Strategy is key to the success of a brand, and a good brand strategist is an essential part of a great team whether they’re working for agencies or in-house at brands. In an agency environment, it’s the strategist’s job to research a brand, developing a strategic framework to present to the brand or client. Their work will underpin and support any creative work so it’s important for the strategist to really understand how the brand fits in the maret, what it has to offer and where it’s going to go. They need to have a thorough understanding of the market that the client operates in, the target audiences for any product and the media environment associated — whether that’s traditional TV and OOH advertising or new formats in the metaverse.
A good brand strategist will be capable of translating complex ideas and concepts into clear communication, making all of the information digestible to everyone involved in a campaign or a project, from the creatives to the client themselves. We spoke to five brand strategists from various agencies – Jones Knowles Ritchie, We Are Social, R/GA and DDB Mudra Group. Here, they share their knowledge and expertise on everything from what makes a good brand strategist to how to go the extra mile in this exciting and varied career.
Build a portfolio and network
Starting a career in any field can be daunting but the first two things you can do to get your foot in the door is build a portfolio and network. Natalie Prout, Group Strategy Director at Jones Knowles Ritchie who’s worked with brands including Pringles and The Big Issue says: “This was a tip I got from a creative, and it’s been one of the best things I’ve spent my time on when prepping for a job hunt. Take the time to dissect your favourite pieces of work and build a one or two page case study for each that captures the objective, the challenge, the strategy and the resulting work. We are masters of storytelling for our clients and agencies, but it’s very rare that a strategist takes the time to apply those skills to their own story and work.”
Sanchari Chakrabarty, Senior Strategy Director at DDB Mudra Group makes a case for networking, saying, “Reach out to people within the industry, and share your point of view, for example if a piece of work moves you or if you thought the strategy was great. Drop them a message and get that conversation going; nine out of ten times people do respond.”
Be smart about how you research
Whatever kind of clients you’re working with, research is a big part of a brand strategist’s day. This could be researching the market or the target audience, getting stuck into a brief, or looking at where and how your campaign can cut through for a client. But a good strategist will be able to conduct research and present findings in a way that paves the way for great creative work. According to Chakrabarty, it’s about asking why. “Strategists are typically presented with a lot of information and a lot of facts and figures,” she says. “To be able to really dig a little deeper and peel off the layer and say, ‘Why is this happening?’ helps us be better brand strategists and then allows us to frame a response and an answer that is interesting, and nuanced.”
It’s also important to ensure your research is targeted. “Make sure you know what your goal is,” says Elise Meng, Strategist at R/GA, an agency that specialises in brand design and consulting. “The key to strategy comes from the insights and learnings you've found based on the thousands of pages of research you've conducted.”
Start sharing your ideas
After researching, you’ll need to communicate your findings both with your team and with the client. Prout says that sharing is the best way for a strategist to learn how to do this. “Share, share, share!” she says. “As strategists, we learn by doing, and sharing with your desk neighbour, your designer friends, your account leads, your housemate isn’t just about getting their feedback — it’s about getting your thoughts out of your head and making sure they’re hanging together in a sensical and impactful way.”
Tyla Grant, Strategist at We Are Social, a company that focuses on connecting people with brands in meaningful ways, agrees that sharing is a fundamental part of strategy. “Push yourself to share your ideas. LinkedIn or Twitter are great places to share your point of view and also comment on insights in a way that other strategists can see. I'd post at least once a week on either platform, and if the thought of that is daunting then start by commenting on work that has been shared by others.”
Have varied interests and hobbies
Brands don’t exist in a vacuum and neither do great brand strategists. As a key member of a team, you can add value by bringing in your outside interests or building on a knowledge of contemporary culture. This can also help if your path to advertising is a little unorthodox. Grant recommends showcasing your zeitgeist knowledge upfront. “For interviews, get to know classic ads but also modern work in niche areas,” she says. “Something that's 'fresh and new' from a subculture you can educate an interviewer on.” Grant came to strategy during the pandemic, launching her career from scratch without industry connections first by founding Black and Neurodivergent, a non-profit that makes space for Black youth to explore neurodiversity.
Chakrabarty agrees with this idea. “It’s important for anyone in advertising to have varied interests, but especially for strategists,” she says. “For example, if you're somebody who's really interested in history, pursue that, because where you invest your time outside of work feeds back into work in the most interesting ways.”
Know your brand on the inside
Finally, to be a good brand strategist, you’ll need to learn how to truly understand the brand you’re working for. Nick Griffiths, Strategist at R/GA who’s primarily been working on Nike recently says, “Brand strategy, like most other types of strategy, is underpinned by a curiosity to learn and understand. With brand strategy specifically, you’ll need to learn more about the internal workings of the brand, and not just how it shows up in its marketing. Whether you’re working on a new startup or established brand with decades of history, it’s important to unpack the internal attitudes, behaviours and desires of your clients at every level.”