If you ask any successful CEO what the primary goal of any business is, they will say “to make sales and maximize revenue.” However, it is no longer enough in today’s competitive world to launch a product or offer a service and then sit back and expect the customers to come. Instead, companies have learned to think outside the box to stay ahead of the competition.
That is precisely where brand strategists come in. Being a good brand strategist shouldn’t be hard. It should be fun.
To excel in this career, a professional should stay updated with modern trends and learn new skills continuously. Brand strategists’ responsibilities can range, but they involve overseeing the business’s visual integrity, managing a team of employees, and helping market the brand. Good brand strategists instantly connect the dots and make sense of tricky situations.
At Exposyour, we have over ten years of experience creating brand strategies, so we decided to write this post to share with you essential skills for brand strategists in 2021 in order of importance. What’s more, we will also give you some actionable tips for recognizing these skills when interviewing candidates for a brand strategist role.
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Skill #1: Strategic Thinking
You’ve probably heard a lot about strategic thinking. But in most cases, this term is used as something abstract. So let’s talk about how to measure strategic thinking, how to recognize a job candidate who mastered the skill, and how to learn to think strategically and train others.
So here is what we compiled based on our experience:
Strategic thinking is the person’s ability to draw a clear image of the business’ desired long-term future. By long-term, we mean one year and beyond. While drawing this image, the strategic thinker assesses possible risks, creates risk mitigation plans, discovers and maximizes the opportunities. The ability to recognize patterns between events and spot interrelationships between actions and circumstances is crucial for excelling at strategic thinking. That’s why it is one of the most essential skills for brand strategists.
So if we could break it down into more digestible parts, strategic thinking skill consists of the following sub-skills:
- Risk assessment and mitigation.
- Ability to recognize opportunities far in the future based on analysis of the current situation and past successes.
- Ability to analyze vast amounts of data, discover patterns in this data and make future predictions based on these patterns.
How can you test a potential candidate for strategic thinking skills?
As with anything in life, some people are naturally better at strategic thinking than others. That’s how great leaders are born. However, it doesn’t mean that others can’t learn this skill with some persistence and consistency. Give your candidate a simple exercise to test his/ her strategic thinking skills:
- Take a piece of paper and ask your candidate to write down an event that will occur soon (3-6 months from now) in your business or market. The event can be launching a new product, expanding the market, exploring new audiences, or a competitor coming to your niche soon.
- Around this circle, ask your candidate to write down ALL possible outcomes of this event, as many as possible. Then, using common sense and practicality, he can rule out the less likely results.
- Then ask your candidate to take a new piece of paper and write down the outcomes that remained. Under each outcome, the potential brand strategist should write down his course of action to describe how he will positively handle all probable outcomes based on his experience with similar events or his research. The goal is to minimize risks and maximize opportunities.
If you want to learn more about strategic thinking and develop creative interview questions for a brand strategist, we recommend watching Sun Tzu’s Art of War in a bite-sized format.
How to measure strategic thinking skills?
As we mentioned earlier, one essential quality of strategic thinkers is that they can draw a clear image of the business’s desired long-term future. So you can measure the level of this skill with the help of a forecast accuracy score.
What does it mean for a brand strategist?
Suppose your brand strategist works for a retail brand that focuses on senior citizens. He or she proposed a marketing strategy (based on the market research, of course) that requires significant funds to position your retail brand in a new market targeting millennials. In that case, you allocate $100K towards this strategy and hire three more marketers and five more salespeople to execute it. However, in a few months, your brand strategist realizes that the resources allocated are not enough, and he needs $50K more to continue executing this strategy successfully.
What does it mean?
Using forecast accuracy score, we calculate
the score as follows: 1-(((150000-100000)/100000)*100) = -49. So the brand strategist made an error of under-forecasting. Although it is practically impossible to make 100% accurate forecasts and forecast accuracy score goals vary from industry to industry, as a rule of thumb, a forecast accuracy score from -5 to 5 is considered great.
As a result, the forecast accuracy score is an excellent measurement for overall strategic thinking skills and has to be included in every brand strategist’s KPIs.
Suppose a brand strategist can accurately predict the outcomes, measure risks, and maximize opportunities. In that case, he/she will be able to make precise forecasts for investments in brand strategy and estimate the ROI. Surprises happen. A brand strategist’s role is to predict these surprises based on the past data and account for them in his/her forecast.
Essential Skill for Brand Strategist #2: Creative thinking
Creative thinking is among other essential skills for brand strategists. Creative thinking complements strategic thinking as it makes a person open to new and different ideas. While strategic thinking requires a doze of critical and creative thinking, switching between the two helps us make better decisions.
Creative thinking involves using your imagination to create something new, generate ideas, consider various possibilities, and look at the problem from an unconventional perspective.
These are some of the sub-skills that masters of creative thinking have:
- Asking the right questions without the intention to respond.
- Active listening and openness to different ideas and opposing views.
- Ability to experiment and try different approaches to solve a problem.
How can you recognize creative thinking?
First of all, the person who can think creatively has overcome the most significant hurdle in life. To start thinking creatively, one needs to overcome the education, what his parents taught him, what society believes in, subconscious agendas, and all other rational stuff that trains our minds to have reasons for our actions and thoughts. The first sign of creative thinking is non-judgmental observation. So if the person can observe everything that happens around him without analyzing it and making comments, most probably, you have a creative thinker in front of you.
How do creative thinkers solve problems?
When interviewing your brand strategist, put a problem in front of them and observe their thinking process. The problem could be that you are working on a marketing campaign for your brand, but your ads do not resonate with your target audience.
A creative mind will first clarify the problem. Then he will start generating ideas and looking for inspiration in other ads and marketing campaigns. They can be totally irrelevant to your product or brand. But they just look awesome.
Then move on to the creative process:
- A creative thinker will make a library of inspiration with selected ads that he liked to get the ideas out of their head. Then he will write down or draw as many ideas as he can. It is called active ideation. The next step is to the ideas on a scale from one to five and choose the best ones.
- Then a potential brand strategist will recommend a course of action. How to adjust your ads, implement the ideas and experiment with different versions. The goal of the creative process is to refine it as you go, rinse, and repeat.
Bonus tip: watch this TED talk by the Italian professor Giovanni Corazza to learn about how science can help us generate creative ideas.
Skill #3 Communication Skills
Communication skills are among essential skills for brand strategists because they allow one to understand and be understood by others. Brand strategist has to deal with people from different walks of life and across various departments, so knowing how to convey the message is vital.
Signs of excellent communication skills:
- Active listening. It translates to paying close attention to the person who is speaking without interrupting or judging. Asking clarifying questions, reflecting on what is said, eye contact, leaning in, mirroring are all active listening signs.
- Adapting communication style to the audience. A person who mastered the art of communication will always tell their audiences what THEY need to know, not what he or she wants to say. They care about people and how to give them what they ask for.
- Receiving feedback. Strong communicators don’t take things personally. They are confident about their abilities but know that there is always room for improvement. As a result, they welcome negative feedback because it helps them learn and grow. Instead of getting defensive or giving the silent treatment, they ask clarifying questions and seek solutions.
- When interviewing your future brand strategist, watch the body language and how actively the candidate is listening to you. Find an opportunity to offer constructive criticism during the conversation and watch how the person reacts.
Want to become a great communicator yourself? Dale Carnegie’s “How To Win Friends and Influence People” is, in our opinion, the best book of all time for those seeking to sharpen their communication skills.
Essential Skill for Brand Strategist #4: Quantitative Reasoning
A brand strategist is more than just a creative person with a smile on his face coming up with fun and smart ideas on marketing your product or service. He needs to know how to identify target customers and define their personas by studying statistics and demographics. That’s why quantitative reasoning is one of the most essential skills for brand strategists.
A brand strategist should be able to analyze where marketing funds’ investment will get the best results in terms of market share and customer acquisition. If a strategy isn’t producing positive ROI, there is no reason to continue investing in it. However, even a successful strategy or a campaign that seems to drive a lot of sales needs to be carefully studied to determine customer acquisition costs. The lower this cost, the more effective the strategy is. That’s where quantitative reasoning comes in. Brand strategists who know how to measure performance and take actions based on this data have a better idea of the brand’s health and ability to maximize revenues.
How to recognize quantitative reasoning in a candidate:
- The ability to read and analyze trends.
Interview tip: Give your candidate some statistical charts, performance metrics of your marketing campaigns, and market trends data. Then ask him to interpret these numbers and come up with a summary of what is working and what needs adjustment or revision.
- The ability to write well. A brand strategist needs to master the writing skill to convey complex messages to all stakeholders. This position is also often responsible for content creation and oversees your blog, website, social media, etc. As a result, it is crucial that he can identify the right vocabulary and tone of voice that resonates internally and externally.
- The ability to adapt. Trends and market conditions change continuously, so a brand strategist must constantly adapt the brand’s strategy and adjust the course of action depending on the current situation. There were plenty of examples of failed marketing campaigns in 2020 because some brand strategists simply didn’t take the changing market into account when the COVID-19 began. For example, Singapore Airlines ran a controversial campaign “flights to nowhere” in September 2020. It resulted in heavy criticism of the airline for consuming jet fuel to please a group of travelers without considering the environmental impacts. It is a great example of how their brand strategist didn’t study market trends and that the people in 2020 were more concerned about the environment than ever.
Want to learn more about quantitative reasoning? Watch this TED talk by Rob Reid.
Skill #5: Design thinking
All of us experienced that frustrating feeling like we are “banging our head against a wall” trying to come up with a solution or an idea at some point. Design thinking equips you with a defined process that helps you identify bottlenecks, ideate solutions, emphasize with people to create a “prototype” of your idea, and test the assumptions. Design thinking gives you organization and skills to overcome the biases and opens different angles that you would never have found otherwise.
Signs that your candidate can practice design thinking:
- He can cut through the noise and solve the root problems. If a brand strategist has a problem, the gut reaction would be to think of an idea and execute it right away. However, a person who mastered design thinking will dig deeper using discovery tactics and uncover those “aha” moments that will allow him to find stronger solutions.
- He can work with any group of people from diverse backgrounds. Design thinking enables a brand strategist to work with people across disciplines, skillsets, and seniority levels. Design thinking is a universal language that provides people with one common method and yields incredible results.
Standford School developed a great online crash course on design thinking. Highly recommended!
Brand strategist’s role is complex and encompasses various soft and technical skills that one has to master before taking on this critical role. Sometimes brand strategists are developed from junior digital marketers. Sometimes they come from technical backgrounds, such as data scientists or developers. Either way, finding a great candidate who mastered essential skills for brand strategists is a daunting task. In some cases, it would make more sense financially and operationally to outsource brand strategy to a specialized agency. We, at Exposyour, have 10+ years of experience working with many brands from various niches and can help you design a winning brand strategy that will generate results.