How to be a brand strategist
Design Week: What is your educational background?
Marc Solomon: I reached GCSE-level and did very well. I received all As, Bs, and a few of the Cs. After I started A-levels, it became clear that I wasn’t suited for further education. After much experimentation, including driving cars, working in shops and fish-and-chip shops as well as doing some market research, I was able to get work experience at Big Green Door.
DW: How has your career path been so far?
MS: I was a Big Green Door employee for five-and a half years. My work experience began in the strategy team. Then, I moved up to become a junior strategist and then to lead strategist. Then I wanted to make a change. Although I was doing a lot more thinking than actually doing it, I wanted to see my creativity in action and to see my work featured on billboards, supermarket shelves and in social media campaigns. A recruiter contacted me and set me up for an interview at Bulletproof. I have been there as a strategy for over a year.
DW: How did you first become interested in brand strategy?
MS: I cannot draw. However, I do have an imagination and can problem-solve. My mind is obsessed with thinking about solutions until they are found. It seems that people just fall into the trap of branding strategists. I don’t know any one who does this. It’s changing.
DW: How does your typical work day look for you?
MS: My hours of work are 9am-6pm. However, I usually get up around 8.15am or 8.30am to start working until 6.30pm on a good day. You’ll often have work on weekends – you’re a strategist and will be thinking constantly. It’s a privilege to work in a creative field, regardless of how stressful it can be.
Each day I log in to my email account, go through them for about half an hour if it’s possible, and then jump on to a call with another team to discuss a client brief. After that, I spend time thinking about the problem and brainstorming ways to solve it.
The next step is to meet with the client and present the first phase of a design project together with creative directors. This will include the research I have done about the target consumer. After that, we’d get feedback from the client. Then, I might spend some time planning the brand positioning workshop I’m hosting the next week.
DW: What are your primary day-to-day tasks and responsibilities?
MS: These are very broad. Writing is a large part of the job. It’s all about making conversations compelling and inspiring.
Writing creative briefs for design teams; creating presentation decks; analysing visual cues and trends; making sense of brainstorming sessions with design team and writing it down in a cohesive way; logistics, planning, and thinking about where and when you’re going (delivery can get very creative); conducting consumer research; and analysing consumer research.
DW: Is the job creatively challenging?
MS: Although it doesn’t sound like a creative job, brand strategy is as creative as design. My colleagues come from many backgrounds. Some have studied graphic design and photography, while others are marketing professionals or have worked in search engine optimization (SEO).
A strategist is responsible for supporting creative thinking and ensuring that it is backed up with logic. You might be able to see the solution as soon as you receive a brief. However, your job is to look back and understand why it’s the best answer. This is about identifying the problem and narrowing it down to a solution. Then, you need to write a story to support your creative decision. The right and left brains of a good strategist are constantly at work.
DW: How closely do brand strategists work with graphic designers?
MS: Designers and I work together. After I have briefed the creative team about a project, I will be checking in with them throughout the week, talking to them, and brainstorming. We will be sharing ideas. We collaborate to identify the problem, develop the creative and ensure it aligns with brand strategy.
DW: Which strengths are necessary to be a brand strategist
MS: You must be analytical and meticulous, able to think creatively and have a keen eye for detail. It is important that you can take large amounts of information and reduce it to its essence. Collaboration is essential across all disciplines. However, you must also be able to work independently.
Writing skills are essential. You don’t need to be fluent in English to write. However, you should understand the character, tone, and personality of the brands you work on. You may be required to write on-pack copy and will also be involved in the creation and naming of brands.
Strong opinions are essential for any strategist. If you don’t have them, it will be difficult to find the right answer. You should also be curious and able to communicate with people. You should be able to just sit down in a Wetherspoon’s bar and watch the world go by. It is vital to be able to understand your customers. Selling chocolate bars against other people is not the same as selling fish in a marketplace.
Software is important. Adobe Suite is a great example of this. This will make it easier to present your work.
DW: What are your favorite parts about your job?
MS: Nothing is better than watching an idea come to fruition. It’s amazing to be able to look around a supermarket and say, “I did that!” The best thing about being in the strategy team? You work across the business and you are a connector. You’re very close to the client services team, the new business team and the creative team. You also get to travel to America and Europe to pitch your ideas to clients. It’s great to inspire the creative team.
DW: What is the worst part of your job?
MS: Although the positives outweigh all the negatives, it can be hard work. It takes a lot of brain space and brain power to think about how to solve problems. On weekends and evenings, it can be difficult to relax. Sometimes, it can be difficult to switch off on weekends and evenings.
DW: What would you look for in a candidate for junior strategist?
MS: I am looking for someone who is very articulate, curious, a bit obsessive about detail, and interested in lots of things. I would also like someone who can quickly form an opinion and move that along quickly. It is important to be able to communicate confidently and speak competently regardless of your seniority. It is important to be able stand on your feet and convince others that your opinion matters.
DW: What advice would you give to people who are considering a career in brand strategy?
MS: You can’t train yourself to be a strategist. Your brain wired in such a way that you love logic and creativity.
If you are invited to interview and have worked in a studio in the past, bring something you are proud of and tell us about it. You can also create a mock brief and present it to studios if you are completely new to the industry. Willingness is a powerful quality.
We don’t need a 100-page portfolio. Instead, we want you to concentrate on one project. Tell us about the problem, your considerations, and what you came up with at the end. This could be done in three sentences.
Write letters to as many studios and research as possible. It is also a good idea to read about broad topics such as creative strategy, semiotics and visual codes and cues, and global design trends. It doesn’t matter if you are an expert or not, just that you have some knowledge and understanding. This will allow you to have a great conversation.
Be sure to have a good idea of the studio that you are applying to. Look at the work they have done and see the brands they have worked with. It is possible to be asked about brands that you admire or consider successful. Demonstrate that you are committed, have drive, and most importantly, that your interest is high. You won’t have a huge portfolio like designers. Instead, you will have yourself and your personality.