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!

Have You Connected To Your Cause?


Brands today strive harder than ever to rise above the din of conversations to make lasting impressions on their target audience.  Aligning your brand with a social cause that is in sync with your values and goals has become an important way to attract and keep a growing fan base of followers.

After presenting to an organization of non-profits last week on the importance of branding for their marketing efforts, it occurred to me how many of them try to reach a broad audience with their specific appeal, rather than align themselves with business or personal brands that could elevate them faster to broader recognition.

Companies that are successful in partnering with their customers for social causes share similar traits.  They start by considering their consumer’s purpose and needs (not just theirs), then engage them in a series of truly meaningful experiences that make an impression for a lifetime – not just a moment.  That life-long impact creates a more meaningful bond with the brand, and ultimately results in benefits directly to the bottom-line.

Social cause marketing isn’t just another marketing fad, it’s an opportunity to re-think how you connect with your customers, and how you might create a process that delivers truly meaningful communications that have an impact forever.

Mutual Values

If your brand is clearly defined, you’ll have a core set of values you can easily communicate.  When you align those values with another cause that people already support, it’s another important validation that your part of their tribe and culture.  Social media allows us to show our support with a simple click, which is a perfect opportunity to open the door to a much deeper relationship.  By creating messaging and online resources that align with the right cause, you’ll not only increase your brand’s awareness, but you’ll drive action and inspire others to follow your lead – which in turn strengthens your brand’s online appeal.

Finding The Right Fit

Your cause doesn’t need to come by an already established formal organization or nonprofit.   The key is identifying a cause that your brand and others can eagerly support.  The key is to find a connection  between your brand and a cause that makes sense – especially to your specific audience.

Start by asking yourself what are the things your service or product is invested in for the long run.  What do you really believe in?  What type of belief would inspire others to buy your products/services and support a cause at the same time?  While the process may seem a little callous at first, it’s critical to take into consideration how to partner with your cause in a way that benefits everyone – especially your brand.

Align The Messages

Ask yourself a few key questions before you commit to a cause.  Where is your brand now, and where does it want to be? By aspiring to what you want to become, you begin the motivation for uplifting the partnership between your brand, and your cause.  Focus on becoming inspirational and sharing stories that can resonate with your specific audience, and entice them to share with their circles of friends.

What can your cause engagement do to really inspire people?  What stories can you create that will undoubtedly be shared with your friends and their friends?

Resist the temptation to insert your message into the cause.  Authentic cause relationships must be honestly transparent.  Once your audience gets an inkling of an idea that you’re using the cause simple to benefit your brand – the benefits vanish.

However, once you engage the right partnership and align your campaign messaging with their cause, you’ll create something that resonates with your audience…not simply more information for them.  Be sure to stay focused, and don’t forget to exercise control to keep your messaging on task.

Here’s Your Chance To Think Big – Really Big

The smallest campaign can catch a wave of support if it’s properly positioned and delivered.  Social media enables even the smallest cause campaign to go viral – and it doesn’t take much other than transparency and honesty to reach thousands of supporters with very little investment.   While you’re building that relationship, don’t forget to dream big, and inspire others to follow that dream.

Now is not the time to think solely about your brand’s engagement – dream of how big you might grow your cause related campaign and how best to work toward that together for everyone’s mutual benefit.

What causes is your brand aligned with?  Can you share an example of how cause marketing has worked for your brand?

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? 

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?

Gather ‘Round The Brand Fire


Since the very dawn of man, we have gathered around fire to share and communicate.  Today’s complex network of media channels have replaced the tended campfires of old, but the process of communicating via emotionally engaging and meaningful stories has never changed.  Even with today’s technological advances, we crave the basics of meeting our needs through sharing the emotional journey of a good story.

Everyone can agree that, at its deepest core, great marketing and advertising is basically good storytelling.  The most memorable ads whisk us along a journey that appeal directly to our wants and desires.  The fire in messaging is sparked by connecting your product or service with the desires and emotions of your specific audience.  When that emotional connection is made and the timing is right… the story brings a flood of emotion into their reality.  Reality is much more than an advertising promise – it’s an experience they’ll come back for time and again.

Today’s marketer has a much bigger toolbox at their fingertips to help communicate these engaging brand stories.  In combination: online/offline ads, events, websites, retail spaces, public relations and social media, all play key roles and share the brand story telling experience.  Really understanding exactly how and where to target your customer…where they routinely and comfortably consume media and would welcome your story, is key to effectively positioning your brand’s story.

How do you craft a successful brand story?

First…you must understand how your brand’s services or products really connect with your customer’s basic emotional needs.  Everyone has deeply rooted emotional needs on a variety of levels, your job is to connect the benefit of your brand directly to that deep desire.  Even if the need is not physically oriented, nearly everyone seeks prestige, acknowledgement or pride.

Once you honestly understand the subtle values and emotions you’re connecting your story to, research to learn two things:

1) What media your potential customer may physically be exposed to your story, and

2) What is their emotional state is at the time their engaged with that media. This is critically important, because no matter how engaging your message may be, if it’s not delivered at a time that is open for reception, the message won’t resonate at all with your target audience.  It’s one of the simple, basic needs we all increasingly have in today’s mash of brand stories.

Finally, make sure your brand story is consistent about your story – no matter what campfire you may be gathered around.  Inconsistency in the subtle nuances of your story degrades the power and impact of your emotional connection – especially if it’s changed again and again over time.

Every brand has a story… including your personal brand as well as your business’ product or service. Engage your customers with an captivating, emotionally connected story that speaks to their specific desire, and you’ll begin a conversation that will develop loyal fans, referrals and sales for years to come.

Do you have your brand’s story written out in detail?  Is it as concise and engaging as it can possibly be?  Do you really know if it’s resonating with your audience? Or are you honestly just guessing because it resonates with you? 

If you’re confident you can consistently engage your audience with an emotionally connecting brand story  – you’ve taken the first important step toward building a growing community of loyal fans and customers.

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.

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