In conversation with

Alyssa Babaran

Senior Strategist at Sonder & Tell

Introduction

Introduction

Leeds-based Alyssa Babaran is a Senior Strategist at Sonder & Tell. She joined just in time for our Christmas party and we can’t wait to see what she brings to the team in 2023.

With a background in branding, she’s no stranger to brands heroing themselves instead of customers and hyping up logos before words and strategy – which is why she’s all-the-more excited that at Sonder & Tell, she’ll be creating brand worlds with a strategy and words-first approach where customers are our heroes and teams get support beyond the brief. And as the team member who’ll be steering our B2B ship, she’ll also be helping turn brands typically thought of as bland and functional into businesses with compelling and inspiring narratives.

Question and Answer

What first drew you to brand?

I have always been fascinated in human behaviour and how the power of stories, language and ideology are wildly interconnected.

Businesses are arguably the most powerful institutions in the world. They have the resources and vision to generate monumental outcomes for society and culture.

On the flip side, individuals are navigating the world governed by their own beliefs. Particularly as we’re living in mad times! And a huge part of this is what we consume. There’s power behind our wallets. It’s always fascinated me how one person opts to shop at one place over the other, when the outcome is more or less the same. We expect good products, that’s the baseline. But what sticks with you is everything that surrounds that product. From the ethics behind sourcing, the way workers are treated to the way you feel when entering a store. Everything is held together by a unified belief. And I think that’s why I’m drawn to brands.

I want to have a part in creating belief systems that can generate positive outcomes. This may not have been the case for every project I have worked on, but it’s always the hope.

You used to work at How & How. What did you learn there?

I learnt about the power of good design with a simple and emotive idea at the heart. I also saw firsthand the value of a really inclusive studio. The ideas generated from different experiences and walks of life is something I’ll always treasure.

You’ll be owning B2B strategy at S&T. What do you wish to see more of in the world of B2B?

B2B is still people to people. And I would love to see that reflected in the language used. From what I’ve come across, the language in B2B can be very product focussed, jargon heavy, exclusive and quite dense. It makes it hard for a person or another business to understand what’s in it for them.

The challenge for B2B businesses is to find how they can tell that emotional story without sounding disingenuous. But in future, I hope these types of businesses will be braver and separate the product story from the brand story.

Also, when it comes to finding a tone of voice, stop being lazy and saying you want to sound human … what does that actually mean?

“B2B is still people to people. And I would love to see that reflected in the language used.”

Key qualities every strategist should have?

I think that strategists are just curious souls trying to make sense of the world. It’s not my style to prescribe, but the three qualities that may help with the day-to-day:

Be an immersive deep diver, but know when to come back up for air. There’s so much reading, listening and talking to be done. For fleeting moments of time we need to understand our clients’ world and their consumers. We empathetically put ourselves in so many shoes! So it’s good to go in with an open mind, not to project and to just soak everything in. To use an S&T term, we’re entering ‘The Vortex’. It’s easy to get lost and bogged down in vast amounts of information. But part of the discipline is to be able to climb back out of one after a deep immersion. If anyone has tips, I’m always keen to hear.

Be an active player in the nuances. One word could change a direction completely, and it’s all about respecting that and having fun with it. I love listening to two strategists chat, because on first impression it sounds like they’re more or less saying the same thing. But upon closer inspection, they’re saying something fundamentally different that really changes and shapes meaning.

Finally, and perhaps my favourite, is to be a disciplined, no-ego refiner. Axe, cull and cut. Don’t be precious. It’s about being clear and simple.

Where do you go for strategy inspiration?

Everywhere. You can find me in the depths of a Reddit forum, on a TikTok doom scroll or listening to podcasts while I’m cooking. I do love a good trend report. I particularly like LS:N Global from The Future Laboratory. But nothing is better than talking to people. Understanding human behaviour in depth comes from proximity and intimate conversations… I am guilty of eavesdropping on train conversations for this!

Is there a piece of brand strategy you’ve seen recently that’s made you wish you worked on it?

I really love the female healthcare brand Tia. They’ve got such a compassionate yet challenging position and voice – a hard balance to strike. And it’s not just about how they sound. They go deeper than that – it’s more about how they use their voice.

Something in the world of brand you want to see in 2023?

Sexy B2B. Watch this space.

Alyssa's Storylist

Books

  1. Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino
  2. Strategy is your words by Mark Pollard
  3. Atlas of the heart by Brené Brown
  4. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Magazines

  1. Gal-dem
  2. The New Yorker
  3. Architectural Digest

Podcasts

  1. Dare to lead by Brené Brown
  2. The Diary of a CEO by Steven Bartlett
  3. The Receipts Podcast by Tolly T, Audrey and Milena Sanchez
  4. The NDA Podcast by Katie Cadwell

Digital Platforms

  1. It’s Nice That
  2. Medium
  3. Sweathead
  4. AllTrails

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