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Planning For The Best: Rob Williams on Simplicity and Authenticity

Branding and Marketing Agency
London, UK
Structure's senior strategist on a human behaviour, uncovering the truth on brands and solving complex challenges

Rob Williams is a senior strategist at Structure, helping next-generation tech companies define relevant and compelling brand strategies. Rob specialises in market positioning, business proposition, visual and verbal identity, experience design, content, and digital strategy.

LBB> What do you think is the difference between a strategist and a planner? Is there one? 

Rob> Interestingly, these terms do not translate across to branding agencies in quite the same way, despite working across many of the same remits.

Planners set the overarching strategic direction for the client – working to identify the ambitions, goals, and metrics they should be targeting and how a project will map to these to ensure a successful outcome. 

In the branding world, this would be a task for both the account director and strategy lead, working together to identify where the ‘pain point’ is – the problem are we solving and how best to tackle it. A strategist would then be tasked with the finer detail - researching the market, conducting stakeholder and customer research, developing a working strategic hypothesis, and crafting the narrative for how we solve the challenge.

LBB> And which description do you think suits the way you work best?

Rob> In strategy, it’s about setting a company’s north star that will be weaved throughout the entire organisation – setting a clear purpose that will underpin everything. As a strategist, I’m quite unique because I started as an account director but made the switch to strategy because I am fascinated with human behaviour and solving complex challenges, so I’ve got a holistic view and approach to my work. 

LBB> We’re used to hearing about the best creative advertising campaigns, but what’s your favourite historic campaign from a strategic perspective? One that you feel demonstrates great strategy.

Rob> When I look at campaigns, I focus on those that blend their purpose and product/service, for me, Apple is a great case study in this. The brand has crafted that balance of emotional benefit and tribal mentality with product functionality. 

The product stays very much front and centre (iPhone, Mac, iPad), but what can be achieved by belonging to this brand is also expressed elegantly – productivity, family connections, a seamless and effortless lifestyle.

LBB> When you’re turning a business brief into something that can inform an inspiring creative campaign, what do you find the most useful resource to draw on?

Rob> In my opinion, brands aren’t invented, they’re discovered. Every company has that one thing, a single truth, that is authentically theirs. I draw on research to uncover what that truth is. Turning it into a creative expression is then a case of shining a great big spotlight on what it is that makes the brand truly unique.

LBB> What part of your job/the strategic process do you enjoy the most?

Rob> Crafting the story. From uncovering everything we can, we then move into how to articulate this in a compelling and truthful way – setting a company’s brand direction through a well-written narrative is always the most exciting for me.

LBB> What strategic maxims, frameworks or principles do you find yourself going back to repeatedly? Why are they so useful? 

Rob> ‘Simplicity and authenticity.’ If a brand can utilise both, telling its story is effortless.

LBB> What sort of creatives do you like to work with? As a strategist, what do you want them to do with the information you give them?

Rob> I like to work with the creatives who ask ‘why?’ and those who seek to challenge everything. I’m a big subscriber to challenging ‘we’ve always done it like that’ thinking, so, creatives who bring this energy makes for a great dynamic.

LBB> What have you found to be the most important consideration in recruiting and nurturing strategic talent? And how has Covid changed the way you think about this?

Rob> I think strategic talent can come from anywhere. As somebody who was told countless times that ‘account people can’t be strategists,’ I completely disagree. A good strategist isn’t just somebody with the right job titles on their CV, it’s someone who can look at things differently, analyse everything, look to understand why something is like it is, and how it can be done differently or better.

LBB> In recent years it seems like effectiveness awards have grown in prestige and agencies have paid more attention to them. How do you think this has impacted on how strategists work and the way they are perceived?

Rob> The CMO of an organisation has become much more centred on business transformation and change, and the same can be applied to the strategic agencies they work with to create this impact. So, to link performance and analytics to our work is a welcome change in my view, so long as it doesn’t stifle creativity or weaken ambitious strategic developments for fear of missing targets.

LBB> Do you have any frustrations with planning/strategy as a discipline?

Rob> I’ve seen work described as ‘nice words on a slide’ by people who don’t understand the function of setting a clear brand purpose and direction, so sometimes there needs to be a little education as to the importance of brand underpinning everything a company does. This is where my role is vital to provide clarity for clients on the importance of strategy and how it should be an integral part of the business strategy.

LBB> What advice would you give to anyone considering a career as a strategist/planner?

Rob> Be passionate. Be curious. Never stop learning and don’t get complacent – the world is changing quickly and we’re moving towards expecting hyper-personalised and effortless experiences from the brands we know.

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