I'm a branding expert and graphic designer based in Brooklyn, New York. Need help with branding?—Just Get in touch
In this article, I talk about how to become a brand strategist because whether you’re in logo design, branding or marketing, all roads lead back to the brand strategist.
Before we talk about becoming a brand strategist, first let’s quickly define what brand strategy actually is.
If you prefer to watch instead of reading — check out my YouTube video of the same title:
When it comes to this subject - Marty Neumeier is a true brand strategist and this is how he defines brand strategy:
“A plan for the systematic development of a brand in order to meet business objectives.“— Marty Neumeier, Brand Gap
The goal of brand strategy is to shape the perceptions of a brand’s audience so that ultimately we can influence them.
Therefore, the brand strategy sets out the plan for shaping those perceptions through different forms of expression both visual and verbal.
Brand strategy used to be reserved for global brands, but now more business owners have started to realize the importance of building a brand and the strategy behind it.
In this article, you’ll learn how I became a brand strategist so that you can navigate your career in the right direction and raise your specialist profile.
If a brand strategy is a plan for development of a brand, then brand strategist is the person who helps to plan that development.
What a brand strategist does in a nutshell:
This is the simplest breakdown into 3 sections.
You can also check out my other article to see all 9 key elements to brand strategy.
However, the main role that a brand strategist performs is to understand the business and its audience.
Then to devise a perfect solution for branding that business with the ultimate goal to create the desirable perception of the brand in the minds of customers.
How do you go from being a designer to brand strategist? — Designers often ask me this question. Perhaps the best way to answer this is questions is by telling you how I became a brand strategist.
I studied graphic design at Academy of Fine Arts in Poland and I worked with many design agencies.
Some of them appreciated my love for conceptual thinking and some didn’t, but I always loved that strategic approach.
I liked developing big concepts, and then using design to convey a clear message in the most minimalist way possible.
I always believed that if you design something beautiful, but it has no concept, then it’s useless. Probably that’s why I didn’t like art that much in school and I used to argue with professors a lot of times.
Commercial graphic design is not fine art, you actually have to solve a problem or help achieve a certain goal.
I came to that realization at the early stage of my career, but it wasn’t until 2014 when I started offering brand strategy to my clients.
What happened next? I read a lot of books, learned from various experts and most importantly — I ran a lot of workshops.
That true my tenacity to learn and try, I naturally transitioned from being just a designer to a brand strategist. You need to make that decision — “Yes, I want to be a strategist”, and then act upon it. Learn, experiment and then see if you like it.
At the beginning you might be a bit scared because strategy is such a big word and it can mean so many things.
I started with a questionnaire just like most of designers do—brand identity questionnaire.
Then I started running strategy workshops and at some point I realized how valuable the outcome is for their company.
I realized that I pivoted their company during only a 3 hours meeting and helped them organize their thoughts and ideas.
Once I started seeing tangible results, I knew that this is really important. I noticed that strategy actually moves them in a totally different direction. This was the moment I noted how valuable strategy really can be, so I started doubling my fee.
If turning into a brand strategist is something you look towards to, there are a few simple skills you need to acquire to better prepare for that transition.
There are many roles utilized in brand building, some of which are:
This is a very simple break-down because a graphic designer may specialize in logo design or web design or even further specialize in UI or UX design and so on. Similarly, a copywriter may specialize in brand naming, or a marketer may specialize in social media marketing and so on.
Then also an art director can manage a team of the above to run projects successfully.
As you can see, there are many different specializations that contribute to building a brand.
Each of these roles can be a precursor to becoming a strategist, but you don’t have to come from that background at all. You need to gain as much knowledge and experience about at least high level stuff involved in those disciplines. Therefore, it’s vital to understand the skillset of a designer, copywriter or marketer. Understanding the tools at your disposal will help you define how a brand will communicate visually and verbally.
Here are two scenarios with examples of the problems you can be asked to solve as a strategist.
1. Example 1 — A merger
Two companies have a merger within one month and they need a brand strategist to come in and figure out:
2. Example 2 — A new startup
There’s a new startup with 18 lines of products and only a couple of months to launch need a brand strategist to figure out:
As a brand strategist you basically set the pathway for everyone else who is going to work with the brand.
At this point, I charge $5k for an in-person, or $3k for a remote brand strategy workshop. Honestly, I might be totally underselling myself, but as a remote agency I have very low overhead and can offer competitive prices.
The value to your client is tremendous and startups are used to pay dozens and hundreds of thousands of dollars for brand strategy development.
If you like the idea of making $1,000 an hour — this might be right for you.
Once you engage you clients in strategy, then you actually become a partner or a member of the team.
If you’re just a logo designer — they can fire you on the spot, anytime. If you’re just a logo designer, then you don’t bring that value to a client that someone brings to a client when they actually talk strategy.
Of course you can — I work with clients are from around the globe, although I’m based in New York. You can also check out my YouTube video where I ran a brand strategy workshop remotely with my client in Sydney, Australia.
It doesn’t really matter where you live, as long as you have access to the internet.
Every business needs to build a brand and therefore every business needs strategy — it’s as simple as that.
They may not know it as such, but your job is to educated them, or just focus on working with clients who already value strategy.
If you want to get remote clients for brand strategy, then you need to create content for businesses and CEOs.
You simply need to create content for the people you want to work with: podcast, blog, YouTube videos. For example, you can host a podcast where you interview founders and investors in your country or in a specific niche.
You need to get out there and really be part of that community of entrepreneurs.
You have to stand out by giving them good ideas.
What are the books and courses to learn brand strategy from? If you’re a student, are you wondering what would you have to study?
I recommend studying communication and learning how to solve big problems.
If you’re a student, you should do side gigs with real clients as soon as possible to gain real life experience.
If you fear meeting with 3-4 people and having to lead for a few hours, then strategy might not be right for you.
Or you would need to work harder to become more confident.
A key aspect of being a good strategist is having emotional intelligence. You need to develop skills to know how to read people in the room, check their temperature and lead the meeting.
When it comes to books — Marty Neumeier is a true brand strategist.
He wrote several books on strategy and branding:
Just to name a few.
Are you wondering what kind of classes or trainings should you take to become a brand strategist?
If you prefer watching videos — see my selection of the best brand strategy courses.
And don’t forget to check out own my brand strategy guide.
Looking for a brand strategist to help you define and articulate your brand? — Book a workshop here.
Brand strategy is such a big word that a lot of people are either scared of it.
Scared because it’s so much work, or they’re excited about it because you can make more money.
I recommend all designers to start being more strategic with their clients.
Once you start doing that, then you can actually see if you like it and if it’s right for you.
I believe that once you see the impact, and the ROI, then it becomes very fulfilling.
As a side-effect it will definitely help you do better work as a designer.
Thus if you want to become a brand strategist then I suggest you work on developing your process for running brand strategy sessions.
Anyways, I would love to hear from you about your journey onto becoming a strategist, or just being more strategic with your creative work in general.
Either way I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.
Just ask any question and I’ll do my best to answer all of them.
I'm a branding expert and graphic designer based in NY. I specialize in the development of brands: brand strategy, identity & web design. Need help with your project?—Get in touch