My name is Hillary Bleckley, I’m a wife and mother and sister and I currently work as a Brand Strategist for an Atlanta-based brand and marketing studio. If you have no idea what a brand strategist is, do not worry because just a few years ago I didn’t know what that was either!
The best way I can explain my job is using the illustration of an iceberg. Every day—whether you know it or not, or whether you like it or not—you interact with all kinds of brands. So think of seeing a billboard or hearing an advertisement on a podcast or having an in-store experience as the tip of that iceberg. At the top are all the brand visuals and experiences.
But what’s below the surface of the water—and that’s a lot of the iceberg—is all the thinking and planning that goes into developing what you experience. It’s the why and what and how of a company or product or service. And that’s what I do – all the stuff below the surface. I work with start-up companies on consumer research and big-brands on things like content strategy and naming. My work is this strange blend of psychology, research, and business, but at the root of it all is to help companies be clearer and more focused on who they are and what they do.
Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined I’d be doing this job—remember just a few years ago I didn’t even know this job existed! However, at a very young age, I always had a fascination with people and how we make decisions and why we do the things we do. When I was in middle school, I decided I was going to make up and then pursue my own profession: I was going to be a “self-discoverist” and help adolescents in their journey towards identity development (which, God bless anybody who actually does this job!). So, as a freshman in high school in Holland, Michigan, I made a promise to myself to keep a journal all four years of my high school experience (I literally put my signature on a piece of paper), because I wanted to get into the head of a teenager. I was basically going to be my own case study. And I did it! Today, if I were to take you to the closet in my childhood home bedroom, you’d find stacks upon stacks of journals. It’s mostly about friends and boys…
Well, I didn’t end up doing the self-discoverist thing, but I did end up going to college and majoring in psychology, and through a number of unexpected professional twists and turns, I landed here in Richmond, Virginia as a brand strategist.
It was only recently that I made a revelation about my current job and all those years of journaling. No, I’m not working with adolescents on identity development like I thought; instead I’m working with companies to uncover more about who they are and what they do and more importantly, why it matters. Sometimes it takes hindsight to realize while you may have an idea of what you want to do, the path to getting there is paved with surprises.
For many years, I struggled to find a direct connection between the output of my work and my faith. Sometimes I’d find myself thinking, at the end of the day, isn’t this just about getting people to buy more stuff? But in years of working with really great clients, I’ve been refreshed to see that no, it’s not just about buying stuff; though that is unquestionably part of it. There are many, many great companies out there today that see their work as part of a bigger story of impact and positive change. They are using business for good.
I’ve worked with a for-profit financial service company who is making access to capital fairer and more equitable.
I’ve worked with a fast food restaurant who is engaging all 4,000 employees on a shared vision of care.
And I’m about to kick off a project with a hydroponic farm—another word I didn’t know about 12 months ago – who is set out to change the way people buy and eat healthy foods.
Not all projects are glamorous, let me tell you. And most days I feel completely in over my head and clinically diagnosed with imposter syndrome, but when those days come (and they are often), I start my day with the same simple prayer, “Lord equip me for the task. Lord, help me contribute my small part to your big story.” And finally, a psalm that I memorized about the same time I started that first journal entry so long ago: “Not to us, O Lord, but to your name, we give glory.”