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Stories from Design Bridge: Life in the Brand Strategy Team

Thinking about joining Design Bridge? Want to find out a bit more about some of the people you’ll be working with? Ever wondered what we mean by the term “Brand Strategy”? We caught up with Alice Dall, a Senior Brand Strategist, to find out how she ended up working in the wonderful world of Brand Strategy, what she and her team get up to on a day-to-day basis, and learn about her slightly unusual collection of packaging design…

Hi Alice. Let’s start at the beginning – how did you end up at Design Bridge?
Honestly speaking, through friends of friends. Branding is a small world and I’d worked with lots of people at Design Bridge before I got here. How I ended up in Brand Strategy is an entirely different question! Choosing GCSE, A-level options and degrees, I didn’t know that Brand Strategy was a ‘thing’ and, like most of the team, I fell into it by luck.

My route to strategy took me via art school where I studied Three-Dimensional Design for Sustainability (yes, it’s a real degree). As a student, I realised that I was better at thinking and speaking about design than designing, so after graduating I went to secretarial school (yes, they still exist) to get some skills that I could always fall back on. While I was there, I saw an advertisement for the WPP Marketing Fellowship, applied and was offered a place on the three-year graduate programme.

My first year was spent at Brand Union, London, working in Strategy and Client Servicing. Next I moved to Hong Kong to work for Mindshare in a regional Media Planning role before moving to a boutique Insight and Advertising agency called the Geppetto Group in New York. When my three years were up, I headed back to London and worked as a Brand Strategist for Brand Union for four years before moving on to a new challenge – Design Bridge, where I get to work with insight and intuition on brands I love.

What does the term “Brand Strategy” mean to you? 
Three things: simplify, clarify, inspire.

Simplify – it might be the brief, the portfolio of products, the plethora of information about a category. This is about making sense of what we’ve got in a compelling way.

Clarify – ask questions, challenge clients and the DB teams to make sure that we have everything we need to come up with an amazing response to the brand problem.

Inspire – our clients and creative teams. Working on big brands, it can be hard to stay fresh and it’s the role of the Strategist to help those teams stay engaged and inspired every day so that we can always deliver great work.

Tell us a bit about your role as a Senior Brand Strategist…
For me, one of the best things about being a Brand Strategist is that you never quite know what you’re going to find a passion for next. I’m probably far too enthusiastic about how Brazilian housewives clean, the way the Turkish brew their tea, and how life events drive us to redecorate our homes.

That said, I spend most of my time working on Unilever brands, although there are always other brands and projects to dip in and out of when other people in the team need support. As a result, I get to work with every DB Studio – and half of the creative team in London!

At DB, there isn’t a cookie cutter approach to strategy because no two projects are the same. Strategists tend to be more heavily involved at the early stages of projects, seeing clients, taking briefs, developing proposals, and inspiring creative teams. The next check-in is at the middle – just before things go to research. We always get involved in the research and debriefs – then we can we interpret the results to be more meaningful for the next stages of design.

What does an average day look like?
At any agency, no two days are the same. When I’m in the Studio, I spend time chatting to other people in the Strategy team and catching up with brand teams on projects, attending briefings and reviews. I still don’t understand how the phones work here so if I need to speak to someone, I go and find them!

Senior Strategists at Design Bridge take some responsibility for client relationships alongside the Client Servicing team, so I’ll check in with them, share interesting reads that we’ve come across, and make sure that everyone is clear on briefs and what the next task is as we move projects forward.

In London, the Strategy team holds a monthly “knowledge share” where we share recent project work, invite guest speakers to inspire us, or noodle over a client problem as a collective. And, of course, we discuss where to go for drinks, team night outs, and how we can replicate the Strategy Christmas party (which resulted in a ban from an unnamed café for life).

StrategyTeam_xmas2016

Tell us about a favourite or memorable project you’ve worked on…
I love tricky brands with unruly portfolios. The ones were you really need to get your head around them so that you can simplify what’s out there, clarify the information to clients and creative, and help inspire all the teams that touch the brand on a daily basis.

I’ve found myself in Shanghai running (seemingly) straightforward workshops about paint, but throw in no translator, a broken projector and thermostat, and you have to prove that you can be agile and think on your feet because the life of a Strategist is constantly going off-script.

Where do you go for inspiration?
Not my desk, and it totally depends on the task. I might take myself off for a wander around stores like Liberty of London and Whole Foods Market, or I’ll browse the shelves of the bookshop at Tate Modern or in Daunt Books.

My happy place is the V&A. I’m obsessed with the Materials and Techniques galleries, and recommend a look round the Plywood exhibition.

I’m still miffed that they moved the V&A Textile Study Galleries to the Clothworkers’ Centre for Textiles and Fashion Study and Conservation in Olympia. I used to love going through the collectors drawers, you never knew what sort of embroidery sample or fabric print you were going to discover.

Do you have some advice for someone thinking about joining the Strategy team?
Your credentials will get you through the door for the interview. Then you just need to be yourself. Cultural fit is really important to us. Sure, we’re looking for people who are passionate about brands, but we also want to know that we can go for a beer or a coffee, that you bring an interesting point of view, and that you won’t shy away from a team crisis (because DB is a family and every family has the odd crisis!).

And finally, tell us something no-one else at DB knows about you…
Hmmm – well I already mentioned a couple, I did a stint in Client Servicing a long time ago, and I have no idea how the phones work here!

I’m a hoarder and collect obscure brands and packaging from around the world. Normally, there’s something crude about them – the reason why is that after understanding the design process, there are still some gutsy clients that release fun things into the market. Like the old Evo-Stick instant grab adhesive (like No More Nails) – it was called ‘Better than Screwing’ and the only other copy on the front face was “Satisfaction Guaranteed”. Now, who says that working in unusual categories can’t be fun?

Agreed! Thanks Alice.

Danke

If you’d like to join the Strategy team, check our Careers page for the latest opportunities across all 4 of our Studios.

You can read more Stories from Design Bridge people here.

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