Discover the practical steps that allowed me to become fearless as an uncertified brand strategist
Do you feel the fear or the necessity to have a certification to claim your expertise?
I assure you that you're not alone. Many designers who want to shift into brand strategy ask themselves thousands of questions.
- Do I have what it takes?
- Do I need a certification?
- Do I need more experience?
It is an endless cycle that you will stay in forever if you don't take action and change your mindset. I've been there, and I know what it feels like to being stuck in this mindset. What have I done to overcome it?
We will cover how in 4 sections:
Before even claiming yourself as a brand strategist, are you able to explain to someone who never heard of a brand strategist what he could do for him?
If the answer is no, you need to determine and understand what you can put on the table.
You may skip to mindset shift if your answer is yes, but more knowledge can only be beneficial.
Solving the first doubt; Do I have what it takes?
As a Brand Strategist, your role is to connect the dots of the thoughts and uncertainties of your clients. Uncover the smog layering over their best ideas. You are helping them influence their audience's buying decisions through written, verbal, and visual tactics.
You will create a brand messaging that is consistent across all their platforms.
How do you do it?
Many brands have a hard time defining their WHY. They position themselves as the hero and neglect the REAL hero, which is their customer.
You need to understand for who you're creating the strategy. Gathering in-depth research and analysis helps you establish a solid foundation from the get-go. Establish a fictive profile that relates the most to reality.
This is a template of a customer persona:
- Profile Picture (Unsplash, Adobe Stock, Shutterstock)
- Spending Capacity
- Where does she/he live?
- Where do they hang out?
- What are her/his main pain points (Unfulfilled needs)?
- What are the top 3 things that she/he values in a product or service?
You can create your template, but it should have the same purpose: connect the brand with its target audience.
You can clearly understand the current competition offering a solution for your existing audience from your audience research.
Your role is to have a crystal-clear understanding of the competitive landscape and identify a gap to position the brand to connect with their dream customer.
It is the backbone of the brand's story. You need to have a unique positioning to differentiate the brand from its competition.
Brand positioning template:
My business (name) serves (target audience) in order to (impact created) so that (result generated). We do that by (service/product provided). Our solution is better/different because (authentic key points).
Taglines establish an emotional connection with the brand. They work together as a pair. It helps the differentiation of the brand in their audience's mind.
Nike - Just Do It.
Apple - Think Different.
Wendy's - Where's the Beef?
Coca-Cola - Open Happiness.
That's not all of it. Strategic messaging is a crucial task, if not the most important, for your brand development. It is the union of your tagline, value proposition, and your brand pillars.
Don't rush yourself to create the tagline imperatively in this step. Write down as many ideas as possible throughout a collaborative process.
Creating a spark of curiosity and emotional connection should be our top priority to convert a potential customer into a loyal one successfully.
As a customer, we click with a brand that we relate to. It can be because of its tagline, story, or even its design.
How to give a personality to our brand?
- Beliefs and values (Being transparent, impactful mission)
- Brand archetypes, personality traits, and tone of voice
- Brand style (Moodboard, Stylescapes)
- Brand Creative (Brand Identity)
We design for our audience, not for us (personal taste). The strategist ensures that the visual development relates to the target audience. Developing a strategic design that is intended to display the brand characteristics visually is essential. The brand creative needs to be consistent across all platforms to remain aligned with your brand strategy as the brand grows.
This article aims not to show you how to create a brand strategy from A to Z but to help you understand the role of a Brand Strategist and become fearless as an uncertified one. You may want to take some notes and recap what you read to understand what a Brand Strategist can do for a brand.
The crazy part? It all comes down to one huge point: SOLVE PROBLEMS.
To answer your doubts, ask yourself different questions;
How badly do I want to become a brand strategist?
How badly do I want to help the brand succeed?
Anyone can become a brand strategist, but you need to put in the work because not anyone is doing it to have what it takes.
- Read books about branding, brand strategy, marketing, learning methodology, etc.
- Enroll in a brand strategy course
- Learn Digital Marketing
- Level up your Copywriting Skills
- Learn about Psychology and Human Behaviors
Effective brand strategy can save hundreds, thousands, or millions of dollars for a brand. And you can be part of it.
Myself included, I read my first book at 26 years old, and from that moment, I read one book every week. The amount of knowledge that you can acquire in such a tiny amount of time is incredible. If you're like me and you don't like reading (that is what I thought).
Read What You Love Until You Love to Read - Naval.
What do I love? Design, branding, marketing, self-improvement, creativity.
I'm telling you this is because it can change your life. To get rid of your doubts, you need to know YOUR value, and we may undervalue ourselves... A LOT. While we're busy doing that, someone else is taking action and solving problems BIG problems.
I didn't enroll in any brand strategy course because I was overconsuming content without taking action. The trigger action for me was starting before being ready. Stop overthinking and do it.
Don't get me wrong, taking a course can be very beneficial if you take action. Don't throw your money over the window.
With that being said, I will certainly buy some courses while implementing what I learn into my process. At this moment, I cannot recommend any because I want to give my honest feedback and what it did for me.
You can learn pretty much anything on the internet for free.
Having multiple skills up in your sleeve can help you bring more value to your client. Every business now day needs Digital Marketing.
Learn more about developing websites, SEO, SEM, Facebook ADS, online marketing, and email marketing. Learning is one thing, but mastering is another step that can be attainable only with practice.
Copywriting is a neglected skill for many designers and brand strategists (myself included). Coming up with a name for a brand and tagline is easier with a framework, but creativity still plays a role in the process. Add copywriting to it, and it becomes easier.
I'm not telling you to learn absolutely anything to do it all by yourself, but it can help with your process. Working with other creatives who excel in these skills remains essential when needed.
How can you practice?
- Summarize the books you read in a way someone else can understand it.
- Take inspiration from other copywriters (do not copy/past)
- Write articles even if you don't publish them. You may publish them one day. (I started practicing my copywriting, and this is my very first article.)
- Check and verify your grammar, spelling, tone of voice, etc. I use Grammarly (Takes notes about the mistakes you make.)
You may wonder what it has to do with brand strategy? It is more connected than you think. As Brand Strategist, we want to connect the brand with its desired audience. Learning about human behaviors can help you better understand which personality will fit best with a particular brand.
Again, we don't want to have a bachelor's in psychology, but basic knowledge can save you tons of time when conducting audience research and analysis. There is a difference between "Searching" and "Knowing what and how to search it."
Can you guess what a car Salesman learns in their first week of training? If you said human behaviors, you're on the right track. They even learn about human personality to know HOW to speak to them and sell to them.
Human is an imperfect creation, but there is always some repetition. Learn how to interact with them, and you'll gain more clarity.
Are you looking to transition from brand designer to brand strategist, or are you looking to combine both of your skillsets?
It depends on your goal, but one thing is sure, a brand strategy will tremendously reduce your client revisions. At first, you may incorporate brand strategy into your process and include the price in the scope of your project. Afterward, you can start to charge a higher fee for brand strategy up to the point where you will only do brand strategy and eradicate design deliverables.
At my current level, I am charging $CAD 2000 for strategy alone. I do not take branding projects without a brand strategy. The reason is simple, even without mentioning brand strategy, you will technically conduct your research, but there is miscommunication. A brand strategy workshop can help you and your client throughout a collaborative process from the beginning.
The thing is, I love designing, and I love being part of the entire process, so combining both strategy and design was the obvious decision for me.
You may have all the degrees and certifications in the world, but if you don't have any real-world experience, is it worth it?
How many friends do you know who have bachelor's, degrees, and certifications who can't have jobs because they don't have "relative experience." It's pretty scary to see how the educational system is broken. You pay to study, pay your debt with the money you don't have, working a job that you don't want to have a "relative experience" for the job you studied.
Start practicing in the real world as soon as possible. You may consider joining a creative community and doing brand strategies for each other for the sake of learning. Do you have entrepreneurs friends? Would you please take advantage of that and talk to them about brand strategy and how it can impact their business?
Before doing a brand strategy for myself (personal branding), I practiced with my friends who wanted to launch a brand. Trial and error allowed me to refine my process and framework better. It is the most challenging task to do things for yourself, but the result is mind-blowing. You gain clarity about yourself (your brand), your target audience, and how you can appeal to them.
You need to understand that it is a long road. Results don't show up the next day. It may take three, four, or even six months before considering trying another strategy.
Take inspiration from world elite athletes, they put in the work daily, and their success did not come from day one.
Consistency and persistence are essential for any success.
Do I have what it takes?
Put in the work, and you will not even ask yourself those kinds of questions anymore.
Do I need a certification?
Absolutely not, it may help for social proof, but as I said, experience wins over everything.
Do I need more experience?
It depends where you are now, but here is the thing, charge what you value your experience now and increment your price over time.
Where do you want to be in 3 to 5 years? Define clear goals and take action to realize them. It may be charging $5k-$10k for a brand strategy or only be proud of what you're accomplishing.
Don't undervalue yourself. You are capable of way more than what you think. Our only limitation is our own mind.