Sarah Robb has over 20 years of experience as a brand strategist, working across multiple industries and countries. She continues to work with select clients alongside helping to equip people with the clarity, inspiration, support, and tools they need to become confident brand strategists.
She began her career on the prestigious WPP Fellowship Program – developing expertise in market research at Millward Brown, advertising planning at JWT San Francisco, and brand strategy consulting at Landor New York and Geometry Global. She learned her craft across a spectrum of Fortune 500 companies that included PepsiCo, Diageo, BP, Pfizer, Kimberley Clark, Beaulieu Vineyards, Don Julio luxury tequila, British Gas, Novartis, PG&E, and Sanofi-Aventis.
Her six years at Landor, the world’s largest brand consultancy and design firm, began as a senior strategist in the New York office, with additional responsibilities running their research practice. She then transferred to London where, among other projects, she was the strategist and director on a $6m rebrand for EY (formerly Ernst & Young) – delivering a new global brand strategy and overseeing a radical design change across more than 150 countries and 200,000 employees. She won Landor’s best Global Brand Strategy award for this work.
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Table of Contents
Let’s learn a little about you and really get to experience what makes us tick – starting at our beginnings. Where did your story begin?
Sarah Robb: ‘Ambidextrous brains required’ was the headline that lured me into a career in brand strategy.
Just back from teaching in Japan for 3 years, and in the middle of doing an MA in Japanese Studies it literally stopped me in my tracks since I’d been struggling to figure out where was the right place to begin a ‘proper job’.
Rounds of essay writing and interviews later, I had a place on WPP’s Fellowship Program – the scheme the poster had been advertising. After training in market research at Millward Brown, advertising planning at JWT, and G2, I found my happy place – Brand Strategist at Landor – helping clients define what they stand for and why. But after ten years in the agency world, and pregnant, I decided to take the leap to solopreneurship, and 13 years later I’m still loving the freelancing CEO lifestyle.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up?
Sarah Robb: I don’t think that hard times ever really go – you just become much more adept at dealing with them. It’s about understanding an entrepreneur’s journey is never a straight line – you always have to cope with the uncertainty of the next job or the next sale. It’s about appreciating the quieter times and thriving through the chaos.
At the beginning, and for a long time, I felt ‘Brand Strategy Imposter Syndrome’. Who was I to advise a huge multinational on their brand strategy when I’d only been working on a handful of brands over a few years? What gave me the credibility to talk to a luxury tequila brand about their brand strategy one month, then a global pharmaceutical company the next? What always frustrated me was that I felt limited by my experience, and what I wanted was to talk with conviction about was the whole world of brand ideas out there – not only the industries I’d worked on. And this was all doubly hard as a mum with two little kids, with no agency or team to fall back on. But this bugged me so much that when I made the decision to set up my own consultancy, one of the first things I did was create my own study of the world’s most valuable brands. I looked at the 181 brands that appeared in the 3 most respected brand valuation studies and studied their brand strategies. This backed up my skills and gave me more confidence in my approach. In any industry, you have to be prepared to go deep and continue to learn and develop your expertise.
More recently, I launched Brand Strategy Academy – an online course that teaches people how to become confident brand strategists. Creating this in the middle of lockdown and homeschooling, learning new skills to video and launch it, creating a new website, beginning to write more content to become better known for my area of expertise… it all felt like starting again. Mostly it was exhilarating, but often it was frustrating – to the point of wondering why I was taking this on, on top of everything else. But I truly wanted to get my knowledge out there to help others and I think if you continue to have top of mind how your product might be able to help someone, that gets you through those “I’m ready to quit!” moments.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. What’s the worst advice you received?
Sarah Robb: When I’d just launched Brand Strategy Academy a previous colleague of mine wrote to me on Linked In saying – “This isn’t who you are – this isn’t your voice – someone has hacked your email – you need to change what you’re doing”. At the time I was trying to sell my course for the first time and was already feeling uncomfortable about the ‘selling’ part. It really knocked me for a moment. But sometimes other people don’t understand or don’t want to support, your growth and change. And that’s really their issue, not yours. You’ll try things that feel uncomfortable, you’ll suck at the beginning, but you can’t let others waver you from your course. I sold a lot of courses from the communication I sent out that he didn’t like. Just keep on going!
Is there a particular podcast you listened to, or business thought leader that you find helpful while maneuvering this pandemic?
Sarah Robb: I think GrowthDay, and the founder, Brendon Burchard, is an awesome resource for personal development. As an entrepreneur, you don’t have access to large companies and their training resources, but this course continues to be the best investment I’ve made in myself.
What is most important to your organization—mission, vision, or values?
Sarah Robb: You can’t and shouldn’t separate or rank these things. Your mission (often called purpose) is really WHY your business exists – if you frame this in a powerful enough way you don’t need a vision on top of it. Your values dictate HOW you act and operate in order to achieve your mission. They are equally important. My business is about helping clients define these things – I have tons of resources on my website if you need help doing yours!
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success?
Sarah Robb: My answer would be:
Resilience – keep going and digging deep when it was tough.
Rigour – backing up my conclusions with research and insight.
Being a good listener – which stems from caring about really understanding people’s and organizations’ challenges, heritage, and goals and adapting my approaches to suit their culture and needs.
What have you learned about personal branding that you wish you had known earlier in your career?
Sarah Robb: I’ve been in branding for organisations and products for over 20 years but when it comes to ‘branding’ myself it was still a learning curve! I made a mistake when I launched my first company in choosing a look and feel for my brand that I just ‘liked’ – rather than what was more strategically aligned to my brand strategy.
You need to still keep a bit of objectivity and distance from your personal brand – you need to define WHY you exist, WHO you are and HOW you do things, and HOW you want your brand to look, feel, and sound – and this latter part needs to support what you are aiming for in the former – not just, “I like green so I want it to be green!”
What advice would you give to our younger readers that want to become entrepreneurs?
Sarah Robb: Stop thinking about your desire to become an entrepreneur and start thinking about how what you can do can help other people. What problem can you solve for someone? How can you make someone’s life even a tiny bit better? You can write any financial goal – I want to sell 100 of these or grow this by xxx% but if you don’t figure out why people are going to care then you won’t have a business. If you do – you’ll have both a business and the start of a great brand.
What’s your favorite “life lesson” quote and how has it affected your life?
Sarah Robb: “Ships are safe in the harbor, but that’s not what ships are built for.” It inspires me to get out of my comfort zone, get into the rocky waves and try and become better.
Mike Weiss, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Sarah Robb for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Sarah Robb or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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