Have you ever heard about the “grandma test?” Here is how it goes: If you cannot explain what you do to your grandmother, then you don’t understand it well enough. For years I have failed the test. That was a significant problem for me since my job as a brand strategist is to help my clients pass their grandma test!
In my defence, unlike -say- a web designer, I don’t create an externally-visible deliverable. My work output is a set of internal documents I cannot share with other clients. I work with ideas. I massage them. I mould them to my vision. Yet when a project is over, my ideas stay forever with the clients. So, whenever I face potential clients, I have to convince them of a service whose sample they cannot see.
To make matters worse, my job title (brand strategist) combines two of the most abstract terms you can think of! Brand is an often-used yet seldom-understood concept because no universally-accepted definition exists. For example, some clients think it is a logo, while others see it as a company’s reputation. Long story short, when potential clients hear the word “brand,” they don’t know exactly what to think.
Strategy is another highly abstract concept, which is as much an art as a science. Because strategy varies drastically depending on the context, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. So good luck explaining what “brand strategy” is to a client who has never gone through the process. So what’s my solution?
When I see something interesting, I take a mental note. If I encounter it again, I understand it’s not a mere coincidence. But if it appears for a third time, I know I am witnessing an archetypal pattern. Several years ago, the feedback I repeatedly received suggested the presence of such a pattern.
Countless clients kept repeating a similar sentiment: “Günter, no one has ever understood us as you did. The way you’ve depicted our organization is truly remarkable.” The culture of my clients changed. The sectors they were involved changed. But that feedback never changed! So, what was going on?
If you read between the lines, those clients longed for their voices to be heard. And the brand strategy process gave them an opportunity to be seen, connected to and understood by a non-judgemental outsider.
Collectively my clients took a trip down memory lane, remembering the original sources of their organization’s strength. They understood the origins of their present circumstances. They got clarity on what they wanted from the future, aligning with a shared vision. They gained deep insights into their customers’ thoughts, feelings, and actions. At the end of the project, as an organization, they developed a clear and unique identity, knowing whom they serve, what they do, how they are different, and why they exist.
If you think about it, that process is not unlike psychotherapy. When my clients came to me, they felt stuck. I helped them navigate the communication challenges they were facing. They learned more about their customers and how to handle tough situations better. As a result, they got unstuck, improving their overall well-being and happiness.
So now, when people ask me what I do for a living, I no longer dread explaining my job. Instead, I simply tell them, “I’m like a psychotherapist for businesses.” I help organizations uncover their true identity, understand their customers, and find the best ways to communicate and thrive. I listen carefully, ask thought-provoking questions, and guide them through a journey of self-discovery and growth.
And the best part is, using the analogy of a “psychotherapist for businesses” helps people understand my role as a brand strategist without technical jargon. This simple explanation even allows me to pass the “grandma test,” showcasing the power of clear communication and effective metaphors!