working girl: taamrat amaize, brand strategist

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Who knew that when we find a product or brand that we love and can’t do without, it’s not an accidental occurrence, but a carefully crafted one. That company, like friends, boyfriends/girlfriends, has made you see what’s great about them and that there’s a very specific role they can play in your life. That connection isn’t chance; it’s branding. As a Brand Strategist, Taamrat Amaize is helping companies be the brands people fall in love with. Here’s her story.

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Age: 30

Location: Oakland, California

Profession: Brand Strategist

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How did you get started?

When I started, I had no idea what Branding was. I was just looking for a job that would get me back to living in New York City and my friend recommended I join the agency she was working with. That was eight years ago and I never thought I’d turn Strategy into a career, but I love it!

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For those who don’t know, can you explain what a brand strategist does?

I liken brand strategy and its creation to dating. When a person’s on the dating scene, subconsciously or consciously they’re thinking about a few things: What makes me unique and differentiating? What’s going to make someone not only take notice of me, but remember me? What personality do I exhibit? How do I present myself—what kind of clothes do I wear, how do I speak, and what kind of things do I say? And who am I trying to attract? These are essentially the core questions I answer when I’m building brands for companies—helping them understand their target audience, the value and uniqueness they provide in the market and how they can stand out from their competitors, and the look, feel, and sound of their brand (everything from Logo + Visual Identity, to the name of the company/products and tone of voice the brand uses).

What made you want to go off on your own? And how did you prepare to do it?

I started working independently because I was very passionate about certain types of companies and realized that the demands of working within an agency meant I had to work with certain types of clients… Large agencies don’t typically get to work with non-profits or nimble burgeoning start-ups, yet those are the types of clients I’m passionate about. So one day I just took the plunge, and I only did two things to prepare: 1) Line up a very worthwhile client, before I quit my agency job, that I was/and am extremely passionate about; and 2) Ensure I had enough savings to float me so that I NEVER had to take a client out of desperation. Otherwise, I’d be exactly in the same position as within an agency.

What’s an average day like?

I haven’t had an average day since I started working for myself. When I started on my own I thought I’d just take it easy. Ha! That’s definitely an understatement. Working independently is so liberating. I find now that I work harder and better than I ever did when I worked for someone else. It’s definitely not “taking it easy” but it is extremely more fun and fulfilling! I’ve never been one to find productivity by working eight hours straight. So now, I do my work bits at a time–I take breaks for Yoga and to make myself a healthy lunch, or to tend to my terrariums (all of a sudden I “garden” to find inspiration and calm my thoughts). Basically, I’ve found my own work style that keeps me sharp and motivated.

Ups and downs you sometimes face on the job:

I’ve been so fortunate to be working on really incredible clients and having a steady flow of work. But sometimes I have sleepless nights worrying about that flow and what will happen when it dries up. So I focus on just finishing the project that’s in front of me, while challenging myself to think of different ways to market myself. The more I brainstorm, the less anxious I feel, and some really great ideas have emerged.

Why do you do it?

I’m a natural problem solver. Whatever job title I have in the future, I know that problem-solving and strategy will be at the core. Brand and branding were never part of my overall plan, but I’m so glad I’ve landed here because it has exposed me to so many skills and opportunities that now, I feel I can do anything and go anywhere.

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Your greatest achievement so far?

I’m so excited to be working with what’s sure to be a world-changing biomedical start-up. I’m helping them develop their brand so that they can bring their first drug to market—an anti-malaria and anti-cancer drug with the potential to change the lives of millions of people. Finally, I get to develop the strategy, look, and feel of a brand from the ground up, all on my own. Daunting, but exhilarating! And beyond that, I’ll be refining their business plans and marketing materials, enabling them to get major investors on board.

What might be next for you?

I’d love, Love, LOVE to one day chart the strategy for a brand that I actually consume. My next goal is to work in-house and be part of a brand and company that admire, so that I can see the strategy through from start to finish, instead of just consulting and advising from the outside.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to break into branding?

Study human behavior! Brands are contrived representations of human experiences and aspirations. When a company creates a brand and markets it to you, they’re creating an idea that they want you to find compelling. Understanding what people want, why, and the fundamental human drivers that motivate them to do so is so incredibly fascinating and truly at the core of branding. So study human behavior, it’s all around you!

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What are your top five go-to hair tips?

It’s been two years since I started my natural hair journey. After relaxing my hair for practically my whole life, I shaved my head in an effort to start from scratch. Since then, I’ve definitely experienced ups and downs, but where’s what I’ve learned:

  1. Moisture, moisture, moisture! I WET (not wash) my hair every day.
  2. Deep condition every few days and shampoo only once a week (if that) to make sure my hair stays oily, while fending off breakage.
  3. If I’m going to be natural, I’m going to be natural. That means both in terms of hair products and my diet. The more natural products I use in my hair, and the more natural food I eat, the better my hair looks.
  4. Let it do what it does. I’ve stopped trying to control it—the less I do, the better it looks. And I’m lazy anyway, so it works out for both of us.
  5. Arm curls, with 10-15 lbs weights, to work on my upper arm strength… because combing my hair now is a bitch.

Fun Fact: What I’ve learned both from my hair and now working independently is that change is always good. And risks, when you take them, ALWAYS make you stronger, smarter, and braver for when the next risk needs taking!

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