In conversation with

Emily Dehn

Strategy Director at Sonder & Tell



We spoke with Emily Dehn, Sonder & Tell’s Strategy Director, to learn about her career trajectory, the craft of brand building, and what excites her the most about joining our team. Being able to understand how consumer trends and behaviour will affect a sector and a company’s performance, she tells us some of the mistakes people make when it comes to brand, why the relationship between writing and strategy is so important, and what really takes to create a successful strategy that stands the test of time.

Keep reading until the end to discover her list of best brand books.

Question and Answer

Tell us about your career journey before coming to Sonder & Tell?

I studied English and then started out in the world of finance after I graduated. Although it may seem completely unrelated, there are a lot of useful parallels, especially looking at consumer trends and behaviour, and understanding how they will affect a sector and a company’s performance.

What we do is about understanding people’s needs and how businesses can solve them with their products and services. These days, I get to do that from the creative side of the table, rather than the balance sheet side, but it’s all underpinned by the same thinking and understanding.

It also gave me a great commercial grounding. Creative strategy isn’t just about coming up with something that looks or sounds good – understanding the commercial imperative behind the work is key to coming up with solutions that will actually mean something and stand the test of time. From there, you can create brilliantly simple solutions that engage people’s emotions and invite their loyalty. It’s all about what you can get people to feel, and once you get that right, you can connect the dots between head and heart. As a result, brands can build loyal followings over time, making them successful not only in improving people’s lives, but commercially, too.

After my stint in finance, I spent more than six years as head of words at big fish, a brand, design and marketing consultancy working with force-for-good businesses, working on everything from bigger picture strategy to nitty-gritty wordsmithing, which naturally led me to Sonder & Tell.

What have you enjoyed getting stuck into at Sonder & Tell so far?

Having worked in a design-focussed world for a long time, it’s great to be somewhere that puts words at the heart of things. I’m also excited to build and grow our team and our offering, mentor others, and create great work together.

What do you think makes a strategy successful?

First, you need to frame what success actually looks like before you can start. Knowing that gives you the parameters for your work.

Second, a strategy is only as successful as the work it enables as a result. Just as ideas without any foundational thinking behind them will be short-lived, a strategy on its own is no use unless it can be put into action. To be a success it has to be usable, inspiring creatives and clients to bring it to life. As my wonderful creative director Will Awdry said: a good strategist won’t just tell you where to go – they’ll show you the way, not just pointing you in the right direction, but painting a picture of what it’ll be like when you get there.

“Brands get too fixated on what others in the category are doing, rather than ploughing their own furrow and sticking firmly to what they stand for.”

What are the common mistakes you see people make when it comes to brand?

Designing by committee, focusing on features instead of benefits and, worst (but most common) of all, telling consumers what the business wants to say, rather than what they actually want to hear. Brands also get too fixated on what others in the category are doing, rather than ploughing their own furrow and sticking firmly to what they stand for.

Why do you think the relationship between strategy and writing is so important?

The two are totally intertwined. For a good strategy to be great, it needs not only to be well thought through, but also well written. It needs to be sharp and concise, easy to explain and adopt. Good strategists should look beyond the thinking and the abstract, and towards the impact – on everything from creative work to internal culture and commercial goals.

And if writers don’t have a good handle on the strategy, they can’t do their job properly. Bringing that thinking to life and condensing pages of strategy down to a few choice words or lines is such a difficult art. It’s about bridging the logical ‘this is what it needs to do’ with creative solutions that take the rational and push it into somewhere emotional.

Emily's Storylist


  1. Eating the Big Fish by eatbigfish
  2. How Brands Grow by Byron Sharp
  3. Alchemy: the surprising power of ideas that don’t make sense by Rory Sutherland
  4. Nudge by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein
  5. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnemann


  1. Courier
  2. Life & Arts by FT Weekend


  1. Stories of our Times
  2. Monocle’s The Entrepreneurs
  3. FT News Briefing

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