The 5 Essential Skills You Need To Be A Brand Strategist

I’m often asked about the right university course to take, and career path to follow, to become a brand strategist.

Truth is, there isn’t a typical route.

It’s one of those odd roles that attract a motley crew of people with very different backgrounds.

So forget courses and paths, instead, focus on qualities and skills. 

There are 5 of them you need to have, and if you don’t have these, it doesn’t really matter what courses you take, or where you work… the world of brand strategy probably won’t be for you.

The 5 are:

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


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, then perhaps it’s not for you.   

Of course, you can specialise in an industry, but that won’t help you think laterally about client’s problems  - which is one of the other skills you have to nail.

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.

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. I spent three years in three different companies within their network, moving from market research to advertising to branding, which was where I found my really happy place.

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 what makes it fun. 

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. 

Strategists have to have an opinion and believe in it. Clients are looking for a direction.

Glenn Ebert, Brand Strategy and Innovation Consultant

This gets easier with practice.  I remember quite early on in my career presenting to 2000 Zookeepers in Chicago, on a 360 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.

And this is all stuff I can teach you in Brand Strategy Academy

Things 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; I have 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 how much to charge?  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.

So if you think you’re pretty good at active listening, lateral and linear thinking, and have persuasive communication skills, then I have the no brainer next step for you, which you can read about here. 

Satisfy your curiosity on brand strategy, and elevate your business.




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