Virtually all the brand and tone of voice projects I’ve helped with stemmed from a brand strategy that’s not working for the client.

In the last few months I’ve spent a day sitting with a head of brand to rewrite her strategy. The rationale was solid but the language left her feeling cold. And another client’s brand personality used words that any competitor could – utterly undifferentiated.

And more often than not, I come in to rescue tone of voice guidelines. Usually they’re too conceptual, not helpful for people in service and customer experience or too brief, lacking definition for marketing and comms folks.

What’s criminal is that this work is generally from large, expensive agencies who ought to have this nailed.

It’s not just the agencies’ fault, though. The result of creative work is just as much the client’s responsibility. Getting good work is hard. But here are some things you can do to increase your chances.

Be choosy

Brand strategy doesn’t take a cast of thousands. It takes someone who can listen. Someone who can help people express things about their business they might struggle to articulate on their own. So look for a strategist or planner with experience, subtlety and strong facilitation skills.

Look inward

Don’t just rely on insight. That’s vital, but it has to be matched by your company’s ability to deliver. So find stories that reflect what your organisation’s like at its best. See what’s common in those stories, and you’ll find the values and behaviours that your customers experience day-to-day.

Be grounded

Make sure the strategy is grounded in the reality of the organisation, not just a catchy concept. A big idea can be exciting, but don’t let that distract you. Imagine standing up in front of one of your customer service teams trying to explain it to them. Will they feel excited too, or turn their noses up? Most of all, can you turn it into specific techniques that everyone can use to give your customers great service.

Chemistry counts

If you have good chemistry with your strategist, you can have the honest conversations that lead to good thinking. So in your pitch evaluation criteria, or when you first meet, test how you’ll get on when things get difficult. Because they probably will.

Get tingles

When you read your strategy it should match your sense of your organisation so well it sends a shiver down your spine. OK, maybe that’s asking a bit much, but a good strategy will make you feel excited. It’ll help you see new possibilities, think of fresh ways you can talk to customers and each other. If you’re not getting that feeling, it needs more work.

Slow down

More than anything, your strategist should be someone who helps you slow down. We’re all so busy doing, that it can be a hard space to create. A good strategist helps you slow down enough to think more deeply.

What’s your experience?

Have you struggled to get an exciting brand strategy from an agency. What did you learn?