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.

Bear Attacks Reno

Who doesn’t love the Muppets?  (Satan aside.)

The iconic puppets created by by Jim Henson in 1954  have developed a popularity so expansive, Muppet characters have been treated as celebrities in their own right. The Muppets have presented at the Academy Awards and Emmy Awards; made cameo appearances in such feature films as Rocky III, An American Werewolf in London and Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium; and have been interviewed on the news magazine 60 Minutes.

Muppets are, quite literally, the rock stars of the Sesame Street generation – and have become cultural icons promoting kindness, knowledge and community.

That is… until now.

Enter the new Disney movie released last month: “The Muppets Movie“.  The box office literally exploded as families from across the nation gathered to watch a full length escapade of characters many of us have grown up with.  Reviews have been extremely positive about the film – unless of course, you happen to live in the one city that they film literally “throws under the bus” – Reno.

Imagine the excitement as film producers contacted a local casino, and asked if they could film at their location.  Who would say no to this troupe of fun-loving, kind-hearted icons of America?

“Officials there say the casino’s marquee is what drew the stars in. ‘Apparently they drove by and saw our marquee and just loved it. I think it’s just great for Reno to have an opportunity like the Muppets especially when you think of all the stars in the movie making guest appearances and then the Bonanza Casino, so it’s kind of nice,’ says marketing director Martin Amba.”

Little did anyone know that our dear Muppets would go the way of Reno 911 in depicting northern Nevada at the time. Children who live in this community have been saddened and upset as the film openly makes a mockery of the area’s amenities and lifestyle:

“Reviewers have praised “The Muppets Movie” that opened Wednesday as a comical family flick, but for Reno residents, the joke is on them.The Las Vegas Sun reports that the latest Muppets movie pokes fun of the Biggest Little City in the World several times.

Early in the movie, Fozzie Bear is shown performing a song at a casino in Reno on the edge of town in a Muppets tribute act called the Moopets. The lyrics claim couples don’t need a marriage certificate to get married in Reno. Fozzie’s dressing room is located in an alley behind the casino, where gunfire can be heard.

After Fozzie is reunited with his fellow Muppets, he laments the idea that he might have to return to Reno.”

In fact, the moment that Fozzie “laments the idea” he may have to return to Reno is perhaps the biggest laugh of the film. And the biggest laugh is, of course, at the community of Reno’s expense.

Once again, Reno’s brand is not only tarnished by stereotypes that are not reality – but presented as “reality” in this fantasy.  And who among us can blame these wholesome icons of education and fun for jumping aboard the popular train of making fun of Reno?  After all…it’s fun sport.

That is, of course, unless you’re a child who lives here – and have those icons literally turn on you to announce to the world that you live at the bottom of cultural barrel.  A state you should be ashamed of being part of – but powerless to change.

Thousands of kids in Reno have seen the movie, and from several that have been interviewed – all of them upset by how they were depicted to the world by the Muppets and Disney – perhaps the two most iconic family brands in culture today.

Once again, Reno is the butt of the joke.  And once again – Reno is seemingly powerless to respond or react without looking like we “can’t take a joke”.

Are we powerless to express the richness of northern Nevada?  How can the community of northern Nevada express its sadness that producers once again took a cheap shot at a community that has faced a year of incredible hardship and disasters?  How can we regain our dignity again in the media market?  Would it be easier to accept the brand we have acquired, but don’t deserve?

This is a challenge that your suggestion would be very welcome.

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.

Changing Reno’s Brand Perception

Those of you who read this blog from time to time know that I’m fanatical about Reno’s brand perception problems and challenges.  I’ve had more than my share of rants and conversations about the topic, and have tried to keep it light when it seemed that there literally was no hope of ever having Reno thought of again as “fun and contemporary“.

Our old gaming perception had come home to roost, our messaging really wasn’t connecting with our audience, and we were coupled with one of the worst economic recessions on record.  The Reno brand has been last to rebound economically for a number of reasons (which is an entirely different range of discussions).

Since December of 2010, I have been working closely on a project that I believed could help start a new conversation about what downtown Reno is now…and what it could be very quickly. Having worked with this same developer on the Montage, I knew his visions could quickly turn into reality .   Just by chance, the property in the developer’s eye was attached to the one iconic symbol of Reno that most people know well – The Reno Arch.  “Location, location, location” – I thought.  Here is ground zero for change.

And now, after several months of planning, I’m happy to announce a project that I believe will help to change Reno’s perception as a destination: CommRow.

Formerly the Fitzgerald Hotel Casino, CommRow will be an entirely different, and complimentary brand to gaming.  We’re positioning this new property as an “urban adventure resort”… featuring an impressive indoor rock climbing facility, and (wait for it….) – the world’s tallest climbing wall.  Quite a billing for Reno – and a new market to talk to our tourists both new and old.

Key to a development of this size and scope, parking and accessibility are issues that are paramount to long-term success.  And so the resolution of a long-standing problem with the garage once a part of the Fitzgerald became a cornerstone issue to finalize our path.  As of this week, that resolution has taken place, and CommRow is on its way to a truly monumental grand opening this year.

More important than tourism (can you imagine!?), is how CommRow will be perceived (and hopefully adopted) by our local community.  How we treat each guest will far outweigh the return on the millions of dollars going into renovations and additions.  How CommRow connects to our community will determine its short and long-term success.  I’m a little giddy over the opportunity to help create those connections and watch them grow.

There’s much work to do in a very short timeframe to open this facility on Labor Day of 2011 – and I have faith that it will be done.  Beyond the obvious marketing and advertising needs to launch a property of this size and type, making lasting relationships with vendors and community organizations is key to establishing CommRow as a truly passionate community brand.

Stay tuned for details via Facebook and Twitter as we roll-out products and details between now and the end of this summer!

And of course connect with CommRow on Facebook if you want to stay up to date on this project.

Harry’s Clean Nevada

A friend/coworker and fellow blogger, Mike Van Houten, hinted I should blog something out about Harry Reid’s recent suggestions that Nevada should eliminate legalized prostitution statewide.

At first, I hadn’t really thought about the political pontification as a statement about branding, but of course, it most certainly is.

If Nevada, who’s brand is built on gaming, prostitution and “quickie marriages” is suddenly dropping one of its more iconic brand elements/industries – what does that do to the perception of Nevada nationwide – and worldwide?  How can we simply drop one sin in favor of attracting more industry?  The answer is, in my opinion, we can’t – and really don’t need to.

Nevada’s brand as the a vast desert highlighted by Sin City (sorry northern Nevada), is both well deserved, and protected. As a native Nevadan, I can tell you that the “dirty details” of living in our State are more marketing copy than reality.  Every community has prostitution at some level – we Nevadans just put it in trailers in the middle of nowhere and stick a neon sign on it so the visitors can find it.

Does it affect our quality of life in Nevada?  Threaten the very underbelly of our local society?  Hardly.

It’s a quiet little industry that many accept, some patronize, and few really care much about.

So to Harry Reid I must say – Nevada is the brand – like it or not.  We represent sin – all of them.  And until you can change the perception that Nevada is a bastion of devilish delights – you won’t really change the perception of industry’s morality concerns.  Which is in itself, a bit of an oxymoron.

Do you think Reid’s statements ring true?  Or is it more political posturing?

Have you plugged into the power of YouTube yet?

YouTube is often the “forgotten child” in a social media marketing campaign. Today’s focus on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn is based on the immediate access to text based systems, and the ease of response and dialogue. In fact, YouTube may be one of the most powerful players in your social media strategy team – especially in light of the more recent technology and related costs to produce high quality, creative video for your product or service.

Consider a few interesting statistics: just over 75% of the social media audience in the US reports that they have, and will continue to view online videos. You could extrapolate this to an estimate of over 558 million (yes, MILLION) hours of online video watching – every month. The channel appeals to a broad range of demographics. Ages of users range 18-55, and are evenly divided between males and females – spanning all geographies.

According to the company’s reported user statistics, fifty-one percent of users go to YouTube weekly or more often, and 52 percent of 18-34 year-olds share videos often with friends and colleagues. YouTube truly does offer something for everyone.

With that broad of a range of users, and their frequency, you’re missing out on innovative and creative marketing strategies if you’re not engaged on the YouTube experience now.

So… how can you effectively use YouTube to market your service or product?  Here are a few suggestions:

First, consider leveraging the many channels offered specifically for your product or service category:

  • Autos and Vehicles
  • Comedy
  • Education
  • Entertainment
  • Film and Animation
  • Gaming
  • How-to and Style
  • Nonprofit and Activism
  • People and Blogs
  • Pets and Animals
  • Science and Technology
  • Sports
  • Travel and Events

Your first step is to decide what category your products or services fit into. Bear in mind that uploading a commercial isn’t the goal, but rather to create an interesting conversation around your product or service through your posting.  Ask yourself what kind of video might be the most interactive?  Commercials, unless their engaging on a national level, might get easily lost and overlooked in the hundreds of thousands of posting on YouTube each day.  Creativity is key.

Rather than a self-involved commercial, what about a “how-to” video that provide real value to your prospects and community?  Consider sharing other podcasts that are both informative and entertaining to your group of followers – and be judicious about promoting yourself all the time.  After all…it’s called YOUTube…not MEtube!

Your second step might be to establish your own brand channel:

While this may be more advertising than social media in nature, the investment to establish one for your brand might well be worth the investment.  Take this action only after you’ve given it careful consideration for your specific strategy.

For your investment in time and money, YouTube can be an effective way to share your brand’s values, and begin conversations with over 78.3 million users. Counter that potential with the fact that over 150,000 videos are uploaded every day, the challenge is to create and promote content that attracts, and keeps attention to your brand.

No matter what your social media strategy may be, you can can fun doing it.  Engaging your community on YouTube is just one way to round-out a truly effective social media campaign.

I’ll be investigating other topics that are YouTube related in anticipation of my presentation at the SM@RT Social Media Conference in Reno-Tahoe this December.

If you have any specific questions about how to integrate YouTube into your brand communication strategy, I’d love to hear about it!

Let’s Have Some Fun

Personally, I’m guilty of it: taking marketing a little too seriously.  Sometimes, the best approach (especially in today’s economy) is to simply have a bit of fun with your marketing.  With the pressures and frustrations of finding a successful marketing path today, consumers continue to seek out engaging, fun ideas – especially through social media channels.

Having fun is important.  Being original at it is even more crucial.  Those who manage both can gain new clients and establish a lasting impression in the minds of consumers and prospects.  One of the keys is being entertaining…. so let’s have some fun.

Fun Advertising

As you launch your marketing, make some room for a few engaging ads that focus your brand’s message to consumers in a way they can personally relat to.  Perhaps it’s a character, a slogan, or even a mascot that promotes a humorous message related to your product or service.  If your business is conservative in nature, you still have plenty of opportunity to leverage sophistication to your advantage in an engaging way.

Promotional Specialties

Have you ever looked through a catalogue of promotional specialties?  You know… the pages and pages of mugs, backpacks, pens, toys and other items that start to blend into one confusing mess of options?  Find a professional to help you select one that compliments your marketing strategy and advertising campaign.  Fun trinkets can make a serious point – and both should be physically related.  Feature your giveaway in your ads – make it the central point of your campaign – and something that means more than its face value when received.  Tie your messaging and your item to a t-shirt.  Create a campaign around one idea, but express it in several ways that make your customers want to wear it as your traveling message. Your promotional item will not only be more appreciated, but have a longer “shelf life” in the minds of your customers.

Media Tie-Ins

Popular culture provides a wealth of opportunities to tie your messaging into a movie them or weekly television show. Like “Survivor”?  Then why not create a campaign with promotional items… maybe a poster…a t-shirt… or even some signage.  Create a competition for your customers to engage, then send it out to your target community via a press release and through your social media channels.  Because the popular culture theme is already accepted, you’ll find more initial interest in playing along with your game.

House Parties

When times get tough, people party.  Invite them to your office for an informal, hosted event.  You might consider the timing of this gathering to take place after your campaign is launched, and you have a little more interest in your message.  Add a fun promotional give-away, and you’ll have a winning combination.E

Online Games and Specials

Don’t underestimate the power of the net to attract more and more people to your business.  Banner ads, digital newsletters, ads and promotions can be the most effective means of attracting attention.  But beware – there is a fine line between online promotions and spamming.  Engage your current mailing list, and invite them to invite their friends to play along.  Perhaps a treasure hunt as an incentive to winning a discount to your services or product?  The key is participation and interactivity between your customers that will create a level of conversation about your brand you may not be able to buy.

All of these ideas need to be personalized to your company’s core values – and most importantly, your brand’s key positioning in the market.  Creativity is the key to having fun with marketing, as is consistency.  Integrating your message through your traditional media (television, radio and print) is an important factor to your success if budget allows.

The results will return ten-fold… and you’ll have a campaign worth your time and investment.

So come on… let’s have a little fun while we build your brand’s awareness.

What fun campaigns do you think have been the most successful in your community?  We’d love to see more examples of great work…so please let us know.

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