CHICAGO: Grant Thornton, the audit, tax and advisory firm, is emphasising its challenger brand credentials compared with the industry’s “Big Four” via an ad campaign that argues it can help move clients beyond the status quo.

John Harmeling, Grant Thornton’s CMO, discussed this topic at the Association of National Advertisers’ (ANA) 2017 Masters of B2B Marketing Conference.

More specifically, he reported that the company – the fifth-ranked player in its sector behind PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte, EY and KPMG – found that 54% of its clients identified with the phrase “Big Four fatigue”.

“It was a statistic that was blaring to us,” said Harmeling. (For more details, read WARC’s exclusive report: Grant Thornton: How the Number Five is challenging the Big Four.)

A common source of frustration, in fact, was that the category leaders often appeared to be acting on some form of “auto-pilot”, and promoting the same business practices even as the corporate backdrop was evolving.

As such, Grant Thornton – which had not leveraged paid-for advertising in roughly eight years – decided to stand apart by using ads asserting that it can help clients achieve “Status Go”, rather than being hamstrung by the “status quo”.

While the “status quo”, for instance, sits idle and can hold customers back, “Status Go” moves into high gear and pushes clients forwards.

“We want to bring some swagger, some differentiation to our spaces … to challenge, respectfully and purposefully,” Harmeling told the ANA attendees.

In pursuing this agenda, he explained, the goal is not to directly take on the quartet of giants within its sector, but instead to present a truly compelling message for customers.

“We’re trying to attack as a challenger brand, but we’re not challenging the Big Four itself. We’re challenging the notion of the ‘Status Quo’ thinking that's in the market today,” Harmeling said.

The first round of advertising represented what Harmeling termed the “awareness phase”, with the aim of delivering a new set of benchmarks, before then moving the campaign into different terrain. “At that point,” he said, “we’ll go in deeper.”

Data sourced from WARC