5 Reasons Brand Strategists Should Start Out as Copywriters
In a faster, more integrated marketing world, a brand strategist needs to take on many roles, marshal multiple talents and be able to bridge the difficult divide between a concrete strategic foundation and the inevitably amorphous (read: human) communication required to bring any brand fully to life. Unfortunately, even as brand strategists expand their skill sets beyond the traditional realm of insights development, one talent seems to remain underrepresented in brand strategy resumes: conceptual copywriting. Allow me (the copywriter-creative-director-turned-brand-strategist) to make a case for why branding firms should recruit and develop strategists out of the creative ranks.
- Your strategy is the big idea: it takes idea people to develop it. I remember my first big branding project when I worked at BBDO New York: helping reposition a then-stagnant, diffuse General Electric. Now, BBDO is an ad agency, and in those days turned its nose up at “below the line” projects such as brand identity work and the like – but it grabbed the branding reins when it came to identifying and communicating the differentiating essence of the brand. Practically speaking, that meant not just including creative people in creative development but putting them at the front lines of inquiry and insight, from input into the research modalities to active participation in research projects. And it wasn’t just the champagne-fueled tour of 10 cities for focus groups that made the difference… it was the opportunity for creative people to begin to not only understand the mind of the consumer but actively, responsively give them voice (versus attempting to translate it later from a well-watered-down brief channeled through six levels of approval).
- Well, yes, the strategy is the idea – but a dead idea unless given effective human expression. I’ve picked up more than one project over the years because a client couldn’t execute compelling human communications based on its thoroughly professional, if uninspired, brand strategy, its beautiful new brand identity and its copious brand and graphic guidelines. The lesson to be learned: put a creative brand strategist in the mix from the beginning, and you have a much better chance of a useable ending.
- Development of brand voice and personality are inherently creative pursuits requiring not only intellectual insight but also the intangibles of expressive talent. Think of it this way: creating a brand voice is much like learning a language – those who will ultimately need to speak it first have to hear it… and I mean they really have to have the ears for it, which, arguably, is part gift and part acquired skill. (For example: I’ve made halting attempts to learn Mandarin, but I simply can’t hear the four tones that completely change the meaning of words – one of my daughters, however, has always had the gift for hearing and distinguishing them.) And, like it or not, part of being a good copywriter may be a craft, but the bulk of being a great copywriter is a gift for bridging and blending reason and emotion, and encapsulating the result in an overarching concept, whether expressed in words, sounds, scents… the verbal branding possibilities are endless (The Branding Roundtable I moderated on the subject offers insights from several expert verbal branding practitioners).
- Development of an effective creative brief to convey the brand platform can be improved with the input of someone who’s actually had to create from such a document. It’s common to see the creation of creative briefs listed as the responsibility of brand strategists. It’s also common to have the creative brief be the point at which a branding effort either falls short or, in extreme cases, falls apart. It’s not simply that briefs aren’t as brief as they need to be (though they seldom are). It’s more that, in addition to not being sufficiently distilled, they lack inspiration. Let’s examine those two key words, distillation and inspiration. To distill means to purify down to the essence; to inspire means to breathe into. During the branding process a creatively experienced and talented professional – a former copywriter, say, who’s spent years both concepting and writing – will not only be distilling down brand elements but will also be playing with them in her or his head, seeing possibilities and also recognizing dead ends that relate to (here I go again) the ultimate need to express the brand, human-to-human.
- A brand strategist with a creative background can let some air out of over-inflated creative egos that might otherwise ignore, sidestep or subvert the brand strategy in favor of oh, say, gratuitous creativity. I realize that points 1-4 may leave you thinking “Who is this creative-brand-strategist-hybrid-a**hole?” Fair enough… let me give my creative kin a chance to loathe me as well…. Creative agencies, as they are sometimes called (what, shouldn’t all agencies be creative?) are often dominated by a worship of “the work,” which traditionally has meant “award-winning and career-building,” but which may or may not also mean “strategically attuned and effective.” Some go so far as to say – as they literally did during Cannes 2014 – “F**k” the strategy, let our creative selves run naked and free!” Of course, the problem with running naked and free, but without direction, is that one is likely to end up far off course, stuck painfully, and unprofitably, in the brambles. A brand strategist from a creative background is arguably better equipped to bridge the traditional “us versus them/creatives versus suits” divide that may otherwise keep a great brand strategy from being realized as an equally great campaign.
Yes, this is all terribly self-serving, as it comes from a creative brand strategist who still often creates concepts, copy and even full campaigns. It is nonetheless true, and worthy of consideration for agencies and marketers looking to not only formulate terrific brand strategies but also get them to work in the marketplace.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chuck Kent is a freelance copywriter and creative director turned brand strategist. He has helped position or reposition brands from A (American Girl) to Z (Zurich), guiding discovery, strategic development, campaign concepting and, yes, even copywriting. Today he consults with marketers and agencies to help identify and communicate the simple truth about brands. In addition, he is a Contributing Editor at Branding Magazine and the creator and moderator of its monthly Branding Roundtable.