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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

I'm a brand strategist completely obsessed with technology. I've been blogging since 2008 both here and as a contributor to the company blogs of Moving Brands, Digit and Wolff Olins. I'm also the co-founder of the print-only newspaper Can't Understand New Technology. Comments welcomed. Haters gonna hate.

 

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.

The case for curiosity — why it’s time to really pay attention to A.I

Camilla Grey

If 2016 taught us anything, it’s that skimming headlines rarely gives you the full picture. And it taught us that taking time to piece together the full picture can be critical to understanding, to evolution, and to progress.

Artificial Intelligence is ushering in a new era which will have, as its headlines, things like driverless cars, and medical breakthroughs. But it will also have a ‘long read’ just boring enough to ignore, yet just complex enough to be important. So while we’re all resolving to dig deeper into the things that matter, let’s be sure to add this to the list.

Last year opened my eyes to the real potential of A.I, thanks to two clients — Ayuda Heuristics and Graphcore — operating at the cutting edge of this technology. The projects allowed me incredible access to the founders, their teams, their product roadmaps and their advanced knowledge of the field. At times I admit to having felt totally lost and confused — this was hardcore, complex and often theoretical stuff. Building brand strategies for companies in this field has stretched me and challenged me in ways I could not have anticipated, but taking the time to really understand the technology and what it could lead to has also been incredibly exciting and rewarding. Even now, I am still more curious than by any means expert, but it’s a valuable state of mind and one everyone can all benefit from. Perhaps now more than ever.

That said, it made me want to reflect on the real value that being curious, and taking the time to really understand new technology, can have for a business. Curiosity may kill cats, but these two examples from our recent past show curiosity is what keeps companies alive. And being curious about A.I may be what keeps your business, all businesses, alive in the years to come.

Example 1:
How Burberry got curious about social media and re-invented luxury retail

Look at any chart of social media growth between 2006 and today, and you’ll see that the first big uptick occurred around 2010. Facebook and Twitter both saw major growth, with the former reaching a half billion users, and latter gaining +44% of their user base in that one year alone. Instagram came out of beta, quickly surpassing Hipstamatic (a first-to market photo editing app named App of the Year by Apple) and killed it purely by have a social element. This was all largely down to higher processing speeds in smartphones and increasingly ubiquitous wifi which brought more people online and onto social networks.

Burberry got curious about all this in the nick of time, hiring Musa Tariq as their Global Head of Digital Marketing in late 2009. By 2010 he was in fifth gear and busy creating Art of the Trench and live streaming their London Fashion Week catwalk show — making them the first luxury retail brand to take social seriously and do something seriously great. They also drove market share in China with a commitment to Chinese social channels Sina Weibo, Kaixin001, Douban and YouKu. For the company as a whole, these initiatives took the fear out of ‘digital’ and gave them the guts to continue to be experimental and creative. Burberry’s early work in that space put them on the front foot and has more or less kept them there ever since.

Curious about: Social media, mobile technology, internal communication, digital behaviour amongst their target audience, growth markets, re-defining luxury retail.

Rewards: Record revenue, margin and profit, Fast Company ‘Most Innovative’ 2011, 11 million views for Art of the Trench within 9 months.

Example 2:
Walmart got curious about data and out-Amazoned Amazon

Moving forward to 2012, and our relationships with brands had become truly digital as we talked to them (and about them) on social media, signed up to their newsletters, downloaded their apps, and bought more and more stuff from them online. By the end of the year, 24% of 2012’s Black Friday shopping was done online compared to just 6% in 2010.

While most brands concerned themselves with getting up to speed on social and lost their shit about the announcement of Google Glass, others — such as Walmart — focused on something far less sexy: data.

What Walmart realised was that the more people did online, the more data they created. And the more data they created, the better Walmart could understand and predict their customers. And the deeper the understanding and the more accurate the prediction, the better they could sell them stuff. Sorry, I mean ‘meet their needs’.

In 2011, Walmart set up @WalmartLabs with the sole purpose of focusing on the social and mobile data generated around Walmart. By 2012, the team had built a platform that could mine tonnes and tonnes of social data and identify what was important for Walmart to listen to, and what wasn’t. This was one of the first (if not the first) examples of a big brand building a dedicated, brand-led platform for big data. Come 2013, the platform was making correlations between search trends on walmart.com, sales trends in brick-and-mortar stores and social buzz online — plugging them directly into their global customer base and setting them up to continually evolve and improve. The team went on to lead retail firsts in omnichannel logistics, mobile, and open source. In January 2016 WalmartLabs was brought together with Walmart’s store-focused tech group to create Walmart Technology in a landmark step to fully integrate its nearly 12,000 stores with its $13 billion a year e-commerce business.

Curious about: Big data, social analytics, innovation (based on the company’s objectives and capabilities, not trends) .

Rewards: Best overall return in stock performance and dividends in more than a decadeClimbing to №1 on the Fortune 500 list this year.

Curious about Artificial Intelligence?

These two examples aim to show what happens if you get in, understand the big picture, and then build something distinct to your company. They tell the story of two giants who stayed the course by staying curious. But they’re the minority. As we’ve seen, the past ten years has made dinosaurs out of companies who stayed ignorant and failed to adapt to things like social, mobile and ‘big data, and the next ten will claim even more. A.I is the big meteorite, folks and it’s time to decide — mulch or maverick?

Google have bet the farm on it. You can read more about that here (yes, it’s long but come on, you can do this!) Facebook, Apple and Samsung have too. But that doesn’t mean everyone else should roll over and let them get on with it. Far from it. It’s time to dive below the headlines and go deep. It’s time to ask what does this all mean to the future of my business, or the business I work for?

Follow me here and on Twitter for more of what I’m reading and thinking about as I also begin to wrap my head around the bigger picture of A.I. And please do let me know what you’re uncovering too. Meantime, here’s some immediate further reading to get you started…

Living to work

Camilla Grey

In The Phantom Tollbooth (1961), Milo, the protagonist, is on a quest through the Kingdom of Wisdom where he learns that the world is not boring or dull, but full of interesting things. Along his journey he arrives at a house, with four doors on each side. Knocking on one of the doors, Milo meets the shortest giant, who directs him around to another door to meet the tallest midget, who sends him on again to the thinnest fat man, and finally to the fattest thin man. It is, of course, the same man opening all the doors.

This is how it’s starting to feel in the majority of first world, technologically advanced cities around the globe. Are we working remotely in a café? Or drinking a barista-brewed coffee at work? Is this business a creative technology company? Or a creative consultancy with technology at its heart? And if it’s all becoming one, if it’s the same man opening all the doors… who is he? And what does he want?

In a fantastic longread by Anna Wiener, entitled Uncanny Valley, the author describes being invited in to a Silicon Valley startup,

“It’s not clear whether I’m here for lunch or an interview… I am prepared for both and dressed for neither”, and later for a date, “It’s not clear whether we’re meeting for a date or networking. Not that there’s always a difference: I have one friend who found a job by swiping right and know countless others who go to industry conferences just to fuck — nothing gets them hard like a nonsmoking room charged to the company AmEx”.

Uncanny Valley presents our work/life balance with the dystopian malaise of Brett Easton Ellis, and it’s wholly recognisable.

Bleisure, a word coined by The Future Laboratory around 2010, is one of those words like ‘moist’ — sliding around the mouth when spoken and making you feel unsavoury. They used it to describe the blurring of our business lives and leisure lives due to a growing culture of being “always on”. In 2010 I didn’t disagree with them, but I struggled to imagine it developing beyond checking your email at home, and wanting to use an iPhone at work. Today, the bleisure trend is mass. It’s how a growing section of society lives, and for them, it’s a new cultural norm. What’s more, it’s aspirational — just look at those wantreprenuers, playing at start-ups in tiny cubicles around WeWork, thinking that just because they get to wear mutfy in the office, they are somehow “changing the game”. The man shows those folks in one door, and right out the other, with a large exchange of money in between.

So who is the man at the door? Well, of course, it’s The Man, just in a cooler t-shirt. At work The Man wants us to hang out, stay longer, eat more meals on the premises, and ultimately spend more time working. This shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, that’s’ how The Man rolls. But it’s The Man now showing up in our playgrounds that’s more sly. He has managed to make work a leisure trend, and then capitalize on it. Shoreditch House now has Soho Works. Dark Ace Hotel lobbies glow with screens. We wear athleisure wear at work and the gym. We need the wifi password in every godforsaken café, bar, pub, lounge and vehicle. All the places where we went for fun are now destinations for remote working. We’ve been sold on the idea that technology and a more empathetic corporate culture has unchained us from our desks. When really we’ve been sold out, and we bring our desks everywhere we go. Just read the product spec of any enterprise mobile and telephony solution, “access your corporate network via SSL from any location, such as home, an airport or hotel, an Internet kiosk or a mobile phone”. You can almost see where they included ‘toilet’ in that list, before thinking better of it. The implication being “keep working, or we’ll replace you with a robot”. Oh wait. They did.

So, as we go around the house, knocking on doors, what are we learning? Well, we’re unlearning Milo’s lesson that the world is full of interesting things. All work and no play is, indeed, making us dull boys and girls. What’s more, work that feels like play makes us crazy. If we no longer know whether we’re on a date or in an interview, or in a meeting or playing a game of ping pong, then it’s really no wonder that it’s easier just to scroll Instagram. And The Man? He’s cheers-ing his robot wife and laughing his head off.

A weekend at Disneyland. The happiest, weirdest place on earth.

Camilla Grey

“Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world”. Imagination remains, but the world as Walt knew it then— as a purely physical experience — has changed. The walled garden of Disneyland was once one of the only ways to step out of reality and into fantasy. Today it’s one of many. If it’s a rather large, multi-faceted world after all, where does Disneyland fit?

I wasn’t allowed Disney as a child. My overtly leftie parents raised me, instead, on a diet of 1940’s musicals and a couple of VHS tapes of The Muppet Show. Rachel Mercer (rachelmercer), on the other hand, was a frequent “imagineer” at the happiest place on earth, watching all the films and visiting the parks across America. So, our planned descension on Disneyland Paris last week was nothing if not ultimate proof that strategists are born, not made.

If Cuba is brand free (for now), Disneyland is brand everything. All logo, all vision, all mission, all the time. In song. From the moment you step through the gates, no detail is overlooked, nor sales opportunity missed. After 36 hours in deep immersion (including two nights in the ‘palace’, fifteen rides across both parks, and one “dinner and show” with Micky, Minnie and some rather un-PC cowboys and ‘indians’) I was left totally overstimulated, but fundamentally impressed.

Disney win in three areas: Consistency, storytelling, and democracy. Starting with the former, Disney are the absolute, borderline OCD, king of brand consistency across touchpoints. If they can put a pair of mouse ears on it and sprinkle it with magic fairy dust, they will. From bathroom toiletries and carpet patterns, to doughnuts, weddings, apps, and cruises, what Disney lacks in subtlety, it more than makes up for in enthusiasm. This is a brand you don’t just experience, you live. Secondly, we’ve got to give them storytelling. Apart from the obvious (the films and animations that underpin the whole thing), Disney tell stories with architecture (palaces, olde timey saloons, and Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutiques) and people (even non-characters such as park staff were in full, smiley Disney mode). Again, it’s impossible not to fall into it all and believe.

Lastly, and the most surprising to me, was the democracy going on at Disneyland. Rachel told me that Walt Disney (for all his anti-semitism and racism), wanted Disneyland to be for everyone. Noone gets priority, everyone gets to be a Princess (or Prince). And it was. All ages, races, abilities, and backgrounds were there. I saw cute teens on dates, posh grandparents in furs, and vast, multi-generational families all queueing calmly for rides. And we were there too — pals looking for a bit of respite from the city grind. Disney means something to everyone and is loved. Kids love it for what it is today, and everyone else loves it for what it was to them as kids. Even I cling on to the happy memory of sneaking in a full watch of Aladdin at a friend’s house. Disneyland is where all those memories and happy thoughts come to life and are renewed. How many brands deliver that?!

But I saw a crack. Not Tigger with his head off, but a small innocent child. This child sat between her parents in the front seat of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. While her parents looked around and pointed at things, she was looking at an iPhone. Transfixed by the screen, this little girl was in a magic, fantasy land of her own. Disney had faded into the background — just another emission from the dull, physical world to tune out in favour of a digital one. And then I wondered about another crack. Maybe this girl didn’t want to be a Princess? Maybe her parents would raise her to be powerful and independent, so she’d want to be a President or a physician. Maybe she’d imagineer about engineering. As animatronics danced, and lights dazzled me, I realised I was in an ancient land. This was a land imploding beneath its own promise — a lack of imagination about imagination itself.

If you invented Disneyland today, I don’t think it would be what I found in France last week. With “the happiest place on earth” as a brief, and a target audience of today’s Gen Z’s and their families, you’re not going to arrive at 3 hour queues, explicit commercialism, unhealthy eating options and gendered stereotypes. Magic today lives in cutting-edge technology (like VR and AI), unexpected moments of delight (like Punchdrunk’s immersive theatre), and totally unique and personalised experiences (like Lost my Name and SoulCycle). There is limitless imagination left in the world, it’s just not at Disneyland. It’s time for them to go back to the bare necessities. It’s time to see an elephant fly.