So, you’re interested in becoming a brand strategist, a pivotal role in the realms of branding, marketing, social media, and copywriting. The brand strategist is akin to a navigator, charting the course and devising the blueprint for brand triumph. Once a preserve of global brands, the significance of brand strategy has now trickled down to startups and small businesses. Even though brand managers are employed, the brand strategist holds a unique position in crafting the fundamental strategy that managers then execute.
Defining Brand Strategy:
Firstly, let’s clarify what brand strategy entails. It’s the roadmap of how a brand expresses itself. The primary objective of any brand is to mold audience perceptions, influencing both immediate and enduring buying decisions. The brand strategy outlines the approach to shape these perceptions. It encompasses various forms of expression, including visual, verbal, and other mediums.
Roles and Responsibilities:
A brand strategist, therefore, serves as the mastermind behind this strategy, delineating the Who, What, How, Where, and When of brand expression. Their responsibilities encompass identifying and strategizing the following elements:
- Identifying the Audience: Understanding the target demographic thoroughly.
- Defining the Brand Offering: Clearly outlining what the brand provides to its audience.
- Crafting Resonant Brand Messaging: Creating messaging that deeply connects with the audience.
- Choosing Engagement Platforms: Deciding where the brand will interact with its audience.
- Determining Timing of Engagement: Planning when these interactions will occur.
To achieve this, meticulous market research is conducted, delving into market trends, competitors, consumer behavior, and other factors shaping the brand’s position within the market. This deep understanding forms the bedrock upon which effective brand strategies are built, making the brand strategist a linchpin in brand success.
The Crucial Role of a Brand Strategist:
A brand strategist holds a pivotal role in merging the audience and the brand. This integration is accomplished through an in-depth understanding of the audience, delving into their personality, journey, and emotional investment. By comprehending the audience intricately, the brand strategist devises a comprehensive plan to engage them effectively. The ultimate objective is to shape the audience’s perception, portraying the brand as the ideal solution to their desires or needs, thereby forging a robust and lasting relationship.
Qualifications and Career Path:
While there isn’t a specific degree dedicated to brand strategy, successful brand strategists possess diverse qualifications. Although a background in marketing can be advantageous, many accomplished strategists have emerged from various communication roles, some even without formal university education. The field of brand strategy, like many others, evolves rapidly. Modern strategists are characterized by their industry awareness, adept use of tools, and, most crucially, their understanding of diverse audiences.
In the past, there was no direct educational pathway to becoming a brand strategist. Traditionally, individuals in brand strategy roles within major corporations often began their careers in conventional marketing positions. Typically, they started as marketing managers and steadily progressed to the esteemed position of chief brand navigator. However, the landscape is changing. Brand strategy and, consequently, brand strategists are gaining increasing significance in the contemporary business world. In the face of intensifying competition, a skilled brand strategist is regarded as a prized asset for businesses of all scales, proving to be an indispensable team member.
The Emergence of Freelance Brand Strategists:
In today’s marketing landscape, the dwindling tolerance for push marketing coincides with the escalating significance of terms like “brand”, “branding”, and “brand strategy”. Influential figures in the business world, ranging from Gary Vaynerchuk to Grant Cardone, emphasize the crucial role of a well-defined brand and the need for a strategic plan to communicate it effectively.
This shift has led every entrepreneur, regardless of their funding source, to seek out strategists to assist them in shaping their brand identity. Whether they are backed by substantial investments or operating on a shoestring budget from their home office, entrepreneurs are actively engaging with strategists to enhance their brand presence.
Roles of a Brand Strategist:
The responsibilities of a brand strategist are multifaceted in the process of building and developing a strategic brand. However, at its essence, a brand strategist must possess exceptional communication skills. Their primary objective is to convey the brand’s message to the target audience with utmost clarity. The specific tasks undertaken by a strategist vary based on their experience, the presence of a creative team, and the company’s budget, encompassing a wide range of roles within the branding process.
At the outset, delving deeply into the audience the brand intends to engage with is paramount. Creating detailed audience personas provides the brand with a clear understanding of its target demographic. By comprehending their preferences, circumstances, journeys, challenges, pain points, and emotions, the strategist can formulate a strategy that deeply resonates with this specific group of individuals.
Understanding the audience’s needs allows for a comprehensive assessment of existing options available in the market. These offerings, presented by other brands, constitute the competitive landscape. To effectively position the brand, the strategist must possess a sharp understanding of this competitive terrain. Such knowledge illuminates gaps and opportunities that the brand can leverage to its advantage.
A critical task involves defining the brand’s position through a distinctive differentiation strategy. This role is pivotal for the strategist. By intimately grasping the market landscape, encompassing both the audience and competitors, the strategist collaborates closely with the leadership team to outline the unique value proposition the brand offers. This distinction becomes the focal point for the messaging strategy, shaping the entire brand-building process henceforth.
Humanizing the Brand
In bridging the gap between the audience and the brand, the strategist must employ every available tool. Elements such as brand personality, language, and tone of voice play strategic roles in humanizing the brand. This process creates a human brand persona, influencing how the brand conveys its message. By imbuing the brand with human characteristics and expressions, it fosters a connection and resonance with the audience on a profoundly human level.
Strategic Brand Messaging and Copywriting
A pivotal task in crafting a strategic brand involves developing precise messaging. The groundwork, encompassing extensive research, positioning strategy, and the human persona, establishes the brand’s tone. Defining key messages that profoundly shape the audience’s comprehension and perception of the brand significantly contributes to solidifying its position in their minds. Few tasks wield as much influence over a brand’s success or failure as its messaging strategy.
Compelling Brand Storytelling
Rooted in audience research, the strategist uncovers intricate details about their audience’s lives, which form the bedrock of the brand’s story. Audience research stands at the core of storytelling because an impactful brand story revolves around the audience—their circumstances, journey, struggles, and emotions. A skilled strategist crafts a brand narrative that captivates the audience by enabling them to see themselves within the story.
Brand Naming and Tagline Development
While strategists often have limited involvement in brand naming due to early decisions made by the leadership team, their role lies in advocating for strategic name and tagline development. Persuading the leadership team to consider strategic naming and taglines is crucial, as it aligns with the overall brand strategy.
Creative Brand Development
The strategist takes charge of the brand’s visual development, ensuring alignment with the strategic direction. Visual elements, including color schemes, shapes, typography, icons, images, and graphics, collectively form the brand identity. When developed strategically, the visual identity becomes a potent tool, significantly impacting brand perception and recall.
How to Acquire Brand Strategist Skills
If the path to becoming a brand strategist is your aspiration, there are concrete steps you can take to prepare yourself effectively.
Step #1: Cultivate Experience in the Branding Industry
Branding encompasses diverse facets, and numerous roles play vital parts in constructing a strategic brand. Skills in graphic design, copywriting, and social media marketing are integral as they each contribute to brand advancement, constituting essential pieces of the brand puzzle. A brand strategist acts as the mission control of the brand, necessitating a profound understanding of all elements involved in brand building. For those in the early stages of their brand-building career, exploring various roles within the industry provides invaluable experience and insight.
Step #2: Develop Proficiency in Digital Marketing
The terms “branding” and “marketing” are frequently used interchangeably, although they embody distinct yet interconnected realms. Marketing initiatives serve at the forefront of any brand, articulating the brand’s essence to the market. As a brand strategist, your role revolves around uniting audiences with brands effectively. This task requires an in-depth comprehension of the diverse tools available in the digital marketing landscape. To devise strategic plans for bridging audiences and brands, a comprehensive understanding of the intricacies of each marketing channel at your disposal is imperative. Building a strategic brand demands a solid grasp of the composition and functioning of each marketing avenue accessible to your brand.
Step #3: Refine Your Copywriting Proficiency
In the realm of branding, the design of brand identities is often closely linked, sometimes leading to the interchangeable use of terms such as “logo” and “branding.” However, branding transcends mere design; it is the active expression of a brand. Among these expressions, the brand message reigns supreme, representing both the “What” and “How” of the brand’s communication. This expression predominantly takes the form of copywriting, encompassing mediums like instructional videos, website content, brochures, advertisements, and social media posts. Effective copywriting serves as a potent tool, allowing brands to connect with their audience on a profound level, channeling specific characteristics, tones, content, and emotions. Mastering copywriting skills enhances your capacity to articulate and structure brand messages, even if you are not the one crafting the copy directly. This proficiency enables precise direction for brand messaging.
Step #4: Acquire Art Direction Expertise
While honed copywriting skills empower brand strategists to oversee verbal expression, proficiency in art direction equips them to manage visual expression. Many brand strategists transition from roles in brand design, which grants them invaluable experience and creative prowess, enabling them to adeptly guide the visual representation of a brand. It’s important to note that possessing a design background isn’t a prerequisite for becoming a brand strategist. However, understanding visual expression, even without being a designer, is indispensable. The ability to conceptualize and direct the visual aspects of a brand is crucial for ensuring a cohesive and compelling brand identity.
Step #5: Familiarize Yourself with Design Specializations
If your background lies in design, you likely have a nuanced understanding of various design roles. However, if you’re new to this realm, it’s crucial to comprehend that the term “graphic designer” now encompasses a myriad of specific design roles. These specialized areas include Print Design, Brand Design, Web Design, User Experience Design, User Interface Design, Environmental Design, Animation Design, Illustrator, and Packaging Design. Designers often possess multiple skill sets, so it’s vital to discern the specific expertise required for your branding projects. The complexity and scale of your project will determine the level of specialization you need. For instance, if you’re developing a brand for a technology company focused on digital products, having both a User Interface Designer and a User Experience Designer would be more relevant than a generalist web designer.
Step #6: Grasp Neuroscience and Psychology
At its core, branding revolves around shaping perceptions, which reside in the minds of your audience. Therefore, it’s imperative to understand the minds you intend to influence. Human behavior is often rooted in repetitive patterns, stemming from our primitive DNA. Gaining insight into these patterns and comprehending why they recur empowers you to tailor your brand and its messaging to influence these behaviors. You don’t need a doctorate or a white coat for this understanding; even a fundamental grasp of the science and psychology of human behavior provides a significant advantage for brand strategists.
Essential Traits of Brand Strategists
Brand strategists hail from diverse backgrounds, each bringing unique experiences and skill sets to the table. However, they share common traits that define their effectiveness:
- Creativity: Brand strategists exhibit imaginative thinking, exploring innovative differentiators.
- Analytical Acumen: They delve deep into understanding the landscape, analyzing data to unearth opportunities.
- Inquisitiveness: Curiosity drives them to uncover efficient pathways to success.
- Resourcefulness: Brand strategists envision a path to success and identify the most effective means to achieve it.
Learning Brand Strategy: Pathways and Education
Brand strategy, traditionally honed through practical experience, has given rise to diverse frameworks and philosophies crafted by individual strategists. However, the growing demand for brand strategists has paved the way for educational avenues focused on brand strategy. Unlike a decade ago when limited options existed, today there is a significant surge in available brand strategy courses. These courses provide aspiring strategists with efficient and accelerated alternatives, offering an opportunity to explore this field and determine if it aligns with their long-term career goals.
Diverse Professions Leading to Brand Strategy
While the association between designers and branding is well-known due to the pivotal role of brand designers, the realm of strategic brand development extends far beyond design professionals. Various professionals contribute significantly to shaping brands and are increasingly assuming strategic roles. These roles encompass a broad spectrum, including but not limited to Brand Designers, Copywriters, Web Designers, Social Media Managers, and Paid Ad Experts. These professions represent just a fraction of the diverse talents involved in the intricate process of brand building, with many professionals transitioning into strategic branding roles.
Final Thoughts on Becoming a Brand Strategist
To transition into a strategic brand-building position, be it as a freelancer or within an agency, a crucial starting point involves showcasing your strategic mindset. Chances are, in your daily tasks, you’re already making decisions that impact the brand strategically. The key is to articulate the reasoning behind these decisions. By verbalizing the why and how behind your choices, you begin to exhibit the strategic thinking essential for a strategist role. Whether you communicate this with clients or supervisors, your ability to convey your strategic thought process will undoubtedly be recognized.