Akia Garnett is an International Branding Influencer who has been providing her services for many years. She was the first person I spoke to at length about corporate and personal branding. She is one of my influencers who got me thinking about personal branding and how it could apply to me.
I posed some questions to Akia, so our readers can get to know her.
Alan: When did you realize you wanted to be a “branding leader”?
Akia: Recognizing that I wanted to be a branding leader was more of a transition into what already was versus an epiphany. I had been working as a traditional marketer, but knew there that there was a requirement to build an actual experience versus catchy messaging, jingles and sales pitches. I recall spending time with someone trying to explain the bigger picture of marketing and the word “branding” kept coming up. Not long after that, I began reading everything I could about value propositions, and following top performing companies across industries. I certainly was one of the first people in my “world’ of peers to begin using the term branding, teaching about it and researching it in-depth. Naming my company “Brandbuilder” back in 2009 was common sense. I had already been practicing branding at that time, and I knew for sure that I always wanted to be in bigger discussions about consumerism, experience creation, loyalty, and most important, innovation. Today, I am referred to as brander, marketer and overall business expert. I answer to all three. Each are distinctly different, and also interdependent. I equally enjoy working in all three areas, and teaching influencers how to master them as well.
Alan: I think most people think of branding as something on a cereal box or soda can. Explain to our readers exactly what a “branding leader” does.
Akia: A brand leader is a visionary and can think outside of the confines of a product, and can help a target audience see the long-term benefit and values of it. Brand leaders also create unique and not easily replicable experiences around products and services. These experiences create followers who subscribe to the experience, offering personal endorsements of it through their positive response to marketing campaigns. Example. I am a follower of the Nordstrom brand. I don’t know what they will offer tomorrow, but whatever it is, I’m sure I will like it because they consistently deliver on their value promise and guarantee. Not to mention, their return policy means that I never have to deal with buyer’s remorse.
Alan: What is your definition of an “influencer”? How does one become an influencer? Is that the same as a “thought leader”?
Akia: Thought leaders and influencers are different. A thought leader focuses on the future of a current scenario and can propose a different and better scenario. Thought leaders can shift conversations around theories and purchases. An influencer’s impact is connected directly to a marketing call to action. Influencers have the ability to encourage swift movement of consumers and brand followers. Influencers and thought leaders are not one in the same – the may exist in the same space, however. A thought leader may impress an influencer and that influencer may then move a tribe of consumers to action.
Alan: Is branding important only for a business, or is personal branding important too?
Akia: No. I subscribe to the notion that every business and person has a brand. However undefined, a business’ brand starts with its culture, and the philosophies and business practices and ethics of its stakeholders. Those things and core values, what its leadership manage by in principle, extend to its brand, marketing and customer service. Yesterday’s example of personal branding was a resume or CV. Today, a personal brand is so much more than that. While every human has a personal brand the day they are born, not all of us create visibility around our brands. We tend to look at the headlines written about celebrities, politicians and business leaders, seeing a very present personal brand they have built based on what they believe, and their financial power and lifestyle, but personal brands are quite complex and vary from ultra conservative and reserved to very engaging and overly active. Both business and personal brands are important. Both require grooming in order for a public to completely understand them and also appropriately interact with them. Here’s an example. Think of the first day you went to Starbucks. Did you know how to place your order or did you learn? Once you learned, didn’t you feel proud to be part of the “tribe” of luxury coffee and fancy drink lovers?
Alan: Tell us about your Internet show “ThinkBIG with Akia Garnett”.
Akia: ThinkBIG is a show that allows me to talk with influencers who are doing very visible things in their communities of business and life. My goal is to spend an hour a week with a person who has something to share that can empower and uplift the everyday person looking for insight, guidance and general entertainment. ThinkBIG is not my first show. I’ve had a few others, including The Akia Garnett Show, and tweetchats #MYBrandChat and #iBrandChat. Interestingly, many see ThinkBIG as an extension of The Akia Garnett Show, and it is – however the goal for every episode of ThinkBIG is for information exchange to occur in the form of tips and how-to’s.
Alan: What role does social media play in branding? What is the best social media platform from a branding and influencer perspective?
Akia: Social media is an outlet for branding, just as traditional advertising in the form of direct mail, telemarketing, email marketing and other forms of idea distribution are. Today’s social media tools will someday graduate to become traditional as well, making room for something much more personable and interactive in technology. I predict that holograms will be much more popular in the future. I also foresee that while people are born into certain families, neighborhoods and communities, they’ll be able to greater create or join their own community of belonging and through virtual reality, be able to build a presence for themselves in those spheres as well.
Alan: Do you recommend a dedicated website for anyone wanting to brand themselves or be an influencer?
Akia: Yes, a website should be looked at as your “channel a” – the main repository of a brand’s full suite of product offerings and reinforcer of its brand. A website allows a brand to tell its story from beginning to present day and is not bound by social media display restrictions. It’s where the chronicled identity of the brand lives. Of course, the brand experience confirms what’s on its website and anywhere else the brand is represented. Social media is therefore your “channel b” – it is a mechanism for sharing pieces of the whole brand promise that is told through story on “channel a”. A brand without a website, using only social media, limits itself to the capabilities of those social tools. Brands are bigger than social media messaging, postings, photos and video. Everything on social media should reinforce what’s on a brand’s website.
Alan: Has the recent rise of live streaming on Periscope, Facebook, Instagram, etc. made it the preferred way to get one’s message out there? Is blogging still an effective way?
Akia: I’m a fan of blogging. It’s your content. Streaming tools allow you to share pieces of your content, but not all of it. Blogging in written form is the most popular type, but video and audio blogging in the form of podcasts are also very popular and show no signs of slowing down. Hundreds of new podcast are introduced to the public daily and that trend shows no sign of slowing down either. Social media is easy and it’s also dynamic and fun. But social media is not a business strategy and so even the best social media account holders at some point have to build something that captures its vision and mission. Facebook is a company and a social media tool, and so are Twitter and LinkedIn. Their employees aren’t merely posting online, but designing how to build audiences through their tools. Just as those actual websites have a real business behind them, so does anyone else serious about servicing a community of customers as well.
Alan: What have you done to keep your name out there?
Akia: I have used just about every tool there is, from online marketing, email marketing, traditional advertising, blogging, authoring, speaking, media guest opportunities, column authoring, lecturing, and so much more. It is important for me have a very flexible brand that can be distributed through a variety of channels. I never want to get to the point where my virtual life is more exciting than my real life. I live and enjoy living in the real world. I also enjoy interacting with the public through different real and virtual channels, reaching people exactly where they are. My philosophy is to go to the people, build relationships of mutual benefit, and provide value that may encourage them to visit with me, whether on my website, through my published writings, and in person on various broadcast shows I’ve created. While I have a very active brand presence that’s represented through several channels, the best way I spend time with others is in person during normal human activities such as sharing a meal, enjoying coffee and dessert, and conversing about ordinary things.
Alan: What is the most memorable thing that has happened to you in your career?
Akia: Hmmm, working for the Smithsonian Institution was by far the most memorable thing simply because as a child I rode my bike on the National Mall, and took field trips there; and so finding myself there as an employee, gaining access to parts of the National Mall not available to the public, and being part of a group of well respected and passionate professionals felt like a dream everyday. Going to work was like going to school. There was always something to learn, see and do, and I enjoyed every moment of it and met a lot of incredible people I’m still friends with today.
Alan: What’s next for Akia Garnett?
Akia: Only the future knows. The best thing I can do is prepare myself through continuous learning. I never stop reading, and refining my branding and marketing craft. I research new tools and technologies often, building upon the knowledge base I’ve been building upon for nearly 20 years as an entrepreneur.
Akia Garnett has the expertise regarding branding and influencing, and she disseminates the means a person or company can bring it to reality. One of the important takeaways from the Q&A is that social media is important, but alone is not sufficient to promote oneself or one’s business – A dedicated website is necessary and primary, and social media supports it. Personally, this blog is my primary way of promoting myself.
Please provide feedback or questions in the Comments. I would really enjoy hearing from you.
Minority Business Entrepreneur for Akia Garnett’s column “Master Your Brand”
Originally published February 17, 2017. Updated August 19, 2020 to adjust category assignments.