Getting in the Game: Why Writers Need Strategies
Elyse Kamibayashi, Former Senior Brand Strategist
How strategies help creativity.
I haven’t always been a fan of strategy — which meant I was skeptical when I discovered that copywriters at Viget double as brand strategists. The word “strategy” brought up painful childhood memories of being trounced at the board game Risk. No matter how many times I played, I would always eschew strategy in favor of access to koalas — only to wind up crushed and humiliated in a small corner of Australia.
Strategy, I felt, had a tendency to drain the fun out of everything, squashing creativity in favor of practicality. And though that may be the case with games involving world domination, it turns out the opposite is true when it comes to writing.
Strategies don’t hinder writers. Having a strategy is like having a compass while trekking through the woods — it allow us to explore farther and deeper, without fear of falling down the rabbit hole of ideas that just "seem cool."
When you create a strategy, you’re able to immerse in the organization you’re writing for. You develop a profound understanding of the problems they're facing and the goals they’re working towards. At the end of the process, you’ve identified the one, core truth that they’re trying to tell their audience.
Knowing that core truth means you're no longer writing with the vague ambition of being clever or poignant. You’re telling an organization’s story — communicating the truth about who they are, what they do, and why. The strategy you develop helps you figure out what you're saying, as well as how you're saying it. For instance, a crucial part of a copywriter’s job is creating a voice and tone that resonates with a given audience. Writing well isn’t enough — but a strategy can help you determine whether you should sound inspiring or quirky, sympathetic or sarcastic.
And strategies aren’t just for writers. They're for designers, too. They’re the cornerstone of your partnership. You work in different mediums and you'll occasionally disagree. But at the end of the day, you're working towards communicating the same core idea. Instead of saying “I don’t think that headline sounds good” or “I hate that shade of green,” you can ask each other “is this executing on the strategy we worked so hard to create? Can we do it better?”
I still can't win at Risk, but I have learned to value and rely on strategy. Strategy for writers isn’t about winning the game: it’s about knowing what you need to write and how to write it in a focused, compelling way. I see strategy as a requirement on par with my fine tip Sharpie pen — if I’m not using it to write, what’s the point?