The 5 Essential Skills You Need and 4 Courses You Should Consider to Learn Brand Strategy

"I'm not sure I'm smart enough to do brand strategy."

Do you know how often I hear that?


But what’s really behind this?

Firstly - the jargon and unnecessary complexity that can make the whole area feel inaccessible.

Secondly - a case of brand strategy imposter syndrome that occurs, even among strategists with YEARS of experience, because they feel they don't really know what to do or exactly how to do it.  

Here’s two things to solve this:

  1. The 4 best brand strategy courses to give you that necessary clarity and confidence.
  2. The 5 essential skills you need. It’s not about being ‘smart’ but you do need to like doing these 5 things.

The skills you need to do brand strategy

Let's start with the skills, since if these don't feel like you - or don't feel like things you want to be good at  - you won't want to go any further.

From my 20+ years experience, and a ton of interviews with other brand strategists, there are 5 of them you need to have:

  1. Curiosity
  2. Active Listening
  3. Linear thinking
  4. Lateral thinking
  5. Powers of Persuasion 

Brand Strategy Skill 1: Curiosity

Brand strategy is needed for all companies, across all industries.

But this has to float your boat.

If you’re ok with your next 3 projects being a luxury tequila, then a pharmaceutical company, then a tech firm – and you’re fascinated to dive deep into each business and industry, then great. 

Too often brand strategists fail to develop a command of the business that they are branding which kills their credibility and impact.

Mary Jane Braide, Strategist and Brand Coach

If the thought of having to quickly get up to speed with all sorts of different topics and research, again and again, fills you with dread or boredom, then perhaps it’s not for you.   

Of course, you can specialise in an industry, but that won't help you think laterally about clients' problems  - which is useful - as you'll see below.

Brand Strategy Skill 2: Active Listening

Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones that do more listening than talking.

Bernard Baruch

Listening to why the client has come to you in the first place. 

Listening to different perspectives across the organisation.

Listening to customers to understand their perceptions of the brand, and the ultimate value it offers.

Listening to industry experts.

Listening to founders.

Listening to competitors.

Really listening first – then drawing the conclusions. 

Sounds simple. Takes practice.

Because, as Stephen Covey says:

If you want a starter for ten, check out Harvard Business Review’s article – What Great Listeners Actually Do.

Brand Strategy Skills 3 and 4: Linear and Lateral Thinking

 ‘Ambidextrous brains required’. 

This was the headline that lured me into a career in brand strategy.  It was an ad for the WPP Fellowship, which is what propelled me into a world of brands, branding and marketing. 

You need an 'ambidextrous brain' to be a successful brand strategist.  You have to tread the line between process, structure and logic (this is how we need to approach this, you need to answer these questions to get to your brand strategy, they all connect in this way…), to making leaps of insight between all sorts of different sources to get to the right brand strategy for that particular client.    

Linear logic and lateral creativity. 

This is also what makes it fun!

Brand Strategy Skill 4: Powers of Persuasion

You need to be able to channel this - both in the way you write, and the way you present. 

Decks, deliverables, in-person and remote presentations, stakeholder interviews, workshops: we’re on stage for all of it and the expectation is that we will compel some kind of action. Could be a decision, could be agreement on next steps, acceptance of a plan, position or process. Assuming we’re working with high-level decision makers (kind of a must) we should anticipate at least some amount of practiced, skilled scepticism, and we need to be able to overcome it convincingly.

Byron Freney, Chief Strategy Officer at milk+honey

You need to deliver your recommendations  - whether on strategy, or the way you need to get to that strategy, with confidence, conviction and clarity. 


This might make you hesitate but-  trust me - it gets easier with practice.  I remember quite early on in my career presenting to two thousand zookeepers in Chicago, on a 360 degree stage, where I couldn’t see the slides.   I figured if I could get through that challenge, and convince them of the power of brand, and get their agreement to the brand strategy for the association they all represented, then I must be getting the hang of it. 

But this is a hell of a lot easier if you have the right process in the first place.

If you’ve designed an approach that has them engaged from the beginning.

If the people you are presenting to can see and hear how their own voices, along with that of the customer, and their competitors, have led to the strategy you’re recommending.

Learn How To Do Brand Strategy

This takes you to the next stage.

Get some training.  Take a course.  Blatant plug for mine below, because I know how much it has helped people, plus suggestions on 3 others that might also help you.

The Best Brand Strategy Courses 

If you are ready to learn exactly how to do Brand Strategy with a really practical course focused on fully equipping you with all the tools, clarity and confidence you need, then consider joining Brand Strategy Academy. 

Of course it covers the foundations like what brand strategy is, why it's important and the right framework to use (based on 20+ years experience and a study of the 181 most valuable brands), but it also teaches you all the nuts and bolts like:

  1. How to do research
    If you want plug-and-play customer, competitor, and company research guides, with all the best questions to ask, and the most effective way to analyse the results; it has you covered.
  2. How to run a brand strategy workshop
    Want all the activities, a checklist of what to prepare beforehand, and a script to help you know EXACTLY what to say at each stage?  You got it.
  3. How to plan a brand strategy project.  
    Just wish someone would hand you an 8-week plan with checklists for each week, a proposal template and a way to figure out pricing?  Yup – in there too.
  4. How to write a brand strategy. 
    Want easy-to-use frameworks and over 40 examples from some of the world’s most valuable brands?  You’ve guessed it; it’s all there for you.
  5. How to roll out a brand strategy.
    Want to know how to continue the relationship with your client and guide them on the right way to implement the strategy, for the first year after launch? No problem. 12-month implementation plan included.

It's helped close to 100 brand strategists, copywriters, designers and marketers learn exactly how to do brand strategy so far.  

People like Sarah Kloosman, who wrote:

This course was brilliant for me. I knew about brand strategy and had found more and more of our clients asking for support during their brand strategy phase. What we lacked was the implementation of the theory which the Brand Strategy Academy does so brilliantly. Not only does Sarah take the time to really explain why the process is important but she then equips you with that very process in such a way that you can take it and run with it straight away. No fuss, no anxiety, just simple implementation. It has been invaluable to me and my agency.

Or Paul Lewis:

Sarah's course is full of clear and practical advice when it comes to things like proposal writing, pricing, running workshops and presenting plans. It gives you both the big picture and the little details you need to feel confident about landing and managing clients. Plus, it's remarkably good value!

And Mohammad Alshanawani:

This course brings true clarity and grounding to a subject that is often clouded with fluff. I have done more learning in this course than in my career experience so far. It helped me evaluate and re-think the work I see from other strategists. 

It's taught across 7 Modules over 7 weeks (although you can also take it at your own pace -  you get lifetime access) and I run live Q&A sessions each week. It's open for enrolment right now, costs £367, and you can find out all the details here.

If you're looking for a longer term commitment to learn about brand mastery overall, and to meet a known guru in the industry, then Marty Neumeier's Level C series is a really thorough program.

There are five stages:

Brand Specialist, Brand Strategist, Brand Architect, Brand Master (coming in 2023), Chief of Brand (coming in 2024)

To get to the Brand Strategist Class you have to do the Brand Specialist one first.  The Brand Specialist class is 3 days long, online still at present, and costs between $1,000 – $1,200 at time of writing.  They run it about once a month.  The Brand Strategist class is priced from $1,500 – $1,700 and runs once a quarter.  Find out more here.

Mark Ritson is a well-known professor and brand expert who runs what he calls 'Mini MBAs' in Marketing and Brand Management.  If you're a Brand Manager and want to learn brand strategy as part of a toolkit of things you need to run a brand, then this is a really useful program.  

Taught across 10 modules in 12 weeks, as well as interactive Q&A with Mark every two weeks, the course  follows the complete brand journey from diagnosis through to execution and tracking.  It runs again in September and costs £1,525+VAT at time of writing.  Find out more here.

The fourth course you might want to consider is Stephen Houraghan's 'Brand Master Secrets'. It's very comprehensive: 12 modules with 140+ video lessons: including - in his words - 'advanced scientific and psychological techniques to elevate your authority and expert status'. It's priced at $897 and is a 'completely digital experience. You simply access the vast library of videos in your dashboard where you can download your provided templates and worksheets' so can be bought at any time.

If you're not ready to commit to a paid course and just want more of a handle on what brand strategy is, why you need to do it, and how the best brands do it then you can get started with my Brand Strategy in 7 Simple Steps course.   Other courses with a small cost (around $20) that give you a great introduction are Mark Pollard's on Skillshare, and Contemporary Brand Identity: Using Verbal and Visual Branding by Michael Johnson on Domestika.  Everyone above is worth a follow on LinkedIn.

Hope this helps you on your brand strategy journey!



My weekly newsletter shares real-world advice and insight based on my 20+ years of global brand strategy experience.  Get access here!