With the news last week that McKinsey & Co had snapped up the US brand consultancy Envision, ad agencies could be forgiven for suspecting the management consultants of taking another step into their territory.
However, McKinsey insists that it has no interest in advertising and prefers to concentrate on number crunching. It claims, conversely, that this is where it will show the agencies who try to offer clients brand consultancy how it's done.
Subsuming Envision into McKinsey's own brand consultancy department is a fundamental part of this process. Eric Arnson, a principal at the new McKinsey/ Envision Branding Practice, explains why Envision differs from other consultancies: 'We invested in people that had strong cognitive social psychology backgrounds to better understand 'intent' - why consumers do what they do. We married these people with advertising people. We call this marrying art and science.'
This combination of a qualitative and quantitative approach supposedly gives Envision its edge. 'Some agencies have done a good job of brand consultancy, but a lot have not done it as well,' Arnson says. 'Most agencies can't invest in the kind of rigor when you focus on consumer understanding and use quantitative as your primary vehicle. We bring the qualitative, the validation and the tracking. That's the difference.'
McKinsey and Envision have worked together since 1997, when a mutual client asked them to team up on a project. But who will get the most out of the merger? Arnson admits that access to the global network was a big factor. 'We started working with more premier brands with a global footprint.'
McKinsey got Envision's experience. Its own brand department had been going two years compared with Envision's seven. It also coveted the smaller company's PhD social psychologists on staff.
David Court, the head of McKinsey's US Marketing Practice, adds: 'We thought Envision's methodology and experience was unique. It also allowed us to get the scale we wanted quickly. We think of it as a mass recruiting.'
Rita Clifton, the chief executive officer at the UK brand consultancy Interbrand, feels that McKinsey's drive into the market can only be a good thing: 'Their interest in brands would extend what brand consultancies have been saying for years. McKinsey taking it seriously is good for us all.'
However, Clifton feels that, contrary to its normal business practice, McKinsey could never have hoped to succeed in brand consultancy without outside resources: 'It's interesting that McKinsey/ Envision felt that co-branding was the only way they could go into this area without contaminating the core McKinsey brand. Brands are combinations of left and right brain attitudes - tangible and intangible. McKinsey's reputation is in the left brain area. Their dilemma has always been how to brand properly when you can only do one part of the process. They have never had the will or skills to make these things come to life.'