Welcome To The BLG (Biggest Little Group)


For the past six years, I’ve dedicated myself to the craft of branding in all its elaborate definitions and executions.  SmartBrand (and this blog we’ve called SmartBrandBlog,has been my passion and focus throughout those years, and I’ve had the pleasure of working with truly talented people for some amazing clients.  Throughout my experience, it became apparent that my clients really all wanted one thing: a single source, turnkey effort for their communications through marketing, advertising, pr, web and social channels.

The problem was, quite frankly, within the term “brand” itself.  For me,  a “brand” is your business and personal communications strategy.  The same kind of detailed planning and strategy a competent attorney or accountant would bring to your business; you need for your integrated communications as well.  Branding is  strategic planning, competitive positioning and creative consistency that lives in every aspect of your business, from both personal and business perspectives.

Where does your brand reside?  Not on a well designed piece of paper;  but in the minds and hearts of your customers and prospects.  Their perception is really your brand, and not simply how you want to be perceived.  Branding is, at its very core, about building your own community of loyal fans and participants: people who love what you do; and why you do it.  Branding is so much more than graphic arts, media, or photography – yet it is at the core of all those, and so much more.

As a collaboratively structured company, SmartBrand assembled a pool of amazing freelance teams to meet client’s goals and needs; and we were pretty darn successful at it.  Still, the many individual interpretations of the term “brand” simply didn’t communicate the scope of our work and focus to a majority of our client roster.

Which leads me here today to BLG (Biggest Little Group).  A new, fresh, small, talented agency that singularly addresses and solves your brand’s communication needs.  A full service, turn-key, kick-butt group of professionals who have already worked together as partners.

I hope you’ll continue to check back with our blogsite as we talk about the many people, places, events and images we help our clients create and celebrate.  And certainly, please return to contribute to the love we feel for this amazing community – our Biggest Little City In The World.

Because you, the good people, amazing places, engaging events and lively discussions of northern Nevada – are at the very core of our agency brand.

Building A Smarter Brand


If you’re an entrepreneur in today’s market – my hat’s off to you.  You possess the power to see opportunity where others see obstacles, and you know how to act quickly to take advantage of that window to success.  Time, in today’s economy, is more precious and fleeting than ever as our lives move faster with technology and communications.

Besides endless hours of hard work getting your business financed and established, today’s entrepreneur wears an additionally daunting cap – broadcaster and market leader.  Building a loyal following of customers and fans is more important today than ever before – and the channels to reach them are increasing in complexity and reach with each passing day.

In the heat of the hunt for immediate results, many new (and existing) businesses dash past the brand development stage, and march quickly into delivering logos, websites and collateral from limited or multiple resources.  Who has time to ponder the personality of the language used to describe your product or service?  People just want to know about it, and hopefully stop long enough to pay attention.

Breaking that pattern of rushing to market is a key component to building a solid communications foundation that will serve you and your growing business for years.  Spending the time creating and defining your brand platform with a team of professionals will not only save you precious time, but precious funds in the short and long-term.  If done right, your brand platform will influence every single business decision you’ll make today, and in the future.

So what are the real bottom-line benefits you’ll get from establishing a solid brand platform and strategy?

1. Stand Out From The Competition

So much competition, and so little time to compare for too long, the window of opportunity to connect with today’s consumer is ever decreasing.  We multi-task on a variety of devices, all while maintaining several streams of conversation and potential distraction.  “New and Improved” simply isn’t enough to attract and keep consumer’s attention today; you have to prove your real, authentic value in competition with everyone.  Truly standing out in today’s market is harder than ever – and reaps even greater rewards when done well.

2. Communicate Your Value Quickly And Clearly

With a solid brand strategy and well-defined personality and language, you’ll be able to  speak with clarity and speed.  While speeding down the highway in your car, your billboard will have but a few seconds to be attracted and memorable to a stream of potential customers.  The internet is like a highway as well; with similar rules of quick and clear attraction requirements.  Keep your message concise and most importantly – make it memorable.

3. Attract Both Customers And Investors

Ask any budding young entrepreneur today who is just beginning to develop business ideas, and they’ll confirm that a strong brand is something they must have to secure funding.  “Build It And They Will Come” is notorious as a poor rationale to develop a product or service.  As humans, we want to believe that our realm of experience is similar if not exactly like our target market’s… which is often not true.   Spending the time to clearly define your target market, and give them reasons to buy from you from their perspective and experience is a critical step to financial returns.

4. Enjoy Lasting Marketing Returns

A well-defined brand platform is one business strategy that gives back for years if executed correctly.  As the company grows, so do you expand on the foundation that was established through a formal branding process.  Without that foundation, you’ll likely change messages and tactics enough to never gain traction in any specific market; and waste critical resources of time and money while doing it.  Developing a solid brand promise also translates into better information for creative expression; saving you time, money, and the sapping effort of going through rounds of creative attempts and evaluation.

5. Grow Faster With Purpose

One of the biggest challenges facing small businesses is to stay on track. It’s hard to know which opportunities to pursue, and which ones to pass on. Particularly when you don’t have the structure and decision-making processes of a large company. A well-defined Brand should be used as a continual, actionable filter to review everything: products, partnerships, people for fit to your core values. If they don’t fit, even if they have merit, then pass.

Brand platform building, especially defining your target market and your unique positioning is a powerful need for every business.  Many businesses see the branding process as a challenge, and not an advantage.

How do you see branding in your business today?  Is your brand platform clear to you and your market?
 Keep reading »

Creative Ways To Use Your Facebook Timeline


For those of us who help create and manage social media campaigns across many platforms, changes to any social media channel’s format often present a host of challenges – and opportunities.  Once you’re past the angst of having to deal with an entirely new format, it’s time to think about ways you can leverage this new development to your advantage.  Here are just a few creative ways you can use Facebook’s new Timeline layout to elevate your brand:

Design Creative Cover Photos

Like an overpowering billboard, the new 851 x 351 pixel “cover photo” is up to you to plan and use effectively.  With a little creative elbow grease, you can transform this expansive area into something downright awesome.  Not everyone is capable of graphically designing with the complexity of the space provided in mind, let alone using the free online opportunity to their real advantage.

Yes…there are rules to using this space to Facebook’s specifications.  This is not a space for commercial use.  Inviting your visitors to like your website, or tell your friends about your business is not allowed.  Nor can you include such things as price or purchase locations – and don’t think this is a place for your business address and contact information.  But do think of it as a first impression to your brand’s overall image, a visual “hello” to old and new fans.

Don’t let that discourage you from promoting your business.  If you’re stumped, take a moment to review these examples of effective Facebook Timelines. 

There’s no reason you can’t use your timeline area to promote the benefits of your brand – and change the image out frequently to keep your Facebook audience interested and engaged in your ongoing progress.

Pin Or Star It For Emphasis

Some information on your page may be promotional in nature.  Pinning your posts to the top of your page will keep that one special post at the top of your timeline for an entire week (7 days).  If you’re running a business promotion or have a conversation that’s become extremely popular, pinning your post to the top is one way to control the content on your timeline page without the previous landing page options.

Pinning is easy:

On your Facebook fan page timeline, choose the post you wish to pin to the top.

Hover your mouse over the top right hand corner of the post and the pencil will appear with the options Edit or remove.

Click to Enlarge Image

Click the pencil.

The menu will now appear with the option to Pin to Top.

Select Pin to Top.

Another Timeline option Facebook as enabled is the ability to “star” posts – enabling them to be given preference in your timeline.  A starred post will expand to display across the full-page of your profile – a wide 403 pixels.  Consider starring messages that have great images of your brand, or even you, to emphasize its importance to your audience.   Here’s a great example that includes a video in the post – for a wider screen appeal:

Celebrate Your Brand’s History

Facebook’s Timeline features “milestones” – a great way for you to make special note of your brand’s development over time.  Did you start in a garage only to grow into an office?  We’re products or services added to your company mix that were new to your business sector?  Milestones are a great way to tell your brand’s story in historical order.  Don’t forget to  make note of any awards you’ve received, sales goals achieved, or new campaign launches that may have been memorable.

Here’s another good opportunity to engage your employees – and even your fans to help you identify which milestones they feel were most important in your development.  You might even be surprised by their answers and insights!

This tactic works especially well for older brands with rich histories that have been ingrained in our culture.  Take for example Ford and ESPN – both of whom share old television campaigns we may likely remember (if you’re old enough!).

    One consideration  here is to review all of the past content your brand has used, and integrate them into your timeline as historical milestones.

Create A Contest

One of the first and most talked about Facebook/Timeline contests has been from Red Bull.  The socially savvy used their own timeline as a platform to launch a well received scavenger hunt.  By searching through the brand’s timeline, and learning about their key milestones, clues were provided to win the contest.  A simple and effective way to both educate and engage a loyal following of growing fans.

Or, for example, take Coca-Cola – who has hidden clues and riddles in their posts on their Facebook page.  Once unlocked, it takes you to a third-party website; an easy way to track the promotions click-through rates to prizes.

There’s no doubt these are just the beginning of many creative applications to come from agencies and brands around the world.  As the administrator of your brand’s Facebook page, it’s time you started thinking about ways to creatively use it to your unique advantage.

How are you planning to use it for your brand’s page? 

JC Penney Rebrands For Success


In their third attempt to reinvent a classic American brand, JC Penney has forged a new approach in all of their communications.  As for the company’s new red-white-and-blue logo, the new brand image evokes our nation’s flag and promises a commitment to treating customers “Fair and Square”. The square frame imagery is prominent  throughout all of the company’s marketing to remind customers to frame the things they love.

Needless to say, it’s critically important that the company solidify it’s relationship with decades of loyal customers while appearing new enough to attract new brand fans.  To help do this, the company will begin delivering millions of copies of its new monthly book, including nearly 100 pages of highlights for that month.  JC Penney stores across the nation will undergo a complete overhaul of in store signage and retail presentations.

The company’s president Michael Francis notes some important aspects of this critically important brand relaunch:

“We are redefining the JC Penney brand so we become a store for all Americans, by offering an experience they cannot get anywhere else. This will start by freeing consumers from the barrage of promotions and undifferentiated shopping experiences they have become used to and replacing it with something entirely fresh and new that is evident in every aspect of our store – new brands, new marketing, unique attractions, and much more. Beginning on February 1, our customers will see immediate changes that give a sense of how we will transform JC Penney over the next four years. It will be a breath of much-needed fresh air and give them reasons to visit JC Penney more often than ever before. Our objective is to make our customers love to shop again and across JC Penney, we’re very excited about the changes to come.”

In what could only be considered a brilliant move, the retail giant aligned itself with an intensely popular celebrity that reaches a younger, female demographic – Ellen DeGeneres:

Beyond a series of light-hearted spots, the brand focuses its efforts on providing value again to its consumer base.  The promise of “Fair and Square” has become the company’s brand promise – reflected in every aspect of their marketing.  While the promise is more than serious, the approach has been fun and engaging – putting a truly new spin on an old retail brand.

Beginning this August, the company will begin a month-by-month, shop-by-shop strategy to update all stores with new and exciting merchandise and presentation. Two to three shops will be installed monthly, each and every month, over a four-year transformation period, including the debut of “Town Square” during 2013. All of these re-branding initiatives will  complete the company’s physical transformation by the end of 2015.

Response to JC Penny’s new brand position has been largely popular…but what do you think about it?  Will it create the kind of interest to reshape your thinking about the brand, and get you to give it a try again?

4 Pinterest(ing) Reasons To Build Your Brand


(ING)

Unless you’ve been huddled under your own little social media rock without outside contact, you’ve probably heard of Pinterest by now.  Considering its staggering audience growth as the brand is exponentially building a following from today’s 7.2+ million active participants.  Launched in 2010, the Palo Alto based company has secured a solid place in today’s online marketing mix; especially for very specific, key demographics.

It would be impossible to review all the potential uses of the largely visual platform in one blog post, but suffice it to think there are some basically good reasons you should explore adding Pinterest to your social media marketing mix:

1. SEO Goodness:

With each image/photo you publish on Pinterest, you can link back to the image’s original online location, which in turn can help your search engine rankings.   Links back to your website on various boards do count toward your inbound link strategy.  Be sure to use easy keywords in your descriptions to aid in making it easy for others to locate you online.

2. A Viable Social Media Channel:

I know…we all agree…how many social media channels can one person, let alone business, keep in motion successfully?  The options without professional content help can feel overwhelming, to say the least.  But… it’s called social media marketing for a reason; with Pinterest now playing an increasingly important role for some brands to be visible, and connected to.  Unlike Facebook and Twitter, this channel takes little time to develop and maintain – and is simple to navigate and use.

3. Reach A Specific Target Audience:

Pinterest itself says it best: Redecorate your home! Plan a wedding! Find your style! and Save your inspirations!  Clearly – the main audience on this channel is female, and interested in sharing their many stages of lifestyles and dreams.  But that’s not the only audience on Pinterest, just the most prominent.  Your audience is likely there and just now developing into a cohesive chain of professionals and individuals with your specific likes as well.   The better news is, it’s viral.  Once you’ve been “repinned”, that audience is now connected to your visual identity or interest – and on your brand goes without much effort to like-minded/friendly potential followers.

4. Bonus Bennies

It’s easy to use. Known social contacts from other channels will join you and help spread your brand images (personal or professional) by “re-pinning” and sharing with their network of friends.  Although you do need to keep an eye on your Pinterest site(s), it’s much easier to simply pin images with brief notes and links than having to write a blog or maintain conversations and comments (like Facebook and Twitter).

Jump in to Pinterest, and start discovering your own path to the benefits of this free, new social channel. While you’re there, stop by and say hi.

Simplify Your Brand


One of the hardest challenges in our business is simplifying our client’s message to its core emotions and values.  It sounds so simple, and so many think they can do it for, and by themselves.  It’s more than a challenge to focus on the simple value of a product or service, than address the complexity of the market environment, and the barrage of messaging customers receive every day.

In 25 years of helping people craft and deliver their company’s message, there’s one simple, important step that is often passed by.  Simplifying the message.  Stepping back for a moment and saying with intent – How can we make this simpler?  Then start stripping away at each and every word and thought until you find the very core basics left.

I can guarantee that your target audience will not only be more responsive, they’ll consider your message a welcome lifeline in a sea of complexity.  What is most confusing to them is a result of giving them too many options at once, then not clearly helping them make a choice best suited to their specific needs.

In order to be simple, you must first go to the extremes of complexity – and peel back the hyperbole and marketing speak until you reach the core message that speaks to solving your customer’s problem – or enhances the basic values of their everyday lives.  Then…the message will resonate like none before.

The difficulty is in taking yourself out of your current thinking – and stripping away the constructs you’ve built about your product or service that you’ve convinced yourself is exactly what your customer wants.   Your perspective counts, of course – but your customer’s counts more.  Without polling or engaging them one-on-one, you’ll only guess at how your brand is perceived – and how best to communicate what can best be sold.

No matter what stage your brand development is currently in – whether a start-up or an established product or service – you’ll be well served by taking a moment to step back, and simplify your messaging.

If you’re challenged in doing that by yourself – call on us – and we’ll help you through the process to your success.

What Are Your Marketing Resolutions for 2012?


I have to admit…I didn’t “see it coming”.  The end of the year is already upon us.  As we reflect on many aspects of our professional and personal lives, now is a good time to set goals for the year ahead – and if you haven’t already…write them down to track your progress and successes.

If it isn’t already, incorporating social media into your business’ marketing plan for 2012 should be high on your lists of resolutions, according to Business To Community. The online resource offers up a wide variety of helpful tips for small business owners looking to maximize their social media presence in the new year.

Developing and growing a Facebook fan page is obviously become more important than ever, as it offers free business advertising with every “like” while providing an inexpensive way to offer deals and incentives.

As popular as Facebook has become, it’s wise to diversify your social media portfolio. In addition to Facebook, creating profiles on LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ and YouTube are also very important. Each channel should provide links to the others to encourage customers to follow the company across as many different avenues as possible.

Getting your social media pages established and visually branded alike is just the start of a comprehensive social presence – adding relevant and engaging content is the key to engaging, and growing your audience of loyal fans and followers.

So… what are you doing reading this?  Get started!  And know that social media is just one slice of the “marketing pie” that you’ll need to focus on in 2012.

What other marketing plans are you making for the New Year?  We’d love to hear about your goals, plans and challenges.

Google+Pages+YourBusiness?



Since its roll-out recently, bloggers and marketers have been talking about the value and potential of Google+Pages for business brands.  Is Google+ Pages going to be the right platform for every business?  Of course not.

No doubt, some brands will hop on any channel and follow the next bright, shiny object, and yet nearly all the pundits agree – every business should consider building a presence there starting right now.  Seriously…right now if you haven’t.

Claim your stake, right?

Get your page before someone else does, right?  Yes…in part.  But that’s just the very start of why you should build a presence on Google+Pages.

Google lives throughout the internet.

Between search engine dominance, and products like Gmail, Google Reader and Android – Google is clearly a dominant force with staying power.  Even if Google+Pages changes its format – the very fact that your business will build a legacy on the web the sooner it starts engaging Google’s portals.   Even if you’re hesitant to dive into Google+ because of Facebook’s viability in social networking, it’s important you own your piece of Google+ for ranking purposes alone.

Unfortunately, it IS more work.

Marketers are constantly faced with more fragmentation and new channels as a daily reality.  Which platforms will grow in dominance in the next year remains to be seen, but it’s clear that Google+ is entering the race to stay.  The fact is – your business brand will need both platforms to communicate to different audiences – and you’ll have to reach out in greater segmentation to them, with more targeted messages.  Equally important is the ability to listen to feedback, and respond when necessary to customers.  Many will be on Facebook – and many will also be on Google+.  It’s important to have a strong presence in both.

So it’s your turn… are you in, out or sitting on the sidelines with Google+?  We’d love to hear your opinion and feedback.

The Long Road To CommRow


It’s been months since I’ve felt I had the time, or motivation, to return to blogging.

For awhile, I used the “more important things to do” excuse.  Or the “does it really matter if I do or don’t?” excuse for not taking the time to look out into the world, and share perspectives on the ever-changing world of branding and marketing.  The fact is – I have been busier than at any other time in my career.  Looking back on the past 10 months now, I see that my lack of dedication to blogging was more about my lack of dedication to myself – to my own growth and understanding.

Plus…and I mention this with the utmost respect to those who actually make a living blogging (or helping others to) – it’s damn hard work.  Given how hard my most recent project has been, there simply weren’t enough hours in the day.

I’ve “come back to myself” now, and to this thing I love – investigating, commenting, and sharing dialogue about the things and perspectives that motivate me every day.

What happened in those 10 months was nothing short of miraculous.  An empty casino at a key location in downtown Reno was transformed into a 60,000 square foot, three level entertainment, food and climbing/training center.  From Fitzgeralds’ has risen CommRow – Reno’s First Urban Adventure Destination.

In December 2010, I joined the developer’s team to begin the process of designing (and redesigning) the facilities – from concept development through local government approvals – I was able to see every aspect of what it takes to develop an entirely new category of brand – the creative reuse of an outdated casino into a contemporary center for healthy fun.  Positioning the property from its inception, we developed a brand with nothing less than 14 sub-brands – each with their own identity and purpose.

While nobody knew exactly what would become of this idea at that time, we all worked days and nights and weekends to drive toward finding out if we believed it was financially feasibly possible.  Literally tens of “waterfall” spreadsheets later – the decision was made that it was – and the race was on to build it.

Ten months later – we opened the doors to the first three floors with fireworks, concerts and crowds.

And now I’m the development’s Marketing Director/Creative Director/Graphic Designer/Janitor.  As the processes for getting an effort this big off the ground begin to establish themselves, I’m hoping to have more time to dedicate to my first passion – SmartBrand.  And to getting back to building more brands for passionately focused companies.

For now…I have my hands plenty full and have been enjoying every excruciating second.  More importantly…I’m learning so much, so quickly, that I’ve become once again dedicated to exploring and sharing about the business of building brands.

I hope you’ll come back and share your thoughts as I do…and always, honestly, thank anyone reading this stuff I feel compelled to share.

More to come about CommRow’s intents and challenges…and about the world of branding, marketing, advertising…and all their many components.

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