“It’s about sticking to what makes you different at your core”: how Accenture is staying ahead of its competitors
Five Questions with Jill Kramer, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Accenture
We believe there is a shift from organization-led brands to brand-led organizations (e.g. Disney, Amazon, Apple) where the business is the commercial manifestation of a powerful brand. Do you recognize this shift? What are the challenges and opportunities for Accenture? What are some examples of how Accenture has gone through this shift?
Five or six years ago, Accenture went to market through our organizational construct of five discrete businesses. You would see Accenture in the market as Accenture consulting, Accenture strategy, Accenture technology, Accenture operations, and Accenture Digital. It was difficult trying to go to market as five different businesses, and we have changed for the better. Today, I think it’s interesting to see the business strategy and the brand strategy unified. We lead with the belief that there is something very special about Accenture that differentiates us from any other company. You need to believe that your company is brand-led to take meaningful action. I’ve seen that shift in Accenture from being organizationally-led.
We exist in a very fortunate time where the business strategy is so clear because the outcomes for our clients are so clear. It is because of who we are and all that we can bring to bear on behalf of our clients that gives our brand it’s saliency. Making the pivot is not difficult, but it is a journey. You need to be well armed with strategic rigor and data. Keep in mind that we are marketers and brand experts at our core, so that makes it easy for us. But it’s important to tell a story.
One example is the launch of the Accenture Song strategy this year, and the way the business intentionally brought in the acquired agencies. This was an intentional branding strategy across those agencies. It’s not one size fits all, but that brand strategy and business strategy were in lockstep.
Our Best Global Brands data suggests that brands who not only provide superb experiences but also take a leading stance on social issues are more relevant to consumers. How are you approaching this in your organization? What are some examples in terms of going beyond just a superb client or employee experience?
I think this means different things to different companies, especially in different parts of the world and even in different parts of the country. I do believe that a lot of people talk about being a purpose-led organization and there’s a unified chorus around that. I think each company has different ways of going about key decision-making. At Accenture, we look to take care of our people first and understand what matters to them. We do a lot of sophisticated interaction, listening and connecting with our people. The ability to be strategic and consistent in how you approach the things that matter most and being true to your mission, your core values, and your purpose always serves you well. We very much live by our core values and our purpose, and we stay consistent.
One of the best examples is our apprentice program at Accenture. We believe in skills-based learning, and we think that people become skilled through alternate routes. Not every path is the same path, and we do a lot of work with the apprentice programs here in New York and across the US. 20% of our entry-level hires will come through the apprenticeships. We are a people-led organization that prioritizes skills-based training, so we hire based on that same belief. This has a big effect on the communities in which we live and work. Attaining a 4-year degree is not always feasible, so we pride ourselves on being a leader not only for ourselves, but for other organizations. We need to take active roles and understand the data and the skills gaps that people can be trained to fill. These individuals end up having very fruitful careers and reach those higher levels of pay through different routes.
At Accenture, we look to take care of our people first and understand what matters to them.
Why, in a recession, should a business continue to invest in their brand? How do you think the investment in brand and marketing, will evolve or change over the next 12 – 18 months? What tools do you use, or arguments do you use to make the case if necessary?
Clients count on Accenture to help them during a variety of economic times. The need to change doesn’t really go away; why they’re changing, what they’re capitalizing on, and the speed at which they scale. The need to change and the need to transform is always relevant. During an unsteady time like the pandemic, more companies changed and embraced new business models.
I believe in the presence of our brand, and it is a different type of brand investment. You’re investing in the long-term understanding of a complex set of capabilities, and those capabilities apply to different economic conditions. Consistent investment and increased investment are right for our brand. I believe it’s important for the numerous clients and communities we work with to know that Accenture is there, and what we’re capable of achieving when we embrace change together.
As you might imagine, we are good forward planners at Accenture. I see consistent if not smarter investments. I think it’s about being as productive as possible where you can and being as efficient as possible where you can. For me that means being able to increase investment and brand. For example, we have gone through an important transformation of our marketing communications function. We adopted our own technology—the same technology we use with clients—to ensure that our people were investing their time and talent on more creative and strategic tasks. In addition, we reduced anything that didn’t have the strongest data-backed ROI so we could invest more in our brand.
It’s about sticking to what makes you different at your core, no matter which type of services you’re helping your clients with.
How has your competition evolved over the past 24 months? Where are you seeing or experiencing the greatest threats? What are the biggest opportunities? Are you seeing new or surprising competitors entering the space?
Competitive space is always interesting in professional services as capabilities change. You must have a very strong brand foundation to know the core DNA of who you are. If you look at Accenture, for example, we have a very varied competitive set. We don’t have the luxury of looking at ourselves one competitive set at a time. We understand where we differentiate ourselves and the value we can bring to our clients. I think it’s less of a shift; instead, it’s always expanding. What I focus on is consistency and simplicity. If you get pulled into too many conversations due to diverse competitive sets, you’re going to lose the storyline very quickly. It’s about sticking to what makes you different at your core, no matter which type of services you’re helping your clients with. The shift in competition makes it even more important to double down and stay focused.
There are a lot of amazing brands and companies that we do business with or compete against. Ideally, you can follow your brand strategy and stay true to the core of who you are.
Lastly, we have come to recognize brands as being powerful acts of leadership. In what ways do your brand’s moves reflect you/your organization’s belief system?
Accenture is an optimistic and tenacious organization. We believe in potential, and we know how to get there. This is how we approach client issues and opportunities, and how we approach our own evolution. Accenture is a tireless organization and so highly energetic. This is why I love my job so much. The ethos of the company underpins everything we do, and the brand’s reflection and performance in the market are highly connected. Fragmentation and complexity are the hardest things we deal with as marketing experts. Impressive leaders in our space thrive and deal with difficult challenges that are thrown at them every day. There is not one cohesive business strategy, and everybody’s business strategy differs inherently. With that said, great brands still emerge. At Accenture, our business strategy is confident and reflects how our brand shows up in the market and how we communicate with our employees, stakeholders, and customers.