What does a strategist do?

Having to explain what I do in my role as a strategist is a regular occurrence. It’s definitely a job title that fails the ‘mum test’. Personally, my particular role as a strategist leans towards customer experience — it’s what the majority of projects I work on are looking to address. That’s due to the fact at Make it Clear CX is our core focus as an agency, though I’m confident the stages outlined here will apply to most strategist roles.

Explaining what a strategist does is quite simple; the role is made up of three broad stages.

Understanding

The initial stage often comprises heavily of research. At Make it Clear, our understanding is often developed with direct input from our client’s customers, it’s the best way — listen to those you’re trying to deliver for. After listening, choosing and implementing relevant research methods is the main task. Activities can include customer/stakeholder interviews, surveys, observation sessions and/or user testing in addition to background reading and digesting relevant information. In simple terms: it’s about uncovering details on the needs and drivers from within the business and also their target audience(s).

Knowledge

The aim of the second stage is two-fold; first, to distill all of the information gathered during the previous understanding stage and second, present the distilled information in a format that can be shared easily and clearly with stakeholders. Outputs can include quantitative and qualitative research reports, customer journey maps, personas and even competitor analysis.

Influence

Drawing on the knowledge, the next step is to help inform and shape outcomes. Drawing on the research, or knowledge, and articulating a narrative is crucial at this stage. Persuading, framing and storytelling are a big part of this final stage.
For every new project the role of a strategist goes something like this: gain an understanding, distill that understanding into knowledge and then apply that knowledge to positively influence outcomes and the direction of a project or business activity.

Arguably the first two stages are the most important and require the majority of time however the final stage is really where the value of the role is realised. It’s at this final stage that the storytelling and planning, otherwise known as strategy, are outlined and delivered to stakeholders. Without the underlying understanding and knowledge the output at the influence stage can be little more than guesswork.

The role of a strategist isn’t rocket science. A major part is simply listening. To stakeholders, to customers, to problems. More often than not, we’re looking into topics and issues that our clients have expert understanding and knowledge of — it’s the fact we’re an external agency that really helps us to deliver valuable outcomes.

Operating as an external partner to our clients means we avoid being struck by the ‘curse of knowledge’, a cognitive bias often found in expert teams who possess a concentration of technical knowledge about a product or service. This is a huge benefit to working as part of an external agency, rather than as part of an in-house team.

It’s the distance that enables us to develop understanding, knowledge and influence without familiarity creeping in, meaning we are often able to frame information and present from a different angle. We find this is often the most valuable part of a the service we provide for our clients who are often working on highly technical projects. A fresh look, one not clouded by familiarity, can really help to bring the most important elements of a project, product or service into focus.


Rick Harrison

Strategist


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