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!

Reno Rallies Through Social Media


Courtesy of Gary Weinhiemer

In a blazing display of community engagement and social media support, Reno’s Veterans Guest House was recently presented with a check for $250,000.00  from The Home Depot Foundation’sAprons In Action” Facebook contest.

During the Aprons in Action Contest, which began in April 2011, The Home Depot Foundation’s Facebook page served as a platform for 44 non-profit organizations to earn funds totaling $1 million through Facebook votes and to generate further awareness of their community efforts.

Through Aprons in Action, each nonprofit heightened its visibility both locally and nationally.  As a result, the nonprofits have been able to establish new community partnerships; have experienced an increase in volunteers lining up to help; and have seen exponential growth in Facebook fans and followers.

As Noreen Leary, C.O.O. of the Veteran’s Guest House noted: “We went from 325 likes on our Facebook page on 2/1 to 1540 likes today. Wow!!! Engagement unbelievable. Those 1500 have 340,000 friends. So the viral reach is amazing.”

While fundraising through social media isn’t anything new, this specific achievement is an important development from several perspectives:

First, and perhaps most notably, the local non-profit received 75% more votes in comparison with other much larger communities like Detroit, New Orleans and  Salt Lake City.  Think about that: Reno is a community of approximately 220,000 people who didn’t just beat, but crushed the engagement of cities like Detroit with 920,000 – four times its size.

While Reno had suffered years of poor brand image and perception, and has endured a tragic year of natural and man-made disasters, the community rallied online to support a small non-profit at its core.  Not only did the northern Nevada residents become daily participants in this contest, media support was unrivaled with television, radio and news channels seeking even greater community support.

Secondly, Facebook’s power to connect community and focus attention on a hyper-local basis has become a centerpiece of fundraising for nonprofits of all types.  Who can deny the potential to engage community donors in an effort that simply requires a moment a day to participate?  How many new individuals and supporters did the Veteran’s Guest House gain from this contest – and how will that affect their long-term fundraising strategy?

Finally,the benefit to Home Depot for engaging their online community through charitable support positions them as a “caring brand”, who increases their online reach and broadcast range into much deeper, more meaningful ways.  While their mission is to ensure that every veteran has a safe place to call home, they’ve committed nearly $30 million dollars over three years, in addition to the volunteer skills of thousands of Home Depot associates to activate their individual communities.

Clearly, Home Depot has a winning campaign through the Aprons In Action social media contest.  More importantly, they have established their brand as a community builder and donor – a uniquely engaged position that their competition can not compete with or claim.

In today’s ever competitive brand marketing arena – positioning your brand as an engaged community donor and supporter may be the key differentiation that leads to greater acceptance and awareness.  That alone is worth every penny donated (and tax deducted) from your business.

Isn’t it time you considered a charitable donor strategy for your business?  How can you go about creating a similar impact like Home Depot’s contest? 

Focus Your Branding For Success


One of the important challenges we face as a communications team is convincing new and old companies that having a formal, written, focused marketing strategy is and essential foundation for success.  You’d think this wouldn’t be all that difficult to accept from a logical perspective; planning is key to reach any of your goals.  Yet, we’re constantly surprised at how few do have one, and how many say they do… but really don’t.

Focus, in marketing, is critical.  The risk of losing focus is failure, and often signals the end for a brand.  But how do you go about focusing and developing a cohesive, integrated brand marketing strategy?  Our advice (obviously) would be to hire a professional to help you… unless you have a strong background in marketing; let alone advertising, public relations, social media, and web development.  All of these important brand strategy tools are there for you to consider, and strategically plan into an actionable list of tactics and to-do’s.

If you don’t have the experience or funds to invest in a professional’s guidance and help, strategizing and defining your unique communications is more than challenging – it’s nearly impossible for many entrepreneurs and emerging brands.  Although you may not have the resources to hire a professional or agency, the need remains, and many businesses close their doors because of scattered and unfocused brand strategies.

There are a few mistakes that continue to reveal themselves when investigating our client’s unique brand stories and goals.  If you can identify any these trends in your communications, consider that it might be time to adjust your thinking and plans:

Serving Too Many Masters.  Focus your attention on one, possibly two messages at any given time.  Consistency is key – in both appearance, tone, and frequency.  If you can’t clearly communicate your value in various time frames you’ll encounter from the elevator pitch to the hour long lunch, you’ve not defined your brand clearly enough for anyone to easily understand.

Not Everyone Is A Fan.  In fact, few people will be fans as you introduce and continue to communicate your brand’s services or products.  If you’ve not defined your target market with extreme precision and detail, you’ll not spend your time or money wisely with a shot-gun approach.  Your unique enthusiasm for what you do, and who you serve needs to be carefully tailored to be in the tone and mode your very specific audience is welcoming.

Cheap Is Not Always Good.  That 150,000 coupon booklet opportunity might seem like a great media buy – until they scatter your brand in the wind after delivery to your neighbors doorstep.  Randomly choosing media options that appear to be a good deal is not part of a targeted media campaign.  While great deals happen, you need to have a media and communications plan (PR+Social Media+Advertising) that broadcasts your message to a very specific audience. Start with a 90 day commitment at a miniumum with good frequency for that specific media channel.

Not Following The Herd.  Investing time mingling in social circles that your brand should be known is, including networking events and social media channels, may be one of the most effective use of time and money for your brand’s success.  Even the largest national brands maintain strong social presences in their specific industry’s circles.  Once you’ve got a solid brand strategy and communications plan in place, it’s critical to network your way to larger circles of connections – and opportunity.

Don’t forget – the 80/20 rule still applies in brand marketing today, especially with tighter budgets and more communication channels to choose.  Time is still money – and spending both are critical first steps for any brand – no matter what its age.  If you find you’re in need of direction with this critically important step in branding, please contact us.

Focus your brand’s strategy on an innovative, integrated communications plan – and get started on the path to greater rewards for your investment of time and money now.

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? 

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.

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?

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.

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.

Give Your Brand Away


We all love something for free, but valuing the return on a giveaway is not always the easiest metric to measure.  For many marketers and business owners, the value proposition for free giveaways is hard to justify the investment.  Bur who doesn’t want a free iPad, t-shirt or promotional item?

If you want to build a loyal following of brand advocates, freebies can be an enduring and affordable way to create and keep brand loyalty.

Everyone loves a freebie, which is why giving products away is an excellent tactic for anyone in marketing who wants to create brand advocates. Whether you want to improve the number of online conversations about your brand, or reduce customer complaints, a free product is a great place to start.  So where do you start?  How far do you go?  What can you ask for in return?

Seek out bloggers

Pepsi wanted to raise awareness of its updated logo, so the brand  turned to bloggers to help spread the word. Rather than taking the typical path of sending out press released, Pepsi assembled it’s history of logo iterations since it’s beginning – and sent one can with each logo type to bloggers.  Soon after, the bloggers received another set of Pepsi cans with the new logo.

Photo courtesy Adrants.com

Not only did this help bloggers understand the development of the new logo, it also helped them to appreciate Pepsi’s long history in the market place.

The result?  Bloggers enthusiastically endorsed the change, having experienced it personally – and spread the word creating a viral message that Pepsi could leverage for its release for months.  Win.

What can you do to follow the Pepsi model of success?  Research bloggers already in sharing information in your brand category – no matter what it is.  Start at  Google Blog Search to find them, and send them samples of your products or services for them to review.  Simple.

Engage community voices

There’s no question that social media has changed the landscape of finding your community voice.  Twitter is filled with conversations in your specific industry, which enable you to build connections between your brand and your customers.

Give  Follower Wonk  a try to Twitter profiles for keywords specific to you, and in turn, connect to people who are truly passionate about your brand niche.

Reward loyalty

Like many American markets, free clubcards have become the staple of brand loyalty rewards.  From grocery stores to restaurants, providing an incentive for return customer’s loyalty is one of the strongest ways you can build an army of brand fanatics. Even if you don’t have an existing loyalty program now, you can find a forum of conversations just right for you on Board Tracker.

Free works

Walk down the aisle at any farmer’s market, and you’ll be offered a wide variety of fresh fruits or vegetables to sample.  By the end of that walk, if the samples are good, you’ll likely buy more than you ever anticipated at the start – and for good reason.  Free sells.

Even if your product or service is fairly expensive to give away, you can leverage your brand via the web in competition to get it for free.  Giving away your brand is a great way to build lasting loyalty, reach bloggers and reward loyal customers.  At the end of the day, isn’t that what we all really want?

What are some of the best free giveaway campaigns you’ve ever seen?  What brands are you loyal to because they offer free samples?

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