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.

8 Smart Brand Pivots


Here at SmartBrand HQ, we’re undergoing exciting changes.  As a natural progression of our business model, we’re continuing to build on our own brand and services through finding new ways to help our clients achieve their goals.  Exciting new approaches have arisen from our team, all of which are being integrated into a new communication strategies and goals.

Throughout this internal process, we’ve continued to build on our client’s successes, while uncovering the opportunity to metaphorically “pivot” our primary business functions and goals.   We’ve read insights from many resources, and have found one to be of true value that we thought you’d find helpful as well.

In  Lessons Learned , Eric Ries coined the term “pivot”, and start-ups took serious note to develop companies that can quickly change directions, while remaining grounded in their valuable experience. With a focus on both the past and the future, this became a cry for the adaptation in business now considered required in today’s volatile market.

These pivoting brands understand that they may stray from their original vision, but not the practices and principles that lead each step in their development. A true pivot is a refocus of the past and not a brand new adventure.  More than a 2.0 version of the first concept, a pivoting company leans into the future with its past knowledge as the anchor.

Ries identifies eight unique pivots – each with their own focus and intent:

  1. Customer Problem:   A customer pivot allows you to repurpose the same product to address a different problem for the same customer.  Consider Starbucks, who pivoted from selling coffee beans and espresso machines to brewing and serving drinks.
  2. Market Segment: Take your existing product or service and use it to solve a similar problem for a different set of customers. This may be necessary when you find that consumers aren’t buying from you. This can also be more of a marketing pivot, than a product/service change.
  3. Technology: Engineers often fight to take advantage of what they have built.  Their best pivot is to re-purpose the technology platform – to make it solve a more pressing, more marketable, or simpler problem.
  4. Product Feature:  Take special care to pay attention to what your customers are actually doing, rather than what you want them to do. You may need to focus and remove features, or perhaps broaden features to offer a broader solution.
  5. Revenue Model:  One pivot is to change your focus from a premium price/customized solution to a low price, commoditized solution. Another common variation worth considering is the move from a one-time product sale to monthly subscription or license fees. Another is the famous razor versus blade strategy.
  6. Sales Channel: Startups with complex new products often start with direct sales and building their own brand. When they find how expensive and time-consuming this is, they need to use what they have learned from customers to consider a distribution channel, e-commerce, white-labeling the product, and strategic partners.
  7. Product Vs. Services:  Products or services can be too different or complex to be easily sold. Now is the time for bundling support services with the product, education offerings, or simply making your offering a service that delivers a core product.
  8. Major Competitor:  What can you do when a new major competitor jumps into your brand’s space? You can charge ahead blindly, or focus on one of the above pivot strategies to build your differentiation and thrive.

In each of these forms, change isn’t simply adding a new feature in hopes it will create overarching change.  Key to pivoting is identifying trends from metric data and real market experience, then finding the optimized product/service to fit the market.  The trick is to make this transition without leaving your core market, or worse – hurting your credibility.

Before pivoting, look for multiple data points.  As no product can satisfy every customer, no pivot should be made based on a single response from a customer, friend, or press source.  If your internal team is frustrated, that’s a perfect first sign of the need to pivot your business model.

Before you do decide to pivot, seek your investors and advisors help so there are no surprises.  As a brand in change, your ability to adapt in chaos is key to your growth – no matter what size company you are.

Is it time for your product or service to pivot its brand strategy?  We’d appreciate your sharing your experience with our readers!

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? 

Building Brands By Blogging


Oh that blogging were as easy as pushing a button on your computer… and voila! – you’re published.  If you’ve ever had a blog, you know it can be a challenge to maintain and keep relevent.  Over time, you’ve likely abandoned it, and felt a little pang of guilt for not tending to it.  If you’ve not – then you are among the very few who have started and maintained their New Year’s resolutions.  Good for you! (However few of you out there).

While it may seem tedious and self-imposed, blogging really does provide a foundation for authority for any brand.  There is no other vehicle quite like a blog to help establish your authority in the market, while providing content that both engages, and excites your specific audience.  Think of it as owning your own broadcast station – and you’re controlling the programming (and advertising).

If you’re not creating content…you’re losing precious time establishing your brand in your customer’s mind, and certainly not keeping up with search engine optimization requirements today.  Everyone has some kind of specific viewpoint they can bring to blogging – and many voices are yet to be heard in this continually expanding part of today’s marketing mix.

Consider this:

You’ve got a uniquely personal brand, but nobody seems to know much about you?
Perfect – blog.  Do it ritually – twice a week for starters, more when news or the Muse strike.  Reward yourself as your audience grows…and keep at it.

Your blog let’s others learn how you can help.
If you simply blog about what you know, what you’re passionate about, and what you’ve done – others will feel as though they know you. Put that in your personal branding quiver.

Great blogs create buzz.  Great buzz creates recommendations.
Connecting to others with content they can share is the key to helping spread your brand with the most powerful marketing tool of all – word of mouth.

Integrate.
Sharing between social media channels today is easy, and a quick way to make your content simple to link back to and distribute.

Writing is cathartic, and authentic.
While often a struggle, writing provides insights into your personality and traits that are difficult to communicate in any other media.  For that, readers may reward you with following you.  What could be better than to have your own army of brand advocates ?

Blogging is here to stay.  Really…it is.
Journalism will not die anytime soon – with blogging taking a key role in the distribution of information and interests.  Don’t be left out of those conversations.  Get your brand’s unique perspectives known to your audience today, and establish a basis for referrals later.

It’s true – you may not have time to blog as much as you need – or as much as you’d like.  There’s a simple solution to that – hire a content developer or social media team to help you do it for you.  It’ll be worth your investment and in the long run, return with big dividends.

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.

Google Launches Search plus Your World


If you’ve searched for anything on Google in the past few days, you’ve likely noticed a difference in the results you’re receiving.

On January 10th, the company released what may be the most dramatic change to it’s search algorithm… ever.

According to their release, “We’re transforming Google into a search engine that understands not only content, but also people and relationships.”

In short, your Google search will now be delivered in three criteria:

  1. Personal Results, which enable you to find information just for you, such as Google+ photos and posts—both your own and those shared specifically with you, that only you will be able to see on your results page;
  2. Profiles in Search, both in autocomplete and results, which enable you to immediately find people you’re close to or might be interested in following; and,
  3. People and Pages, which help you find people profiles and Google+ pages related to a specific topic or area of interest, and enable you to follow them with just a few clicks. Because behind most every query is a community.


One thing is certain – the rules of SEO have been altered by this change…and content (as we’ve all been saying for the past few years), truly IS King.

SO…are YOU creating content for your audience?  Content they’re engaged in and responding to?

How will this affect YOUR brand?  What do you think are the benefits and drawbacks of these new search term results?

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.

Where Are Your Customers?


I ran across a great post by Jacob Morgan with Chess Media Group  that was produced just a little over a month ago.   If I’m able to accurately convey his point, his approach to convincing prospects to engage social media goes something like this: 

“If I told you that a majority of your customers and prospects interacted  in the social media space, would you invest in having a presence there?”

“But what if I told you that you would never know you made a single direct dollar off of any of those customers and prospects, but you knew for a fact  that they were still there – would you still invest?”

Take a step back and imagine how you might really react.  Would you decide not to go into that space?  Of course not.

For small to medium-sized businesses, the sense of urgency continues to grow as social media spreads into many new sectors of communications (and our lives). But in comparison to the massive undertakings of large companies in the social sphere, how does anyone know where to begin to enter the same space successfully?

Here’s a disconnect.  Small businesses generally do not have internal marketing/pr/media departments.  And if they do, it’s often one employee that is trying to represent them all simultaneously.  Resources are more precious for the small business owner.  What will motivate the decision makers to integrate social media into every aspect of their departmental plans?

I’d be curious as to your experiences on how you’ve managed to really successfully help the small business owner use social media strategically – and affordably.  You insights will be helpful to many, so post away!

Choose Your Keywords Strategically


As we begin production on a variety of new websites for clients, the topic of strategically choosing keywords for your website meta tags and copy has been a recurring discussion last week.  But as we start to talk about the importance of identifying keywords to focus online copy around, our clients begin to stare at the ceiling and check their cell phones for messages.  Granted, it’s not the most glamorous or interesting of marketing topics, but it certainly is one of the most important to help establish a brand foundation online (and off).  I thought this brief overview might help get you started on selecting strategically smart keywords and keyword phrases for your online marketing.

As nearly everyone is aware, search engine spiders depend on keywords to find your site; as well as search engine users.  It’s logical then to understand that if you have not targeted specific and precise keywords for your website, then you will not be easily found.   And what’s the point of having a website that nobody can find or use?

Targeted Keywords = Targeted Traffic

Let’s say you sell used science textbooks,  but have inserted a less descriptive keyword “book” into your Meta tags and site copy.  The bad news is that you’ll likely not show up in the first 10 pages of search results – and just as importantly, you’ll likely attract a wide variety of potential customers NOT looking for used science textbooks at all.  Do you go back to sites that don’t offer what you’re looking for?  Neither do I.

How DO you choose strategically smart key words?  You can start with using a variety of free keyword tools.

Keyword Tools

Here’s a few great resources that will help you determine keywords that are competitively right for your particular brand:

  • Free Keyword Suggestion Tool: Displays how many times a certain keyword was searched for in a given month. Shows all related searches for the entered keyword.
  • Google Keyword Tool: Google puts it best –  “The Keyword Tool generates potential keywords for your ad campaigns and reports their Google statistics, including search performance and seasonal trends.”  This is invaluable.

Each of these keyword tools can help you understand what people are currently searching for online today – and identify trends that can help you position your product or service online.  By using these words in your tags and copy, you’ll begin to attract more people to your site that are looking specifically for what you offer.  In the end, it’s all about providing the user a great experience, and if they can’t easily find your site to begin in their process, you’ll lose them before you even have a chance to engage them.

Including Keywords

So you’ve done your research, and you have a list of keywords you think are just right for your audience.  Now where to put them so they’ll perform for you?

  • Title Tag: The title tag is perhaps the primary place for your keywords and keyword phrases. The title tag is what search engines grab for the title display in their search results; and obviously, it’s an important part of your search engine optimization strategy.
  • Headline: Most people only spend a few seconds scanning a page before they read the details of its content – remember, they’re searching for something to suit their specific needs. This is why headlines are so important; they enable your reader a chance to find what they need as quickly as possible with a minimum amount of effort.
  • Content: It’s critical that you incorporate your keywords and  keyword phrases into your site content. This can be a bit tricky and challenging to incorporate these terms into the tone of your copy.  Maintaining a “natural voice” while incorporating these important words or phrases can often require a good copywriter – which in the end can save you both time and money, while producing superior response online.

Smart Keywords Will Increase Your Website Traffic

There’s no doubt, placing well-researched keywords and keyword phrases into your site content and overall structure will attract more targeted, interested prospects to your brand’s website.  On top of that result, you’ll also provide a better user experience to your visitors simply because they will be able to find what they are looking for easily and quickly. Beyond the importance of high rankings, increased traffic, (etc.) your top goal should be to provide the best user experience for every single person that comes to your site, and making sure your keyword phrases serve their needs is a certainly a very important part of that marketing effort.

How have you determined your strategic keywords and keyword phrases?  What experiences have you had in this process that might help others?

Joseph Pine: What do consumers really want?


I love TED Presentations, and look forward to each like presents on Christmas morning.  This one was so on point, I thought it worthy of simply reposting it for your review.  Pine really begins to target today’s consumer behavior about halfway into the presentation… with each minute worth your effort to watch:

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