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Insights: How to choose a beauty brand consultancy

Both the UK and international beauty markets can appear saturated with consultancies offering brands unique solutions for taking their product to market – as a brand, though, how do you ensure that you’re selecting a consultancy that fits your brand and your vision? In this week’s article, The Red Tree’s CEO and Founder Stirling Murray shares 9 key areas for brands to consider when choosing a beauty consultancy.

How do you choose a beauty brand consultancy?
Here are 9 key areas you need to question before you make your decision:

1. Experience
It’s a simple fact that experience matters. The best consultancies provide hard-earned experience – what we call “intellectual capacity on demand”. That capacity, based on years of experience, is there to help and resolve the issues your brand faces.
How was the experience gained and over what period of time? What are the product sectors and markets that the consultancy has experience of?

2. Strategic skills
Often clients want a quick tactical solution to a problem –more sales NOW is the most common – but that is only a symptom of a deeper underlying problem. If that’s all that’s needed then a good agent might help but if you are willing to ask the consultancy why your brand is in this situation then the answer most often is that the strategy behind the brand is at fault or even worse there isn’t one.
Step back, take a deep breath and ask the consultancy why they think you are in this position? How can they help you build a strategic plan that focuses on action and not just objectives? How can the consultancy help achieve your vision? Is strategy an essential part of the consultancies repertoire? If you are in this for the long term then you need the answers to these questions.

3. How will the consultancy manage your expectations?
Before appointing a consultancy you must be aware that it may not be possible to deliver the results you expect. There are often circumstances beyond everyone’s control that will have an impact on the success of the project. There will be graduations of success –nothing as black or white as success or failure.
Is this made clear in your discussions? How will your expectations be managed?

4. Working together
Frustration is likely to develop on both sides unless from the beginning there is a clear understanding of how the relationship between you, the client, and the consultancy will work. Working with a consultancy is collaboration, a partnership where the client cannot abdicate responsibility. A client who ignores an agreed time scale for vital information or for decisions cannot then ask why the project is delayed.
How will the consultancy’s relationship with you work? Will the process allow unlimited email and telephone contact between meetings? What does the consultancy expect from you and what time lines must you respect? Does the consultancy build long term relationships with their clients? How often will you meet? Who will lead the project?

5. Realism
“Beauty is a grind-it-out-business” says Mark Cuban one of Forbes top 500 entrepreneurs. He is right – everything will take longer then you expect and there are no shortcuts to the top.
Ask the consultancy how long it will take to deliver the long term results you seek? Ask why is this? And if you don’t have in place a long term realistic vision for the brand please see point 2 above.

6. Honesty
The truth often hurts and honest answers from a consultancy may not be want you want to hear. An honest dialogue will uncover problems and a consultancy that tells you only what they think you want to hear will not serve you well.
A good consultancy will not give too much away – that will come when you become their client- but they should not avoid telling you things that are plainly wrong with your brand or your strategy.

Ask the consultancy to be ultra-critical of your brand, its positioning, its provenance and architecture. Let them recommend no more than 2 things they would change – anymore than that and you risk the following: “There is only one thing you get for nothing and that’s nothing.”
Do not expect a consultancy to give you unlimited free advice. You do not expect to sell your product for free and neither do consultancies.
Ask if they believe in what you are doing? If they don’t they should say so because there is no value in continuing if the consultancy has no belief in what you are doing.

7. Networks
A well-established consultancy will have at its fingertips a wide network of international contacts from retailers and logistic providers to social media specialists, from PR agencies to lawyers and accountants.
How well is the consultancy connected? How can these networks help the brand? How close is the working relationship between these contacts and over what period of time? If it’s needed how quickly can they pull together a high quality team of beauty industry professionals?

8. Fees
Consultancies have different ways of charging fees. Some charge a daily/ hourly rate, others a project fee or a retained monthly fee. The Red Tree only works to the latter two simply because we believe it is impossible to equate time with the value delivered to a client. We believe that clients should not make comparisons based on an hourly or daily charge but on the value of contribution to the clients business needs.
How does the consultancy charge? What are its payment terms? Will the consultancy consider a discount for full payment up front?
A good consultancy will not come back with a proposal and fee structure after the first meeting. There are many questions still to be asked by both sides and for a good consultancy patience in formulating the right relationship is more important than attempting to make a fast sale. You need to show patience too.

9. The relationship
True success for a client and its consultancy is in the quality of the relationship that is established. As a client you want to build something that is there for the long term even if the project period is short. The key factor that determines this is trust…. on both sides. Trust is not something that is built over night – it is more a recognition that there is honesty on both sides, that the consultancy can be trusted with confidential information, with your plans and vision and that the consultancy trusts you to keep your side of the contract. That means you avoid cancelling meetings that information is provided on time, that decisions are reached promptly and payment of the consultancies’ invoice is made when it is due.
Ask the consultancy why they are in business, what are their values and what kind of projects excites them? Ask about their long term clients. Insist on signing an NDA – if you don’t have one ask for theirs.
And finally ask yourself – do you want to establish a long term relationship with the company sitting in front of you? If the answer is yes then the rest becomes easy.

Stirling Murray has over 35 years experience building brands in the global beauty industry and founded The Red Tree, a leading international beauty brand consultancy. For an informal chat about your brand, contact The Red Tree.

The Red Tree is the UK’s leading international beauty brand consultancy and a powerhouse of ideas, insight and inspiration. For an informal discussion on how we might help you, please contact us.

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