How Grace Nikae, a Concert Pianist and Music Prodigy, Built a Brand Strategist Career

Grace Nikae ​is ​a ​brand ​and ​content ​strategist, ​advisory ​consultant, ​and ​fractional ​CMO ​with ​over ​15 ​years ​of ​experience. ​She’s ​also ​the ​marketing ​director ​of ​Women ​in ​Tech ​NYC ​and ​the ​founder ​of ​Kizuna, ​a ​strategic ​initiatives ​firm ​helping ​startups, ​SMEs, ​and thought ​leaders ​build ​meaningful ​brands. ​

Over ​the ​years, ​Grace ​has ​worked ​with ​many ​startups ​and ​prominent ​brands ​like ​Prince ​Waikiki, ​Zara, Adidas, and many more.

​But ​Grace ​didn’t ​start ​out ​in ​marketing. ​She ​was ​a ​child ​prodigy ​and ​former ​international ​concert ​pianist, ​esteemed ​as ​a “​master ​of ​the ​instrument ​and ​the ​most ​compelling concert ​artist ​of her ​generation.”

In this interview, she shares how she built a brand & content strategist career, lessons along the way, and much more.

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What ​inspired ​you ​to ​get ​into ​the ​marketing ​industry? ​From ​being ​a ​concert ​pianist ​to ​becoming ​a ​fiction ​writer, ​why ​marketing?

How ​that ​happened ​was ​accidental, ​like many ​things ​in ​life. ​​I ​was ​considering ​leaving ​my ​career ​as ​a ​concert ​pianist. ​I ​had ​done ​it ​for ​two ​decades​ and ​ ​wanted ​to ​explore ​other ​parts ​of ​me ​to ​see ​what ​I ​could ​do ​outside ​of ​that. ​

During ​my ​years ​touring ​as ​a ​soloist, ​there ​were ​three ​things ​I ​loved ​doing ​at ​night ​in ​the ​hotel ​room. ​One ​was ​reading, ​the second ​was ​writing, and ​the ​third ​was that ​I ​taught ​myself ​how ​to ​code.

My ​venture ​into ​marketing ​started ​from ​the ​back ​end ​as ​a ​developer. ​First, ​I ​started ​building ​websites ​and ​mobile ​apps, ​and ​it ​was ​just ​for ​me – ​a kind of ​creative ​hobby ​I ​liked, building things from the ​ground ​up. ​

Then, ​I ​began ​my ​author ​career, and ​this ​accidental ​marketing ​career ​started ​because ​people ​came ​to ​me ​and ​said, “​Hey, ​I ​saw ​that ​you ​built ​your ​own ​website. ​Hey, ​I ​saw ​that ​you ​do graphic ​design. ​Hey, ​I ​saw ​you ​did this. ​Can ​you ​do ​it ​for ​me ​as ​well?” 

​And ​I ​think ​for ​those ​​considering ​a ​marketing career, ​I also want ​to ​emphasize ​that ​timing ​plays ​a ​huge ​role ​because ​​this ​happened ​right ​at ​the ​start ​of ​social ​media. It ​was maybe ​2003 or ​2004. ​WordPress ​had ​just ​come ​out, and people ​didn’t ​have ​that ​kind ​of ​skill ​set ​yet. ​

So, ​it ​was ​a ​total ​timing ​and ​opportunity ​moment ​when people started coming ​to ​me. ​I ​greatly ​enjoyed ​the ​challenge ​of ​first ​building ​these ​websites, which ​later ​translated ​into ​event ​production, ​visuals, ​and ​then ​ultimately ​into ​social ​media ​and ​brand ​strategy.

"Brand & content strategy is about clarifying ​your ​brand ​voice, ​your ​brand ​positioning, ​who ​you ​are, ​and ​building ​a ​community." A quote by Grace Nikae, a former concert pianist turned brand & content strategist.

Did ​you ​have ​to ​take ​any ​courses ​to ​familiarize ​yourself ​with the ​marketing ​industry?

I ​taught ​myself! ​I’ve ​always ​been a ​big ​proponent ​of the idea that ​the ​best ​learning ​comes ​from ​doing. ​And ​I ​think ​my ​skill ​set ​naturally ​as ​a ​creative ​artist, ​like ​I ​said, ​it ​was ​always ​about ​connection ​and ​communication, ​whatever ​form ​that ​may ​be. ​

So, ​I ​lean ​towards ​that ​naturally ​anyway. ​I ​brought ​all ​of ​that ​emotional ​intelligence and ​understanding ​of people – how ​do ​we ​connect ​with ​one ​another – ​I ​brought ​all ​of ​that ​into ​the ​marketing ​sphere ​as ​well.

​How ​do ​you ​combine the ​creative ​aspect ​of ​your ​fiction-writing and concert-pianist ​side with ​the ​rigid ​sphere ​of ​startup ​marketing?

​I’ve ​always ​had ​a ​passion ​for ​building ​things ​from ​the ​ground ​up, ​and ​that’s ​always ​been ​very ​exciting ​to ​me in ​the ​startup ​space. The ​startup ​space has ​a ​lot ​of ​innovation, ​which ​ties ​very ​well ​with ​creativity. 

This is actually ​a ​question ​I ​get ​asked very ​often – ​about ​all ​these ​pivots ​that ​I’ve ​made ​in ​my ​life ​and ​how ​they ​translate ​into ​marketing ​and ​brand, ​et ​cetera. ​

My ​approach ​to ​it ​is ​that ​I’m ​very ​passionate ​about ​human ​connection. ​That’s ​my ​why. ​That’s ​something ​I ​can ​talk ​about ​every ​single ​day – ​24 ​hours ​a ​day, ​for ​20, 30 ​years, ​no ​problem. 

For ​me, ​human ​connection ​is ​the ​connective ​thread ​between ​all ​these ​things ​I’ve ​done, ​whether ​it’s ​as ​an ​artist, ​musician, ​author, or ​what ​I ​do ​now ​in ​marketing.

It ​requires ​a ​tremendous ​amount ​of ​creativity ​to ​be ​able ​to ​allow ​a ​brand’s ​voice ​to ​be ​uniquely ​positioned ​and ​to ​be ​differentiated ​from ​the ​rest. That ​requires constantly thinking ​out ​of ​the ​box, and ​that ​is ​a ​creative ​process.

Now ​we ​know ​that ​in ​marketing, ​there are ​so ​many ​misconceptions. ​Being ​a ​brand ​and ​content ​strategist, ​what ​misconceptions ​do ​people ​have ​about ​what ​you ​do?

They ​think ​that ​having ​followers ​on ​social ​media ​equates ​to ​a ​strong ​brand ​and ​business, ​and ​the ​two ​are ​not ​connected ​at ​all. ​That’s ​one ​of ​the ​biggest ​things. 

​So ​I ​think ​the ​chase ​of ​vanity ​metrics ​and ​looking ​at ​it ​that ​way, ​rather ​than ​what ​brand ​and ​content ​strategy ​really ​is ​about: it’s ​about clarifying ​your ​brand ​voice, ​your ​brand ​positioning, ​who ​you ​are, ​and ​building ​a ​community – ​an ​engaged, ​aligned ​community ​around ​that. 

That’s ​really ​where ​the ​sweet ​spot ​is in ​how ​business ​can ​grow. 

Speaking ​of ​brand ​strategy, ​what ​is ​your ​process ​for ​creating ​a ​brand ​strategy?

A ​lot ​of ​it ​is ​very ​creative ​brainstorming ​work, ​especially ​at ​the ​beginning. ​For ​me, ​brand ​strategy ​is ​about ​the ​intersection ​of ​three ​things:

  1. The ​context: this means ​the ​competitive ​landscape ​that ​you’re ​in in ​your ​market.
  2. The ​associations ​that ​people – your ​community ​and ​your ​customers ​make ​about ​you.
  3. Your ​story: this means ​your ​values, ​your ​mission, ​your ​vision. 

When ​these ​three ​things ​intersect, ​that’s ​the ​sweet ​spot ​of ​what ​a ​brand ​is. 

​I’ve ​always ​said ​that ​brand ​is ​identity, meaning ​that ​we ​are ​not ​just ​who ​we ​are. ​Of course, we have ​our ​own ​stories, ​experiences, and ​values, ​but ​it’s ​also ​how ​people ​perceive ​us. ​It’s ​also ​the ​context. 

For instance, ​I’m ​an ​Asian ​American with ​a ​Japanese ​background, ​but I ​live ​in ​the ​United ​States. That ​is ​all ​part ​of ​how ​identity ​is ​formed, and ​it’s ​the ​same ​thing ​with ​a brand.

We ​know ​now ​that ​marketing ​needs ​to ​be ​human-centered. How ​do ​you ​make ​your ​marketing ​strategies ​human-centered?

I’m ​very ​much ​a ​proponent ​of ​emotional ​intelligence ​as ​being ​a ​much-needed ​skill. ​

These ​soft ​skills ​in ​marketing ​and ​in ​the ​future ​of ​the ​economy – ​as ​things ​become ​much ​more ​automated ​and ​AI-driven – ​the ​ability ​to ​communicate, ​​think critically, create ​a ​vision, imagine, innovate, and understand ​one ​another ​will ​be ​even ​more ​crucial ​moving ​forward. 

​And ​so, ​for ​me, ​it’s ​always ​about ​active ​listening ​and ​active ​connection. 

If ​you ​are ​trying ​to ​build ​a ​brand, you should focus on ​authenticity ​and ​community. 

​Authenticity ​in ​terms ​of ​brand ​building ​is ​being ​honest, ​being ​transparent, ​having ​integrity, ​and ​having respect ​for ​the ​community ​and ​the ​people ​that ​you’re ​building for. 

That ​includes ​actively ​listening ​to ​them. ​Do ​you ​know ​what ​they ​want? 

​It ​is ​amazing ​to ​me ​how ​many ​people ​are ​trying ​to ​build ​businesses, ​and ​then ​when ​you ​ask ​them, ​“Do ​you ​know ​your ​community? ​Do ​you ​know ​what ​they ​want? ​Do ​you ​know ​what ​they’re ​struggling ​with?” ​They ​have ​zero ​idea. There’s ​a ​disconnect ​because ​you ​don’t ​even ​know ​the ​people ​around ​you. 

​I ​think ​that’s ​so ​critical. When ​you ​talk ​about ​human ​connection, ​it’s ​about ​you ​being human ​yourself ​and ​centering ​the ​human ​experience ​in ​every ​aspect ​of ​that.

You’ve ​talked ​a ​lot ​about ​human ​connection. ​Is ​that ​why ​the ​agency ​is ​named ​Kizuna?

​Yes. ​I’m ​so ​glad ​you ​asked ​that. ​I ​was ​born ​in ​Japan ​but ​raised ​in ​the ​United ​States, and ​my ​work ​as ​an ​author ​has ​very ​much ​influenced ​my ​love ​for ​languages. 

One ​of ​the ​things ​that ​I ​really ​love ​are ​these ​words ​in ​different ​languages ​that ​don’t ​have ​an ​English ​equivalent. ​I’m ​very ​obsessed ​with ​these ​words where they don’t ​exist ​in ​another ​language. ​

​Kizuna, ​in ​Japanese, ​is ​one ​of ​those ​words. ​It’s ​a ​word ​that ​I’ve ​loved ​since ​I ​was ​a ​child. It ​means ​the ​enduring ​bond ​of ​connection.

For context, ​remember the ​children ​that ​you ​went ​to ​kindergarten ​with? All ​of ​you ​had ​a ​collective ​experience, ​and ​you ​may ​not ​see ​each ​other ​for ​60 ​years. Still, when ​you ​see ​each ​other ​again ​as ​senior ​citizens, ​there’s ​a ​bond ​there – ​a ​bond ​that ​you ​had ​because ​of ​that ​very ​unique ​​shared ​experience as ​children.

That’s ​what ​Kizuna ​is. It’s ​that ​kind ​of ​bond​, ​and I ​wanted ​to ​make ​it ​a ​central ​part ​of ​my ​business – ​building ​this ​unbreakable ​bond ​with ​your ​community ​as ​a ​brand, ​in ​your ​content, ​something ​that ​cannot ​be ​replaced or ​that ​is ​unique. That’s ​where ​it ​came ​from.

And ​this ​bond ​for ​startups ​is ​what ​contributes ​to ​their ​growth, ​whether ​in ​terms ​of ​traffic ​or ​sales?

For ​me, ​it’s ​not ​just ​sales ​but ​conversations and ​engagement. 

This ​is ​one ​of ​the ​mistakes ​I’ve seen startup founders ​make. ​When ​they’re ​not ​clear ​on ​brand, ​they ​will ​go ​and ​talk ​about ​all ​the ​technical ​stuff – ​all ​the ​stuff ​they’re ​excited ​about. 

“This ​is ​innovative ​because ​of ​this ​and ​this ​and ​this,” ​and ​they ​go ​on ​and ​on ​and ​on. 

But they’ve already lost the person listening ​in ​the ​first ​two ​minutes ​because ​they ​don’t ​care ​about ​that ​stuff. ​They ​want ​to ​know ​how ​what ​you ​do ​will ​solve a ​larger ​issue ​for ​them. ​

And ​so, when ​we ​talk ​about ​that ​sort ​of ​human ​connection, the questions I ask are, “Is ​there ​a conversation ​happening? ​Are ​they ​engaged? ​Are ​the ​people ​you’re ​speaking ​with ​asking ​you ​active ​questions?” 

​These questions are ​a ​sign ​that ​a connection ​is ​being ​made ​and ​that ​can ​be ​leveraged ​into ​sales ​and ​growth, ​and ​all ​of ​that.

How ​do ​you ​maximize ​the ​content’s ​potential ​to ​move ​the ​needle ​the ​most?

I’m ​not ​an ​advocate ​that ​a ​brand ​has ​to ​be ​on ​every ​single ​platform. I ​think ​that ​is ​a ​waste ​of ​time ​and ​money. 

​​I ​think ​you ​should ​go ​where ​your ​audience ​is ​and ​where ​you ​feel ​most ​comfortable ​as ​a ​brand, meaning ​that ​if ​you ​are ​coming ​in ​with ​authenticity ​and ​an ​established ​brand ​voice, ​where ​can you ​move ​the ​needle ​the ​most? ​

For ​example, ​there ​are ​several ​brands ​that ​are ​killing ​it ​on ​TikTok: ​Ryanair and ​Duolingo, ​because ​they’re ​leaning ​into that ​subversive ​voice ​that is ​part ​of ​their ​brand ​culture. 

​TikTok ​is ​a ​perfect ​place ​for ​that, ​where ​you ​can ​make ​fun ​of ​yourself ​and ​do ​those ​kind ​of ​videos. Everybody ​hops ​on, ​and ​they’re ​like, ​oh, ​this ​is ​so ​amazing, and ​everyone’s ​laughing. ​So ​that ​works ​great ​for ​them. ​

There ​are ​other ​places ​where ​a ​brand ​can ​really ​shine. 

Another example is the ​Wendy’s ​Twitter ​account. They have been ​killing ​it ​for ​decades with ​their ​roasting ​of ​other ​accounts. ​That ​also ​can ​work. ​

It ​really ​depends ​on ​a ​number ​of ​factors: your ​audience, ​your ​brand ​values, and ​your ​voice.

Dive ​in ​and focus ​your ​effort ​there; otherwise, ​you’re ​just ​​putting ​stuff ​out ​into ​the ​void. ​It’s ​going ​to ​take ​up ​too ​much ​time and is ​not ​the ​best ​way ​to ​move ​the ​needle.

What ​are ​the ​signs ​that ​your ​marketing ​strategy ​is ​not ​working? 

​I’m ​a ​huge ​proponent ​of ​testing, ​experimenting, ​and ​iteration. So, ​I ​really ​believe ​that ​the ​quicker ​you ​know ​that ​something ​doesn’t ​work, ​the ​better. 

For ​example, ​something ​like ​social ​needs ​a ​bit ​of ​time ​to ​get ​traction. ​I ​would ​probably ​give ​it ​two or ​three ​months ​to ​see ​if ​something ​is ​working. If not, ​pivot!

Anytime ​you ​do ​anything related to ​marketing, ​there ​has ​to ​be ​a ​very ​clear ​reason ​why ​you’re ​doing ​it. ​I ​think ​that’s ​often ​part ​of ​the ​problem ​because ​people ​do ​things without tangible reasons in the larger scope of things.

They ​think ​they ​should ​be ​on ​social ​just ​because ​they ​should ​be ​on ​social, ​but ​they ​don’t ​know ​why ​they’re ​on ​social. Then, ​it ​skews ​the ​metrics ​of ​what ​you’re ​looking ​at. ​

So, ​if ​you’re ​very ​clear ​on ​why ​you’re ​doing ​something, ​then ​you ​can ​understand more quickly. ​If ​the ​results ​are ​not ​addressing ​that reason ​and ​they’re ​not ​supporting ​it ​or ​helping ​it ​to ​grow ​in ​the ​way ​that ​you ​want, ​then ​you ​can ​pivot. 

For instance, if ​you’re ​on ​a ​certain ​social ​platform ​and ​doing ​things to ​get ​inbound ​leads, but ​over ​six or ​seven ​weeks ​of ​consistent ​posting, you’re ​not ​getting ​any ​kind ​of ​leads, clearly, something’s ​not ​there, ​so ​there ​needs ​to ​be ​a ​pivot.

How ​do ​you ​keep ​up ​with ​the ​ever-​changing ​landscape ​of ​marketing?

I ​am ​a ​big ​advocate ​for ​being ​a ​practitioner, ​and ​I ​think ​this ​is ​something ​that ​gets ​lost ​a ​lot, ​especially ​in ​marketing ​leadership. As ​you ​get ​further ​up, ​you get ​further ​distanced ​from ​the ​actual ​marketing ​that’s ​happening. 

For example, ​I ​have ​a ​large ​following ​on ​TikTok. ​I ​have ​about ​84,000 ​on ​TikTok. ​And ​through ​that ​following, ​I ​built ​a ​full-​time ​leadership ​consulting ​business. A ​few ​years ​ago, ​there ​was ​no ​website and ​no ​newsletter. ​It ​was ​just ​that ​platform. 

​I’m ​a ​content ​strategist. ​I ​want ​to ​understand ​all ​the ​platforms. ​So ​I ​jumped on ​TikTok ​for ​one ​month ​as ​a ​consumer at the beginning of the pandemic, ​just ​to ​scroll and ​understand ​what ​the ​platform ​is about ​before ​I ​started ​creating. ​

​I’m ​a ​huge ​advocate ​that ​if ​you ​are ​going ​to ​do ​something – ​if ​you ​are ​a ​marketer ​in ​social, ​paid ​emails, ​copywriting, ​or ​website ​building, ​you ​need ​to ​practice ​and ​understand it ​for ​yourself ​before ​being ​able ​to ​give ​any ​kind ​of ​advice. ​

So, ​I ​am ​always ​the ​first ​to ​dive ​into ​anything ​new ​that ​pops ​up ​on ​the ​radar. ​I ​will ​be ​the ​first ​person ​in ​there ​to ​ ​get ​a ​feel ​for ​it ​and ​ ​understand ​the ​shift ​that’s ​happening. 

That’s ​an ​important ​part ​of ​marketing ​leadership ​because ​you ​need ​to ​have ​a ​vision ​of ​what ​might ​happen ​two ​to ​five ​years ​down ​the ​line. 

Part ​of ​that ​is ​being ​in ​tune ​with ​the ​cultural ​and ​societal ​zeitgeist, ​what’s ​happening, ​and ​where ​the shift is ​happening. It’s asking the crucial question: ​where ​is ​everybody ​starting ​to ​lean ​towards? And ​being ​up ​to ​date ​on ​that.

​I ​think ​it ​goes ​to ​say ​that ​if ​you ​want ​to ​know ​how ​to ​use ​a ​platform ​well ​or ​if ​you ​want ​to ​sell ​a ​product ​on ​a ​particular ​platform, ​you ​should ​also ​be ​able ​to ​use ​that ​platform ​for ​yourself.

Yes, you ​should ​understand ​how ​the ​platform ​works. ​

It’s ​astonishing ​to ​me ​how ​many ​people ​try ​to ​market ​and ​sell ​things, ​but ​they ​don’t ​understand ​the ​vibe ​of ​a ​platform, ​or ​they ​don’t ​really ​understand ​how ​people ​connect ​there. ​

That’s ​why ​it ​comes ​across ​as ​so ​tone-deaf ​and ​gross. ​You’re ​like, ​what ​are ​you ​doing? ​

So, ​yes, ​please ​use ​the ​platform ​as ​a ​consumer ​first. ​Understand ​what ​it’s ​about ​before ​you ​try ​to ​market ​or ​sell ​anything ​there.

Based ​on ​your ​experience ​building ​a ​digital ​marketing ​agency, ​Kizuna, ​how do ​you ​get ​inbound ​leads ​to ​work ​with?

Right ​now, ​the ​majority ​of ​my ​leads ​have ​come ​in ​from ​referrals ​and ​my ​in-person ​network. ​But ​the ​reason ​why ​I’ve ​hopped on ​X ​and ​LinkedIn ​is ​to ​be ​able ​to ​start ​scaling ​that ​in ​a ​different ​way. 

​I ​want ​to ​advocate ​here ​that I ​know ​how ​to ​build ​a ​healthy ​lead ​pipeline ​through platforms because I’m a content strategist. ​But ​I ​want ​to ​encourage ​everyone ​that ​there is no one way if ​you ​are ​trying ​to ​build ​leads. 

For ​you, ​a lead pipeline ​might ​look ​something ​different: it might ​be ​going ​to ​another ​website ​and ​tapping ​into ​the ​subscription ​there ​and ​getting ​cold ​leads. For ​others ​willing ​to ​put ​in ​that ​investment ​and ​time, you can ​build ​on ​social. 

​I ​know ​where ​my ​strengths ​lie ​and ​where ​my ​brand ​lies. If ​I’m ​going ​to ​help ​people ​with ​content ​strategy, ​I have ​to ​produce ​content. ​I ​have ​to ​be ​on ​social ​media to ​show ​that. That’s how  ​I’m ​trying ​to ​scale ​right ​now.

How ​do ​you ​spot ​the ​right hire ​for ​your ​agency? ​How ​do ​you ​know ​this person ​gets ​what ​I ​want ​to ​do? ​This ​is ​someone ​who ​gets ​the ​clients ​I ​work ​for, and ​this ​is ​someone ​who understands ​my ​creative ​space.

I ​think ​what ​I ​look ​for ​more ​than ​anything ​are ​the ​qualities ​that ​cannot ​be ​trained. ​There ​are ​a ​lot ​of ​skills ​that ​you ​can ​train ​someone. ​

For example, someone ​can ​come ​in ​with ​no ​skills ​in ​email ​marketing, ​or ​they ​don’t ​really ​have ​skills ​in ​graphic ​design. All ​that ​stuff ​can ​be ​trained. 

​I ​look ​for ​what’s ​untrainable: passion, ​personality, ​character, ​and how ​they ​approach ​work, ​growth, ​and ​learning. 

These ​things ​matter ​to ​me ​more ​than ​actual ​skill ​sets ​because ​those ​things ​cannot ​be ​taught. ​So, ​I ​often ​look ​for ​someone ​who ​has ​a ​sense ​of ​individuality and who ​has ​their ​vision.

Another ​thing ​that ​I ​look ​for ​is people ​who ​can ​see ​the ​things ​that ​I ​cannot ​see. Every ​leader ​has ​their ​blind ​spots. ​You ​want ​to ​surround ​yourself ​with ​a ​team ​that ​can ​see ​the ​things ​that ​you ​are ​not ​able ​to ​see.

That ​is ​critically ​important and ​the ​quality ​I’m ​looking ​for ​when ​I ​hire ​people.

A​t ​what ​point ​did ​you ​start ​making ​money ​from ​marketing?

In ​the ​beginning, ​the ​first ​people ​who ​came ​to ​me ​and ​asked ​me ​to ​build ​things ​for ​them were ​friends, ​so ​I ​did ​it ​for ​free. ​And ​then ​when ​those ​friends ​started ​referring ​me ​to ​people ​I ​didn’t ​know, ​I ​started ​charging and ​thought, ​okay, ​I ​can ​actually ​do ​this, ​and ​maybe ​this ​is ​interesting ​to ​me. 

There ​are ​only ​two ​reasons ​why ​someone ​should ​ever ​work ​for ​free. ​Just ​in ​case ​anyone’s ​starting ​out ​right ​now ​and ​thinking ​about ​how ​to ​do ​this: ​when ​you ​are ​at ​the ​very, very ​beginning ​with ​zero ​experience. 

And ​even ​then, ​I ​would ​convert ​to ​monetization ​as ​quickly ​as ​possible. ​So, ​I ​would ​do ​maybe ​two ​projects ​just ​to ​get ​some ​kind ​of ​portfolio and ​experience. ​Then ​the ​next ​one – ​even ​if ​it’s ​a ​small ​amount – ​charge ​so ​you ​can ​get ​into ​the ​habit ​of ​charging. 

Time ​is ​your ​greatest ​commodity. ​You ​never ​want ​to ​waste ​time. ​So, ​you ​don’t ​want to spend ​six ​months ​doing ​free ​work. ​It’s ​unnecessary. ​Two projects only​; get it ​under ​your ​belt ​and ​start ​moving ​forward. ​

The ​only ​other ​time ​to ​do ​something ​for ​free ​is ​because ​you’re ​financially ​stable, ​have ​the ​time, ​and ​​want ​to ​help ​someone. 

​But ​other ​than ​that, ​never, ​never ​do ​anything ​for ​free. ​Even ​if ​it’s ​just ​a ​toke – not ​a ​huge ​amount – ​​it’s ​to ​kind ​of ​get ​into ​the ​habit ​of “​I’m ​doing ​this ​work, ​and ​I’m ​going ​to ​get ​paid ​for ​it ​accordingly.”

​How ​do ​you ​know ​when ​to ​increase ​your ​price?

Let’s ​say ​you ​start ​a ​service, ​and you’re ​kind ​of ​experimenting ​and ​testing ​to ​see ​if ​it’ll ​work. 

When ​the ​clients ​start ​coming ​in, ​and ​it ​gets ​to ​a ​point ​where ​you ​are ​overwhelmed ​with ​clients ​because ​you ​have ​a ​lot ​of ​stuff ​coming ​in, it’s ​clear ​that ​the ​service ​is ​valuable, ​and ​you ​are ​getting ​exhausted ​because ​of ​the ​amount ​of ​time ​that’s ​being ​taken ​up ​by ​it. 

That’s ​when ​you ​know ​you ​need ​to ​raise ​your ​rate. ​Then, ​you ​can ​reduce ​the ​workload ​in ​terms ​of ​the ​number ​of ​clients, ​but ​you ​still ​can ​make ​the ​same amount ​or ​more ​doing ​the ​same ​service.

How ​do ​you ​balance ​being ​creative with a brand’s need for clear, concise messaging?

When ​I ​talk ​about ​brand ​positioning ​or ​figuring ​out ​brand ​strategy, ​it’s ​a ​creative ​problem-solving ​exercise. So, ​creativity ​is ​a ​part ​of ​it, ​but ​that ​creativity ​is ​applied ​towards ​coming ​to ​a ​solution. 

For ​example, ​when ​I ​first ​start ​working ​with ​a ​startup, ​the ​first ​thing ​I ​do ​is ​to have ​interviews ​with major ​investors, ​clients, ​and ​stakeholders ​to ​get ​their ​perceptions ​of ​how ​they ​view ​the ​brand. ​

Next, ​it’s ​about ​collating ​all ​of ​that ​data ​together ​and ​going ​through ​a ​creative ​workshop ​or ​problem-solving ​workshop ​with ​everybody ​else – ​the ​C-suite and ​advisory ​board – ​to ​come ​to an ​understanding ​and ​agreement ​on “​this ​is ​who ​we ​are, ​and ​we’re ​going ​to ​clarify ​it ​and ​hone ​in ​on ​this ​messaging ​because ​this ​is ​what ​best ​aligns with ​our ​place ​in ​the ​market, ​with ​the ​things ​that ​we ​value ​and ​the ​way ​that ​people ​perceive ​us.”

What ​books ​are ​not ​​specifically ​for ​marketing ​but ​marketers ​need ​to ​read them?

​I ​think ​every ​marketer ​should ​be ​reading, ​actually, ​everyone. I will say ​every ​entrepreneur ​should ​be ​reading ​as ​much ​fiction ​as ​they ​can. ​

We ​are ​in ​a weird ​situation ​with ​our ​culture ​now, ​where ​everyone ​is ​reading ​how-to ​books ​and ​only ​nonfiction ​books. It’s ​so ​limiting! 

"Nonfiction ​books ​tell ​you ​what ​to ​think, ​but ​fiction ​encourages ​you ​to ​think ​for ​yourself." A quote by Grace Nikae, concert pianist turned brand & content strategist.

Nonfiction ​books ​tell ​you ​what ​to ​think, ​but ​fiction ​encourages ​you ​to ​think ​for ​yourself. ​

And ​there ​is ​nothing ​more ​important, ​I ​think, ​in ​any ​field ​than ​that ​particular ​skill. ​So, ​I ​would ​encourage ​everyone ​to ​dive ​into ​fiction. ​It ​doesn’t ​have ​to ​be ​boring ​literature. 

​Read ​what ​you ​love. ​If ​you ​love ​action ​stuff, ​read ​action ​stuff. ​If ​you ​love ​fantasy, ​read ​that. ​If ​you ​love ​mystery, ​read ​that. ​Read ​whatever ​it ​is ​you ​love. That ​will ​inspire ​a ​certain ​part ​of ​your ​brain ​to ​get ​active ​in ​the ​creative ​center ​to ​interpret and ​think ​for ​yourself. ​And ​that ​is ​a ​powerful, ​powerful ​skill ​to ​have.

Imagine ​someone ​walks ​up ​to ​you ​in ​New ​York ​and ​tells ​you, “Hi, ​Grace, ​I’m ​trying ​to ​get ​into ​marketing. ​What ​do ​I ​have ​to ​do ​to ​become ​a ​marketer?”

This ​is ​not ​going ​to ​be ​a ​common ​response ​because ​I’m ​not ​going ​to ​give ​skills ​advice. ​Like ​I ​said ​before, ​skills ​can ​always ​be ​taught and ​can ​always ​be ​learned. 

So, ​my ​advice ​would ​be ​to ​understand ​people.

Develop ​your ​ability ​for ​empathy, ​communication, and understanding. Learn ​to ​understand ​people. 

Some ​of ​the ​best ​marketers ​are ​extraordinary ​teachers ​in ​terms ​of ​how ​they ​understand ​the ​human ​experience. Ultimately, ​that ​is ​what ​marketing ​is. ​You ​are ​making ​that ​connection ​to ​someone and ​understanding ​them ​well ​enough ​to ​say, “​Hey, ​I ​can ​solve ​this ​problem ​for ​you; I ​can ​help ​you.” 

​So, ​in ​order ​to ​be ​able ​to ​do ​that, ​you ​have ​to ​understand ​people. ​That’s the number ​one, ​most ​critical, ​and ​often ​overlooked ​skill.

What ​are ​some ​successes ​and ​accomplishments ​as ​a ​brand ​and ​content ​strategist along your career journey?

There’s ​been ​quite ​a ​few ​that ​I’ve ​been ​very ​thrilled ​about. I recently worked with ​a ​fintech ​startup that ​was ​trying ​to ​move ​into ​the ​travel ​space. ​When ​they ​brought ​me ​on ​board, ​they ​had ​no ​brand. ​And ​after ​six ​months ​of ​pretty ​intensive ​work, ​they ​landed ​three ​huge ​giants in ​the ​travel ​industry ​as ​clients. 

Also, when ​I was brought on board ​with ​Prince ​Waikiki, ​they ​had ​been ​around ​as ​an ​organization ​for ​about ​25 ​years ​as ​a ​three-star ​hotel. Then, ​they ​underwent ​a ​top-to-bottom ​renovation ​in ​the ​hotel ​and ​changed ​their ​name. It ​was ​a ​complete ​rebrand, ​and ​they ​went ​from ​a ​three-star ​hotel ​to ​a ​luxury ​five-star ​hotel. 

​So, it was a ​completely ​different ​market for them. They ​brought ​me ​on ​board ​to ​lead ​that ​transformation, ​and ​I ​developed ​and ​built ​the ​marketing ​team ​from ​the ​ground ​up. It ​was ​like ​working ​with ​a ​startup, ​even ​though ​they’d ​been ​around ​for ​a ​long ​time. 

Within ​the ​first ​year, ​I ​shifted ​all ​of ​their ​marketing ​into ​digital: ​social, ​SEO, and online ​advertising. ​We ​had ​a 140% jump ​in ​revenue ​growth ​in ​one ​year. ​

That ​was ​something ​that ​I ​was ​enormously ​proud ​of. We ​were ​ranked ​and became #1 ​on ​TripAdvisor and #2 on Travel + Leisure best resorts in ​Hawaii. ​I ​was ​very ​proud ​of ​that ​success, ​and ​it ​was ​certainly ​not ​just ​because ​of ​me but ​because ​of ​my ​marketing ​team, ​who ​did ​amazing ​work. ​

So, ​there ​have ​been ​many ​successes ​like ​that ​along ​the ​way ​that ​I’m ​very ​proud ​of. 

​I ​think ​the ​biggest ​thing ​that ​I’m ​happiest ​about ​is ​when ​I ​see ​a ​business ​own ​who ​they ​are ​as ​a ​brand. You ​can ​see ​that ​they ​have ​a ​sense ​of ​self and voice, ​and ​it’s ​translating ​into ​the ​right ​alignment ​with ​their ​audience ​and ​community.

​How ​do ​you ​juggle ​being ​busy ​and ​remaining ​creative?

I ​think ​it’s ​really ​important ​to ​be ​connected ​with ​yourself. ​I’m ​very ​in ​tune ​with ​my ​body. ​I’m ​very ​in ​tune ​with ​myself. ​I ​don’t ​force ​ideas. ​I ​don’t ​create when ​I ​don’t ​feel ​something.

For ​example, ​when I’m ​feeling ​low ​energy and ​low ​vibration, it’s ​a ​sign ​that ​I ​need ​to ​nourish ​and ​take ​care ​of ​myself. ​

So ​I ​have ​to ​go ​and ​fill ​up ​my ​cup by ​reading ​some ​wonderful ​fiction ​books, ​going ​to ​the ​museum, ​listening ​to ​music, and doing ​things ​that ​inspire ​me. Otherwise, ​there ​is ​no ​source ​for ​creativity ​to ​be ​born.

​What ​marketing ​advice ​would ​you ​give ​your ​younger ​self?

Don’t ​be ​afraid, and don’t ​run ​from ​the ​fear. ​Embrace ​the ​fear ​because ​that’s ​where ​all ​the ​good ​stuff ​is. ​That’s ​where ​the ​growth ​is. ​That’s ​where ​everything ​wonderful ​is ​going ​to ​emerge ​from. ​Don’t ​run ​from ​the ​fear. 

What ​are ​some ​tools ​that ​you ​use ​as ​part ​of ​your workflow?

Oh, ​I ​have ​quite ​a ​bit. ​Let’s ​see. 

  • ​Google ​Workspace ​for ​​managing ​the ​business ​itself. ​
  • QuickBooks for ​finances. 
  • Notion ​​as ​my ​client ​portal. 
  • ​Scrivener, ​which ​is ​a ​writing ​app ​for ​all ​of ​my ​writing. 
  • Sprout ​social ​for ​social ​content ​for me and my ​clients.
  • ​Adobe ​Creative ​suite ​for ​all ​creative ​and ​visual ​work. 

​And ​probably ​a ​whole ​bunch ​more ​that ​I ​can’t ​remember ​right ​now, ​but these ​come ​first ​to ​me.

Away ​from ​marketing ​questions, ​what ​type ​of ​wine do you like?

For ​the ​longest ​time, ​I ​was ​very ​much ​a Rioja ​fan, ​and ​that ​was ​because ​I ​lived ​in ​Spain ​for ​a ​little ​while, ​and ​I ​love ​the ​wines ​there. 

Recently, ​I ​have ​started ​to ​lean ​very ​much ​towards ​either ​Chilean ​or ​New ​Zealand’s very ​dry Sauvignon Blancs. I like the occasional Rosé during the summers, but I mostly lean towards Sauvignon Blancs.

If ​you ​were ​to ​have ​a ​glass ​of ​wine ​with ​any ​marketing ​professional ​of ​your ​choice, ​past ​or ​present, ​who ​would ​it ​be?

Gary ​Vee! Gary ​Vaynerchuk. ​I ​think ​he’d ​be ​fun ​to ​have ​a ​drink ​with. ​I ​think ​he’d ​be ​very ​interesting. ​And ​then ​we ​could ​just talk ​for ​like ​an ​hour. That would be nice. I ​would ​love ​that!

Where ​can ​we ​go ​to ​learn ​more ​about ​Grace?

Kizunanyc on Twitter. ​for ​my ​website. 

You ​can ​certainly ​find ​more ​information ​about ​me ​there.