwork, no marketing consulting assignment can be successful. This is often a source of irritation to senior executives who thin the consultant should “just come in and perform a task, like a plumber fixing a pipe”. This is not how it works.

When do you need a marketing consultant?

It is all very well knowing what the duties of a marketing consultant, but when do you need one?

Our view is you need first to try and do your marketing before reaching out for help. This way, you can identify the challenges that inevitably accompany a marketing implementation and assist a consultant with learnings and frustrations experienced.

Once you have tried to do your marketing and realised the level of technicality and strategic thinking required to do it properly, it is time to start your search for a consultant.

What makes for a good marketing consultant?

  • They need to be business-minded because ultimately marketing is a business subject, not a creative one,
  • They need to have a solid marketing and strategy experience, working either in an agency or corporate for a significant period of their career,
  • They need to be constant readers to stay on top of current developments in the field of marketing as well as improve on core principles
  • They must be able to listen more than talk because ultimately marketing is about understanding the business and its environment,
  • They must be humble and clear on the fact that they don’t come with the answers but bring a process that will deliver a solution through a process of teamwork with the business.