Julia Burns

Changing The Big 4 Game

Posted on 15th July 2016 by Julia Burns

"How can the Big 4 differentiate from one another, when their differences are far outweighed by their similarities?"

The financial services industry has changed beyond recognition in the last decade. Complex regulation, perception-changing scandals, shifting consumer demands and fintech innovations – to name a few – have all made their mark. One thing that has remained constant is the dominance of the Big 4 in auditing financial institutions. But now, faced with increasingly sophisticated competition in this area, EY, KPMG, Deloitte and PwC are looking to leverage on their existing relationships with financial services leaders in audit to realise new opportunities in advisory. 

With consulting back in the hot seat for Big 4 firms targeting growth in financial services, how can these companies demonstrate the nuanced business wisdom essential to appeal to C-suite buyers? What’s more, how can each differentiate from the other three, when their differences are far outweighed by their similarities?

 

Change the Story

Man Bites Dog research reveals that nine in ten (92%) marketing leaders believe that thought leadership is the most effective way to differentiate their organisation from competitors. And yet, the Big Four’s campaigns on financial services tend to rotate many of the same topics and messages. This rarity of truly unique narratives may be in danger of putting each firm’s thought leading status at risk.

For the Big Four, regular financial services data reports coupled with exceptional brand status often delivers strong media coverage, but to ensure this translate into sales as well as awareness, campaigns must be differentiated each time and reveal something new and useful to time-poor audiences.

It’s a big ambition – but the most commercially effective campaigns make people both think and feel. As seen in the recent EU referendum campaigning, data alone is not enough to cause action. It needs to be weaved into surprising and insightful stories.

 

Be Brave

It’s a given that Big 4 firms must retain their intelligent advisor positioning, but that doesn’t mean campaigns have to be tame or mundane. To stand out, identify a strong, defensible argument, stick by it and provide expertise that helps change happen. EY’s fraud report, for example, reveals 42% of big company bosses justify unethical behaviour to get the right results.

This approach might seem like madness when it’s those very bosses who decide whether to use your firm or someone else, but get it right and a firm can come to be seen as an upholder of high standards. Trust and values are major issues in financial services today and changing demographics could see this increasing over the next few years. It’s only going to become more important that consultants and auditors are seen not as passive enablers, but actively on the side of changing the industry for the better.

Of course, taking a bold stance when working in a matrixed international organisation, which as a whole represents pretty much every big business interest group out there, is easier said than done. Getting out of tried and tested safe territory is difficult, but it is possible.

After more than a decade crafting thought leadership with major professionals services firms, from the Big Four to magic circle law firms, we have been reflecting back on what we’ve learned at Man Bites Dog and have some thoughts to share with marketers grappling with these issues. Explore this slideshare on pushing ideas through organisations without watering them down and let us know what you think by Tweeting us at @manbitesdogb2b

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