What Makes a Great Strategist?


A Team of Strategists

Lots of businesses use the title of strategist for roles within their organization. For us at Emotive Brand, we have a very clear and defined view of what makes a good brand strategist. We carefully curate our project teams of strategists with a focus on selecting the skill sets and experience that are best suited for our clients and our projects.

The Need for a Great Strategist

In today’s hyper competitive, interconnected, always shifting world, businesses need great strategists to really drive their business and brand forward.

When recruiting and hiring strategists at our agency, there are certain qualities we look for.

1.Information masters

First off, successful strategists are talented and powerful listeners. In order to get to the heart of business problems and help align leadership teams around an impactful strategy, strategists need to be great listeners and also know who to listen to. Great strategists know how to get the information they need using many different frameworks and formats from people first-hand.

Effective strategists understand that listening is sometimes about reading between the lines, absorbing what people say, what they don’t say, and what their body language communicates. In strategy projects, clients are often so close to the problems, they can’t really see what is happening. Through listening, strategists gain a keen understanding of a business, its current situation, where it needs to go, and why.

But great strategists don’t just listen. They are able to distill the information gathered from listening into powerful insights and ideas. It’s not just about processing information. A strategist can actually take that information and do something with it – moving it to a different, more enlightened place by reframing what was heard and delivering that back in a different and evolved way.

Great strategists have the simultaneous ability to see both the big picture and all the little details that might lead to big insights. They are able to constantly adjust and adapt to new information. The ability to balance many different inputs and ideas and then be able to make adjustments so that everything fits together is critical.

This means effective strategists consistently develop and test hypothesis. It’s all about gathering the right types of information and proving or disproving before moving on.

2. Business experts

This is two-fold. First, being a strategist requires business experience. Like many other professions, strategy is a learning process that develops when fostered. And business acumen in different industries is often what turns a good strategist into great strategist. So as people work with different clients, solve unique problems, notice patterns, develop skills, and gather information, their strategic minds become honed and they are able to understand more and more what it takes to be great.

Second, great strategists must become experts in whatever business their client is in no matter how complicated or how long it takes to reach that level of understanding.

They dig deep to understand a business at the highest level – grasping the ins and outs of product architecture, a complicated sales approach, a complex ecosystem…they have to deeply understand it all. It must be as if they’ve worked for that business and industry for years.

Great strategists also have to build confidence that they are knowledgeable and fully understand the client’s business. Once that trust is earned, client’s are able to be led to new levels of thinking.  They know that until they are confident and knowledgeable, they can’t be impactful facilitators. It’s necessary to make their clients confident that they bring an extensive mastery to the table.

3. Strategy as a journey

Great strategists always have a strategy for the strategy. They know their ideas have to be bulletproof. When creating a strategy, they are constantly challenging their own thinking. They know everyone is going to look to poke a hole in it. And if they don’t fill in the hole, someone else will.

In the end, after having heard the input of everyone from the start, deeply listening to each voice, and distilling what everyone has said, great strategists always go back and gut test. Where is the client going to get hung up? Successful strategists have strategically accounted for these places and can protect them and move the strategy forward.

4. Strategists in the world at large

Great strategists delight in the world and its interconnectivity. They draw on the cues of everything that’s happening within it. This is why the most talented strategist are often veracious readers who immerse in a wide net of areas. Curiosity is key here. And great strategists are always well-rounded, holistic thinkers.

It’s super important that strategists keep current with trends and forces – beyond just the category they are working in, but also, within the world at large. Great strategists can’t resort to old patterns of thinking or outdated models. They evolve as the world evolves and business shifts.

Successful strategy isn’t possible unless it’s up to speed and embedded in what’s contextually happening in the competitive world the strategy exists in and the larger world as well. So successful strategists can draw insights from everywhere.

5. Trusted advisors and enthusiastic coaches

One of our favorite parallels to draw at EB is between brand strategy and coaching. As such, great strategists often act as coaches. They understand that not every client is the same – some need to move fast, others prefer distance over speed. They help clients break out of outdated behaviors and practices that are holding them back, adapt to new skills, shift, increase performance, and gain competitive edge. Great strategists adapt to the objectives of the client and create a customize path to transformation.

In order to move a strategy forward, strategists have to establish trust. Oftentimes, this means going out of their way for clients and being willing to do a little something extra to show their support and dedication to the project. Empathy is also key here. Great strategists gain client’s confidence every step of the way and understand what it takes to make the client feel confident enough to bring the strategy to life.

Greatness in Action

In order to have maximum impact, a strategist has to be able to consume, assimilate, and distill lots of disparate information into clear and powerful concepts and ideas. They also have to be able to express that concept with compelling language and build a powerful case to explain, defend, and generate excitement around their strategy. This is a no small task.

Emotive Brand is a San Francisco brand strategy and design agency.


Comments (3)

  1. hi my name is Lesego from South Africa, the post from the blog was very helpful. I’m a senior student at the university of Johannesburg studying Corporate Communication and currently doing my final year, i was very confused on what career path or field should i be working in after my degree, but through your explanation on what is a strategists and what roles are involved, i am convinced that one day i will be a strategist.thank you

    • That’s amazing! Keep reading our blog and stay in touch with us. Glad we could inspire you in strategy.

  2. I´m transitioning into a role of a Language strategist and would like tor receive your blog for inspiration.

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