+1(206)-330-1543 bob@modestudios.com

You’ve been tasked with proposing a creative deliverable… Treatment, Brand Assets, Webpage, Campaign Concept, Brand Activation… And you enter the pitch, ready to deliver. Your client leans back, confused, as you begin by expressing your expertise as a Brand Strategist. This wasn’t on the agenda, was it ? Do you witness your clients eyes glaze over and grow distant as you thoughtfully (You ARE a Thought Leader after all…) lay out the importance of strategy in tackling a request for creative or design scope ? Watch as they become confused ?


The pitch has stopped. Because now you have to educate and create alignment around shifting the client’s priority. Which probably wasn’t strategy.

More likely something much more tangible when it began in their minds. This has now become a hard sell.

Here’s the thing about Strategy – It’s not the ANSWER. It is the constant, and valuable context that helps frame the question. It should be applied throughout any creative scope as a reference and resource.

Strategy helps us get to WHY. But it doesn’t provide the whole road map of WHAT and HOW.

I have been witnessing a trend lately of professional or aspiring creatives seizing on strategy as the core offering. The lead offering.

They are now Brand Strategist/Graphic Designers… Or Brand Stategist/UX Experts... Or Brand Strategist/Creative Directors. I have witnessed these earnest folk trying to recast themselves, instead of expressing their real value in a way their clients can understand and want to engage with.

Large brands and companies absolutely know what strategy is, and they pay for dedicated strategists to drive all their market processes. These strategy pros don’t offer strategy AND anything else. They get paid only to do the strategic thinking. They are rarely independent, instead being supported and working with Account Planners, Media Planning experts, Testing and Prototyping teams – They use data to drive strategy, not intuition. That data is almost always derived from Survey Design Experts creating samples, and reflects proprietary methodologies. They are most often found in giant agencies of record, or companies with names like McKinsey or Deloitte. If you aren’t familiar with these things, you probably aren’t a professional strategist.

And that’s ok.

It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t utilize strategy as a necessary tool and process.

Small businesses don’t understand what Brand Strategy is or what a brand strategist does. And the moment you have to start “educating the client” on your core offering, you are in trouble from a sales point of view. Clients want the “usual kind”.

This doesn’t mean that strategy isn’t valuable or necessary for small and medium business. It doesn’t mean that strategy isn’t a critical and integral part of process. It should be seamless and inevitable as part of design development. Of course you begin a web dev process with discovery. Of course a graphic designer will use a discussion of market personas to drill down to the right approaches for brand identity assets or product packaging ideas. Of course a Creative Director is going to use market research to determine the narrative underpinnings of a brand activation.

And the thing is… Strategy isn’t the offering in these situations. It’s how we get to the offering. The client is always going to be hyper focused on the offering. Not on the steps along the way.

At this level, it’s about framing this for the client so they understand. Strategy is not an “add on” or an “up sell”. It’s just a necessary and standard part of creative development. When we introduce the client to our process, we say that we will begin by engaging in discovery, we will develop models, approaches, insights, and roadmaps so that we create the right thing. Then we begin to create. It’s not an option. It’s fait accompli. It’s just how we start to define the question we are answering.

Use strategy. Deploy strategy. Don’t confuse the client by saying you are a strategist. A carpenter is not a “Hammerist”. An illustrator is not a “pencillist”.

Keep your client focused on outcomes. You focus on actions.