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!

Building A Smarter Brand


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

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

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

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

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

1. Stand Out From The Competition

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

2. Communicate Your Value Quickly And Clearly

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

3. Attract Both Customers And Investors

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

4. Enjoy Lasting Marketing Returns

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

5. Grow Faster With Purpose

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

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

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

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.

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.

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