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I am a strategy director with experience in all stages of brand strategy and execution. I work with CEO's on the future of their business, and I bring brands to life through tailored content. Whatever you need. I am based in London, but can work wherever you and your clients are.

 

 

The Blog of Camilla Grey Petty

 

Filtering by Tag: strategy

How to work with a brand strategist on the future of your business.

Camilla Grey

Maybe you’ve built your startup to a certain size and now you want to get into a higher gear. Maybe you’re running an established business that needs to up its game in the face of change. Or, maybe you just want a strategic partner to help you innovate and try something new. Whatever your reasons, working with someone like me, or one of the talented people on this list, is a huge step and one you want to take confidently.

In the three years since I started working independently, I’ve had numerous conversations with people like you about how best to approach some of their biggest brand and marketing-related challenges. Most (42 to be exact) lead to projects, some didn’t (17, since you ask), and in that time some questions and queries came up over and over. So, if you’re building a brand and thinking of engaging a brand strategist, here’s some things to consider.

The brief doesn’t have to be perfect

Let’s be honest, if you knew exactly what you needed you’d probably be sorting it out yourself. So instead, treat me like a brand doctor (in business-forward athleisure rather than scrubs), come armed with a list of symptoms and let me triage the right solutions. For example, you may present with:

“I’m struggling to explain what makes us different”

“We aren’t getting noticed by the right people”

“We keep re-writing our website copy — it doesn’t sounds like us”

By starting with symptoms like these, we can define the brief and the plan together, making the project more likely to run smoothly from beginning to end.

Show me the money

Or just tell me about it. You’ve got a business to run, I’ve got a business to run. If you let me know what you’re looking to spend, I can tell you what’s possible. Being open about this stuff saves painful back and forth removing line items or squeezing timelines. Yes, I have a day rate, but I can be smart about how a project is structured and who I bring in for support. And, by collaborating on the brief as per my first recommendation, I can advise you where best to invest your budget and where you can make savings.

Dream big, but plan for reality

Generally, the initial phases of a strategic project are about getting clear on who you are, why you’re here, and what you’re doing — it can be a truly exhilarating, creative time spent defining your grand ambition, your bold vision and your awe-inspiring image of the future. But the sugar-high of Definition can quickly fade to tears at bedtime when it comes to Activation, when all those dreams need to be brought down to earth, and to life by your team, or encapsulated on your homepage, or translated into a job spec. So plan to let me help.

Instead of asking for boilerplate or example copy, have me write actual copy that stress-tests your strategy and can be used right away. Think, your About Us page, the introductory pages of your investor deck, or even a script for a brand film — all created in tandem with your Tone of Voice and Messaging Guidelines.

Instead of getting overwhelmed, arrange for me to help recruit and train the team/suppliers/experts you’ll need moving forward. In the past year alone I’ve run various pitch processes of other suppliers (e.g. PR), I’ve made helpful introductions to other specialists, and I’ve lead the recruitment and training of three awesome marketing managers for my clients.

Instead of worrying about taking the training wheels off, ask to keep me signed into your Slack channel for a couple of weeks past the end of the project. Sometimes, if you’re nice, I won’t even charge for this!

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh FREAK OUT!

Accept that you might have a little wobble at some point in the project. You are being brave, you’re taking risks, you’ve making serious and dramatic change. That is terrifying. I get it, but I’m also a little more used to it than you are, and can offer real support and partnership throughout it all. The best thing to do when the “what the f**k am I doing?” strikes is to give yourself a break and talk to me about the things you’re worried about. I try to stay close and connected, so as to be in tune with your thinking and alert to any possible hitches. But we’re all people, and even the very best strategist can miss a trick. So, stay open, trust the process, and be ready to build the successful, effective brand you want one step at a time. It’s going to be great :)

Super models — everything you always wanted to know about brand frameworks (but were afraid ask).

Camilla Grey

Let’s be honest. Sometimes, no matter how long you’ve been in your field, you need to do a secret Google-of-shame. “What is a brand proposition?”. “Workshop template”. “Marketing metrics good”. Not because you don’t know, but because you’re deep in a project, and you feel lost and unsure. It’s like WebMD for work — sometimes you just need to double-check that all is well and you aren’t losing your mind.

Recently, I’ve had a few people (clients and strategists alike) ask me in hushed tones about brand models as if they were some kind of magic, mystical thing. Well, they’re not so let’s all just calm down and take a big deep breath.

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My understanding of a brand model/framework is that it acts as a neat way of explaining the different components of a brand strategy, whilst also showing those components relationship to each other. A model is purposefully simplified and intentionally minimalist — acting as an overview of much wider thinking and far deeper understanding.

Famous, or “super”, models include…

And they’re all valid and helpful in a variety of different contexts and situations. Which is why they’ve endured.

Nevertheless, it can be easy to feel confused when faced with a pre-defined model or when needing to choose a framework for a complex strategy. I’ve often been told which framework the client wants to use, and then tied myself in knots attempting to make it work for the thinking. So, I want to go on the record as stating that this is a backwards way of going about strategy. A model is a tool, not a lever. There’s really no ‘one’ or ‘set’ way to approach or communicate a strategy, but there can be a ‘right’ way.

To dig into it all further, I decided to get in touch with Robert Jones, Head of New Thinking at Wolff Olins and creator of the MSc Brand Leadership programme at UEA. He’s very good at keeping things simple and clear.

“Models are useful when they explain something complicated, and help people decide what to do” — Robert Jones

At Wolff Olins, there’s a few models they turn to. There’s The Butterfly for brand purpose, there’s The Quadrant for brand proposition, and 360 which unpacks all the aspects of designing a brand identity. Other agencies have similar models and call them different things. But, as Robert says, “They’re successful because they’re simple and encourage really deep and comprehensive thinking”.

This concept alone is hugely helpful. It urges us all to keep things in perspective when we’re sweating over onions, prisms, keys, pyramids, or that square one you saw in that deck that time. At the end of the day, if it makes something clear, it’s working. You can call it whatever you like.

Personally, and because my work often straddles both brand and marketing, I use different models at different stages. The Butterfly (which is basically a venn covering external needs/interests and internal skills/attributes) is adaptable enough to be relevant, simple enough to get to something quickly, and open enough to dream big. I find The Business Model Canvas comes in handy when clients seem to be in a bit of a muddle about what they’re actually doing. The BMC offers no hiding places, and really forces a business to identify each and every aspect of its world. So much so, that I’ve also made a tweaked version of the BMC to look at marketing. And I think there’s a lot to be said for getting everything onto a page — be it in a grid or a pyramid, or even just as text — to show how positioning, proposition, values and target audience, etc all ladder up to the main purpose.

And, say what you will about motivational speaker Tony Robbins, his viewthat “Questions control what you focus on. What you focus on is what you feel. What you feel is your experience of life”, has provided a useful framework I’ve used a couple of times now for ambition and objective setting. Others I know have looked to the ways and modes of Navy Seals, the military and even sports teams. Models, it seems, can be found it the most unlikely of places!

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In a strategist’s utopia, all organisations will have a useful and actionable brand strategy — one that is meaningful to everyone in the business at all levels, and in all functions. That strategy would have the strength and clarity to be captured succinctly on a page (in a model if necessary) and then be pinned up on walls, set as desktops, and jauntily printed on mouse mats*. Each day, in this utopia, everyone from the CEO to the intern would be able to glance at this 1-pager and be sure of their role in that vision or objective, and see how what they were working on upheld and progressed it.

The reality is, though, that we don’t live in a strategist’s utopia where everything is structured. We live in a messy world, where even the most organised business is still just a group of people doing their best and looking forward to the weekend. So let’s not add to the mess by worrying about finding the perfect, all-encompassing, magic Super Model. Let’s just seek to offer a glimmer of clarity and a moment of focus as the world continues to spin around us.

*We’re strategists, not interior decorators. Mouse mats ftw.


If you have a model or framework that you find useful, I’d love to know. Please add it in the comments.

If you’re having a bit of a panic about your brand strategy and how to approach it, don’t worry, get in touch via my site and we’ll figure it out.

And, if you liked this post and think it may help other strategists doing secret Google searches on the subject, hit the heart button, or clap icon, or whatever it is Medium are currently experimenting with. Cheers!

How to get a job as a brand strategist

Camilla Grey

The thing about strategists is that we’re united by a common personality type, not by a common skill set. Strategists are, generally, introverted, contemplative, analytical and inquisitive. As William Gibson says of his brand strategist protagonist in Pattern Recognition, “She learned it’s largely a matter of being willing to ask the next question”. And we are willing simply because we cannot help but search for patterns and seek order in the chaos.

Unlike other professions, there’s no specific training involved in becoming a strategist. The strategists I know found their way into it via degrees in english, art history, political science, international law, graphic design, sociology, economics and philosophy, or from early jobs doing a bit of everything in small, independent companies. You can see the 20+ responses to my tweet asking other strategists about this here. In my case, I studied American Studies (yup, that’s a thing), before getting my first job as wholesale manager at Rococo Chocolates.

So, there’s no wrong or right way in — strategists seem to be born not made. This is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it’s somewhat of a calling, which gives one a fantastic sense of purpose. But also a curse because simply self-identifying as a strategist doesn’t give you any hint as to how to get started. So, having spent 8 years in agencies and nearly two years working as an independent consultant for start-ups and established companies, here’s a few hints from me:

Don’t apply for jobs

The sad truth is that it is almost entirely impossible to get a job by emailing jobs@thecompanyyouwanttoworkfor.com. Even more sad, is that those inboxes are either rarely checked, or entirely ignored.

The even sadder truth is that, while hiring protocols are starting to shift in a more egalitarian direction, most companies still recruit according to provenance, privilege, and personality. Especially, it seems, amongst strategists.

In fact, and in my experience, the pecking order, when it comes to work experience, internships and graduate jobs in strategy it often goes:

  • Friends and family of company founders/directors/c-suite
  • Friends and family of the client
  • Graduate scheme superstars
  • Oxbridge graduates and those with MBA’s
  • Those with recognisable surnames
  • Friends and family of existing employees
  • Young, award-winning “influencers” and entrepreneurs
  • Jazz-hands and show offs who send cupcakes with their CV
  • Those in the right-place, at the right-time
  • The politely persistent

So, if the first 7 don’t apply, and cupcakes just aren’t your thing, then finding out how to be in the right place at the right time is critical. Which leads me to…

Go to parties

Events and meet-ups put you at the heart of new ideas and discussions, and gets you in the same room as future employers and colleagues. The creative and tech industries are awash with regular events, many of which are free to attend and often also have free pizza and wine too. When I first started my career I went to everything and anything — many of the people I met at the likes of Glug and Protein Gallery remain friends, colleagues, and peers.

So, go introduce yourself to people, be active on social media, write up the event afterwards — basically do what you can to meet people in real life and show you’re on the inside saying ‘hi’, and not on the outside sending emails to the inbox of doom.

Show your thinking

To get hired, strategists need to demonstrate how they think, look at the world around them, and break down information. The best way to do this is through writing. Writing is a wonderful way to ask and answer the questions that interest you. It forces you to articulate a thought and point of view and, with practise and perseverance, enables you to develop your own style and distinct voice.

I set wannabe strategists a writing brief and offer one round of feedback, with a view that they can use that piece as a calling card along with their CV. All of those who’ve been set and completed the brief, and responded to the feedback, have gone on to get a job within 6 weeks.

Show you’re thinking

Junior strategists are generally tasked with research-related projects. This may be assembling background information on a client and looking into sector trends for a pitch, or it may be finding relevant stats and facts, analysing market research and data, or preparing customer research for an existing project. Or it may be doing background research for marketing and branded content for the company or client.

Line managers (the good ones) want to see young strategists actively thinking about the company or the client, and will nurture and mentor those who go beyond the job description. Juniors who’ve been working on their writing and who stay plugged into things in their own time, often feel more confident and comfortable not only taking on research tasks, but are also more likely to push their work up the value chain into analysis, insight and, ultimately, strategy.

Play by the rules

Spell-check everything that leaves your inbox. Say ‘thank you’ to people who give you their time. Take notes. Take feedback. Take set-backs. Be punctual. Be patient. Be nice. And don’t expect anything to be handed to you. Get people cups of tea and hold doors. Basically, behave like your grandparents would want you to and work as hard as they did during the war/down the mines/while waiting for the internet to be invented. And do a side-project on something you really give a shit about and is fun. It creates something else to think about when work is boring and tough, and will probably get you your next job.

Break the rules

Have a go at everything. Focus on the work, not the job title. Chat to the CEO. Say what no-one else is saying. Ask what no-one else has asked. Pay attention to things that don’t fit the pattern. Collaborate with people who aren’t like you. Read widely and weirdly, then save and tag it all on Pinboard. Ask for what you want. Know your value. Don’t work for free (even if they can’t pay you, make sure you get a LinkedIn recommendation, an introduction, or an interview for your next writing piece). If you witness bullying, sexism or any kind of aggression, say something! If you really, really hate a place, leave it behind and try something new. Make sure that side-project is controversial and forces you to be brave. And don’t listen to advice, you’re going to be just fine.

If you would like me to set you a writing brief, please get in touch via my website.

If you want to say ‘hi’ in real life and meet lots of great people working in digital design, come to the next Design Club.

And if you want to join a community of people like you, check out Open Strategy — the ultimate destination and resource for today’s strategists. Join their Slack, and meet them in real life too at one of their School of Planning events.

Up next

Camilla Grey

As of today I am a freelancer in brand and content strategy. I’ve heard you’re not meant to use the f-word. But the c-word (consultant) isn’t very me. I’m a gun for hire, I do strat, let’s get on this.

After two and a half years at Wolff Olins - an amazing, amazing institution where I was given opportunities and support that I never dreamt of - I’m cutting loose. There’s no big, dramatic reason. I just felt ready. Ready to take all I’ve learnt and apply it to projects I choose. Ready to take some risks and cope with the lows as well as the highs. Ready to work in a new way with new people. It might even be a bit of a laugh.

There’s another little change happening too. Camilla’s Store - my username since the beginning on Blogspot and then across every social profile going - is fading away. For a long while CamillaStore was my alter ego - far more brave and sassy than I felt. But we’ve both grown up a bit - she shoots her mouth off less, and I have more confidence. For personal reasons and all-important brand consistency, you can now find me @camillaxgrey or here on my new website.

I am legit thrilled to be starting out with Murat Mutlu, who I admire deeply, at Marvel App, where they are growing fast. I’ll also be working concurrently with Adaptive Lab - one of the next generation of agencies and full of smart, young thinkers. And I’m going to be writing more. It begins…

If you have a project you’d like to talk to me about, please drop me a line to say “hi”. Or check out the rest of my site to see what I’ve been up to lately. See you out there.

 

 

Full Stack Strategy

Camilla Grey

This post first appeared on Medium

The time to PowerPoint is through. Strategists need to change, adapt or die. Or find their work wanting.

 

In software development, a Full Stack Developer has a good (if not expert) grasp of all the layers that go into a product. They are a Jack Of All Trades from the back end (servers, databases etc) to the front end (HTML etc).

If we see progressive organisations as ‘stacks’, then everything from C-suite, to IT, to marketing, to product development, to customer service is in the stack. Even customers are in the stack. The whole organisation and everything it touches is in the stack. Connecting those layers calls for a strategy that goes from the back room to people’s front rooms. How many brand strategies (or strategists) really do that?

The evolution seems to have developed like this…

Traditional
Brand strategy needs to exist and be understood at the core of the business. This is often called Purpose. Brand strategists love this stuff.

Enlightened
Brand strategy needs to extend all the way from the core of the business in a way that’s actionable to people across the business. This is often called Culture. Brand strategists have to spend time talking to ‘stakeholders’, but otherwise it’s okay.

Progressive
Brand strategy needs to extend all the way from the core of the business to a user or customer and all the way back in again.

This is often called… all kinds of things. Undercurrent and Bud Caddell call it Responsive. IDEO and Frog call it User Centred Design. Wolff Olins calls it Creative Partnership. But it’s here that brand strategists tend to get lost in the mix with organisational, experience and interaction design. The idea of ‘brand’ becomes amorphous. As does the idea of strategy. Oh God.

Let’s call the new practice Full Stack Strategy.

I’ve been knocking around the agency world long enough now to know that the appetite from both agencies and clients is there. And yet, I’ve also been around long enough to see first-hand how difficult it is to shape the right skillsets, define a buyable offer, sell it in successfully, and implement it effectively. It’s down, in part, to both sides of the table looking to the wrong benchmarks for inspiration.

The need for a Full Stack Strategy is relatively new. Digitisation, user-centricity, and a heightened emphasis on company culture has made corporate agility a must. This is easy for organisations born into this context — the Googles, the Apples, the Amazons, and the Netflixs of this world. But for everyone else it’s a massive, monumental ball-ache. ‘Transformation’ — the word so often used in these cases — suggests a sweet caterpillar re-emerging as a gorgeous butterfly. In reality it’s more like gender reassignment surgery — complex, awkward, painful and utterly confusing for everyone around.

Anyway, how to tackle that is probably the subject of another blog post and one I’m not quite ready to write. But assuming the client’s organisation is all metaphorically hormone-d up and ready to take a knife to the parts that matter, here’s what a strategist will need to cover in order to build a Full Stack Strategy that makes a significant difference:

Mastery

  • Business objectives (short and long term)
  • Capabilities
  • Offer
  • Audience

Interest

  • Organisational structure
  • Processes
  • R&D/Innovation
  • HR
  • Big data (let’s just call it data analytics like normal people, yes?) (quant)
  • Customer insight (qual)

Familiarity

  • Service design
  • Experience design
  • Environmental design
  • Marketing, PR, communications, advertising, social
  • …basically every touchpoint you have and haven’t thought of, the strategy should be applicable to and reflected in

I said, I’m not ready to write that “how to do this” post, but I do have a starter for ten and it begins with us — strategists. I suspect that the time has come for brand strategists to re-cast themselves as Full Stack Strategists; strategic counsel that is familiar with the organisation from top to bottom.

Strategists need to expand their curiosity and their skill sets exponentially. They need to adopt (or at the very least understand) the capabilities and insight of their crazy cousins The Marketers, their wayward uncles The Ad Guys, their shy sisters the Business Intelligence folk, and their funky little nieces the Social Media experts. They need to know how to push that strategy right to the very edge of the organisation and tip it out into the world. And they need to be ready to respond effectively to whatever comes back. They need to think very big, and then go in very small. Hands off/Hands on.

Highly-complex and networked organisations are here. They have an ever increasing number of layers that must work together, and in the service of wider goals. There’s just no room or time for a PowerPoint presentation in that context. Full Stack Strategy is our future. So let’s change, adapt and thrive.

If you recognise any of the above in your organisation, your agency or even in yourself, I’d be really interested to hear about it. Please comment, or drop me a tweet.