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Market Leaders Deep Dive: Strategic Consultancies

An insider's look into the latest GreenBook Market Leaders Report, on the subsection detailing strategic consultancies. Read on for an analysis with our editor, Larry Friedman.

Editor’s Note: This subsection is featured in the GreenBook Market Leaders Report. The GreenBook Market Leaders Report is your #1 guide to brand success in the insights industry, featuring the U.S. Top 50, and in-depth analysis from leading CEOs. In its inaugural edition, you’ll learn who is in the lead, who is rising towards the top, and where your company fits into it all.

Regular readers of the GRIT Report will know that in the past several editions we have discussed two major trends within the larger insights & analytics business: towards automation/technology on the one hand, and towards greater consulting capability on the other. Recently, we have written about how companies are not choosing between “paths to success”, but rather have been incorporating both of these trends and creating something entirely new. In some cases, they have built this combined capability through acquisition, and in some through internal development. We have labeled these new companies “full stack” or “full cycle”, and to our way of thinking they represent a significant evolution of the historic “full service” research company to meet the needs of clients for “faster, cheaper and better.” 

Given these trends, it is not surprising that when we asked companies in the U.S. Top 50, which label best described their companies, 12 of them described themselves as “strategic consultancies”. While this is a new question, we think it safe to say this is a rather startling change from what we would have found a decade ago, or even five years ago. What is more, these 12 companies cover the range of the U.S. Top 50, from the “mega” (#4 Kantar) to the “very large” (#16 LRW) to the “large” (e.g. #33 Fors Marsh, #49 Edelman Intelligence), although most cluster towards the bottom half of the list. All of them have been in the U.S. Top 50 before, and only two have been founded since 2000, indicating that these are not “flash in the pan” companies, but have achieved their success through hard work overtime. Some are over fifty years old and have revitalized themselves by repositioning from traditional “full service” to strategic consulting (e.g. LRW, Radius GMR). 

Strategic Consultancies Vs. Full Service

What allows these companies to call themselves “strategic consultancies” as opposed to “mere” “full-service research companies” is the emphasis they place on getting to the action and business impact as opposed to just delivering insights.

 Is this just “old wine in a new bottle” rebranding? Again, we leveraged GRIT data to take a closer look, and it appears that this segment is more than simple semantics; there are real differences between these organizations vs. other segments. 

After Technology providers, Strategy Consulting providers are the most distinct category of large providers in the insights industry. Similar to Full/Field Service and Data & Analytics, they list “full service” and “strategic insights” among their top three revenue sources. Unlike the others, brand strategy is a top three revenue source, most name CX/UX as a significant source, and strategic insights are their clear number one. Like large Technology providers, more than one-third say they derive significant revenue from the Data & Analytics category.

Although large Strategy Consulting providers look similar to small ones in terms of the revenue source that best defines them, they are more likely to have diverse significant revenue sources than smaller ones. Larger providers are more likely to have developed revenue streams from access to sample, quantitative data collection, licensing analytical tools and platforms, analytical services, solutions for unstructured data, nonconscious measurement tools, vertically-focused services, CX/UX consulting, and marketing communications consulting.

The Best in Class

Within each category of larger Full/Field Service, Data & Analytics, and Strategy Consulting providers, most say they must be best in class or among the leaders regardless of criterion. Given this, large Strategy Consulting providers are especially focused on standing out with respect to their recommendations: analyzing data powerfully, assessing the likely success of recommendations, synthesizing data from multiple sources, and making multidisciplinary recommendations.

Compared to smaller providers within their category, they are more focused on amplifying and diversifying the data they use: using new types of data, synthesizing data from multiple sources, analyzing data from multiple streams, meta-analysis, and analyzing data powerfully. They are also distinguished from smaller providers by activities outside of the core project: measurement of ROI impact of projects, benchmarking against other organizations, focusing on future growth, involvement in strategic planning at the business unit level, and giving access to dashboards and other tools.

The proportion of large Strategy Consulting providers who saw significant revenue growth matches that of large Technology providers, although the overall proportion who saw revenue increases matches the lower proportions for large Full/Field Service and Data & Analytics. Despite this, they match large Technology providers for staff increases, and they are the category most likely to say that their projects exceeded their stated business objectives. They are as optimistic as large Technology providers about their company, though less optimistic about the industry.

Even if many companies chose not to participate in the Market Leaders Report survey, we still think it is important to highlight companies that we would consider to be part of the category and in a leadership position. These lists will be incomplete for a variety of reasons and should not be taken as definitive rankings, but rather as examples of the breadth of firms that make up th segment.

Strategic Consultancy Leaders

With that in mind, a snapshot of 10 leaders in the Strategic Consultancy category includes:

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