Inside: You’ve heard about brand designers, but a brand strategist? Why do you need one? What do they actually do?
The word strategy gets thrown around a lot in the online business space. There’s marketing strategy, website strategy, content strategy… and many more.
A lot of people confuse strategy with plan. But the two are not the same.
Let’s take as our example content. You can create an editorial calendar or content plan with one blog post a week. For most solopreneurs, it usually goes something like this:
At the beginning of the month, you take a few topics from your idea bank and drop them into your planner for the next four weeks. If you’re feeling ambitious, you outline them or even plan the whole quarter instead of just one month.
Do you now have a content plan? Yes. Do you have a content strategy? No.
Because while a plan is part of a strategy, it is not the only part.
And it works the same way with branding.
Let's define brand strategy.
At its core, brand strategy is how you shape the public perception of your brand and business.
It involves a thorough understanding of your business, the market landscape, your audience, and for solopreneurs, what you bring to the table in your business.
It’s equal parts research, science, and art.
Typically, it defines the brand substance, positioning in the market, the brand persona, and the brand’s core message framework. This is what my service entails.
For larger companies and start-ups, brand strategy can extend to the story framework and tagline creation. (It also usually costs upwards of $10K so don’t get all jelly 😊)
AND WHAT IS A BRAND STRATEGIST?
Well, that’s the person who creates your brand strategy for you. Someone who can connect dots you can’t see because you’re too close to your own business.
Some people liken it to not being able to read your own label because you’re inside the bottle. A brand strategist not only reads you what your label says, but also helps you lay out a plan for achieving your goals.
Ideally, this is someone with a ton of knowledge to support their work. Some credentials to look for:
- Background in business (like my first Bachelor’s)
- Background in marketing (like my certification as a Master Marketer)
- Design chops* (see my Portfolio)
*Obviously, design chops aren't necessary if someone else is designing the brand identity.
What does a brand strategist do?
Research. So much research! 🤯
Ok, I’m kidding, there’s a lot more to it than that, but research is where we start.
In my workflow, for example, clients fill out a brand questionnaire a week before our first Zoom call. It gives me a preliminary idea of the market they’re in, the goals they have, and the people they’re trying to reach.
That’s my starting point for research. There are often things clients don’t tell me in the questionnaire – sometimes because they don’t know, other times because they don’t think it’s important.
It’s my job to figure them out and bring them up at the appropriate point in our calls so we can talk about them in detail.
Next up is asking a lot of questions. I mean, a lot. I basically ask you to dump your brain as we talk, and then I dig around for the bits that are still there. As one of my clients put it recently, “it’s intense but straightforward.”
We’re looking at your business and examining it from angles you’ve likely never considered before. As a result, you get to know it much more intimately. And so do I, which helps me do the next part of the job…
Synthesizing everything you said into one cohesive whole – your brand strategy.
I document it all in your Brand Master Guide – a pdf booklet that becomes a touchstone for your brand and business for years to come.
It’s what you share with all new hires, whether employees or independent contractors, to help them get on board quickly and to steep them in your brand culture right from the beginning.
It’s also what guides the subsequent design of your brand identity. Because your brand visuals simply express the underlying brand strategy visually.
Why do you need a brand strategist?
In short, because building a business without a brand strategy is a lot like building a house without a foundation. Might as well be building on quicksand.
And for the most part, when solopreneurs think about their business, it’s all sort of floating around the brain, not settling or forming into anything concise.
A brand strategist like me can catch all those floating thoughts and ideas, and help you decode the bits on the edges.
That’s like taking an express train from Vague City to Clarity. You bypass all kinds of rabbit holes that can lead to burnout, and you get there fast. Think of the time you could save by leaving doubt behind.
And speaking of time…
When do you need a brand strategist?
Ideally, at the beginning. And by that, I mean when you have a validated offer (meaning, at least three people have paid you for it).
Too many solopreneurs skip this step. Not their fault – because the gurus and other loud voices either don’t know about the importance of brand strategy, or they’re keeping people in the dark on purpose (as usual).
Some people skip the strategy part because they think it’s hard. It’s not. Now, I’m not saying it easy, because it’s not that either. What it is, is intense.
How do you prepare to work with a brand strategist?
Initially, there’s the brand questionnaire to fill out. It requires some thinking, so it's definitely not a 10-minute jobbie you start right before the deadline. Grab your favorite beverage or snack, and settle in to answer the questions.
You want to be super open and not hold anything back. A brand strategy session is a judgment-free zone. Like a brainstorming session – quantity over quality. The refining comes when it’s all getting organized and fused together.
The strategy intensive takes a lot of thinking and stimulates a ton of creative ideas. A recent client showed me her notes – full of ideas for products and services she could offer. So definitely have a pen and paper ready.
You don’t need to worry about being all over the place (a common source of anxiety) because I guide you with questions and take notes on everything you say. Plus, there’s usually a clear thread connecting all the seemingly disparate pieces.
And last but not least, it’s an intensive – mine’s broken up into two Zoom calls of 2-3 hours each, and still I recommend you plan time for a nap afterward.
And there you have it. Now you know what a brand strategist does and why it’s essential. Pretty cool, right?
If you’re ready to build a solid foundation for your business and get your brand strategy sorted, check out my signature branding package.
Or, if you prefer to start with something lighter, grab my Brand Clarity Workbook below. It walks you through the five questions you need to answer before changing your brand colors (yet again).