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.

Gambling On Advertising


For some businesses, placing a bet on advertising feels like gambling at the casino.  Marketers often don’t make this any better for their clients in their belief that dedicating ad dollars to campaigns is a bit like playing Texas Hold ‘Em – a gamble at best.  And to be truthful, that can be the case – but not because advertising doesn’t work.

It’s usually because of a variety of other factors – boring creative, an ill-thought strategy, and more frequently, because the campaign itself wasn’t funded to establish enough frequency.

Just like a good round at the poker table, the hand your dealt has little to do with your chances of winning or losing the next hand. Each successive hand is a new event, and there may be little or no link from one success to another.  But integrated communications – especially in marketing and advertising, is very different.

You can start the marketing wheel with a bet, and will find that spinning it again the next time is easier…faster…and produces more results.  Much like social media, it’s not a single follower, but the momentum of building a following that carries you on to a successful campaign, and with a bit of luck, some true viral buzz.

The error for many comes in placing their bet on a single tactic.  This will likely produce some kind of result – a spike in web traffic, an increase in phone calls.  But once the campaign has run its course in a few weeks, the numbers return back to their previous state of static.  And so, another push to start the wheel is needed…with an equal amount of effort…and the odds are reset.  The goal then, is to integrate your marketing…and all of your communications to keep them consistent, and eventually, let the bet ride as the wheels spin faster and faster.

You’ll get to the big payout faster, with less effort by staying consistent with your campaigns, and especially, with your advertising investment.

Strategy plays an even bigger role.  Clearly defining your goals, and your messaging will help get you off to the right start – and put a little insurance on your betting hand.

Branding Is Marketing’s Foundation


As a branding collaborative, we get more than our share of calls to “design our logo…you know…our brand”.  That’s usually when the conversation turns to business topics that are far more important to think about before a logo is created – the foundation of the positioning and messaging – your brand.

Branding is much more about business design and the creation of a foundation from which marketing can do its work. Branding is about creating the unique positioning of your company. Marketing is about getting the word out.

When approached with the intent to determine a unique brand, we set the stage for being meaningful, unique, relevant and most importantly, memorable. It’s about having a unique story or purpose that unifies those that matter most – you, your staff, and your clients.

Your Brand Promise
Branding is not simply the expected features and benefits of your product or service. Branding is uncovering (and sometimes creating) your distinctive difference.  Your individual “thumbprint” in the market place.  It’s what sets you apart from all other competitors. It is what motivates you, your people and untimately, excites your clients to choose you over another similar product or service.

Delivering On Your Brand Promise
Once you have a clear understanding of your unique positioning in today’s competitive market, you must then be organized and ready to deliver on your promise. Every action, every initiative, every plan must be intimately and obviously linked to the delivery of your unique brand promise.

Your Brand Means Everything
More than just a logo, your brand image is the sum of all your tangible and intangible traits — the ideas, beliefs, values, prejudices, interests, features and history that make you unique. Brand image may be the best, single marketable investment a company can make.

Does your brand image communicate your promise and competitive difference clearly to your customers?  Are you clear about how to best communicate your unique position in comparison to your competitors?  Who do you think has a strong brand platform…and why?

Bigger Isn’t Always Better – The New Agency Paradigm


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As the economy seems to hit hard in our region now, we’ve been seeing a new trend in advertising agency developments – the “virtual agency”. Large to small agencies that once flourished with as few as 5 to as many as 60 staff have all cut back in both size and operations.

With this new moniker comes a kind of subtle embarrassment – as if being a virtual agency is surrender to “real” agency status. These newly reduced agencies are obviously not proud of their new found reductions, and often refer to the non-centralized operations as “an experiment”, or a “temporary downsizing”. The virtual model rips apart the dynamics that traditionally operate at big ad agencies.

Given our technology-assisted ability to effectively manage both projects and clients via non-centralized tools and resources, we SmartBrander’s are a bit perplexed at this subtle perception of status. As a collaborative agency for since our beginnings in 2006, the “virtual” structure has worked perfectly for our teams – and our clients. Granted there have been minor challenges at times, and nothing replaces face-to-face meetings with clients and partners (which we continue to have). But overall, our “virtual” structure was the very reason we formed SmartBrand – and it works.

It’s true that the long hallways or conference rooms full of awards help clients and prospects breath a sigh of relief that their investment in the firm is a sound decision. Those of us with similar awards in boxes don’t have the need or space to display our accolades. Frankly, I find awards to be self-serving, and often subjective and pointless (depending on the type of award). But they do make great doorstops and file dividers in a pinch. I’m not degrading awards, but they often do not measure the effectiveness of the agency’s work – but rather the creativity that is judged by other creatives rather than other client types. We have ample amounts of awards and recognitions among our virtual team to support the “award winning” claim – but find those accolades are best served to our clients than to our prospects.

However, if I had say, ten million dollars to spend on a brand – I’d look first to the large, proven agencies because of their ability to provide the kind of scaled attention to protect that investment. But in these days of tightening budgets, and hesitant economies, those with larger-than-life communications budgets are not investing with the same kind of confidence they did just two years ago.

Is this the time for the virtual agency to become mainstream? If you were to consider working with a virtual agency – what differences would you be willing to accept as part of that relationship, if any?

Marketing To The Recession Focused Consumer


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Marketing professionals across the globe are collectively scratching their heads wondering what today’s economic challenges have done to the strategies and practices of yesterday – literally…just yesterday.

Everyone knows that consumer’s aren’t spending, and that the upcoming holiday retail season may likely be another nail in the failing economy’s coffin.  Today’s consumer has taken a completely different approach to their spending habits – one where discretionary spending is no longer an accepted practice.  In every aspect of our lives, many of us are looking to put off what they want for what they can afford – and most importantly, looking for real value in what they can buy today.

This new mindset has altered marketer’s approach radically, of course.  And there are at least a small set of tactics we can all adopt to help ease the transition to a more normal economy – no matter how long it may take for a recovery.  In fact, these are good strategies for every business phase; in good times and bad;

* Justify Your Value. This seems obvious, doesn’t it?  No matter how the economy is faring, customers are always looking to understand the underlying value of your brand.  In fact, this is your brand – and if you’re unable to clearly define and message your value – how can your prospective customers be expected to understand your product or service?.  Even if your brand costs more than the competition, it’s imperative that you clearly define why your value is worth the extra investment.  Better results is worth more money if you can clearly communicate that to the public.

* Provide comparisons and alternatives. By giving your prospects a range of comparisons and alternatives, you can help position your brand as the right choice.  There’s a good argument for making a case for non-action and the potential hazards it may present – especially in the fields of health care, insurance and investment which are all to often seen as luxuries in today’s climate.  Not buying that new fuel efficient car may, in the end, prove a more costly decision than doing it today.

* Prepare Your Sales Force. Today’s market requires more personal attention to “close the sale”.  Now is the perfect time to invest in your sales team and customer service staff by providing them with the training and detailed information they’ll need to handle a much broader range of objections and concerns.  The ability to help move a prospect from consideration to purchase may mean the difference between survival and failure – especially if your competition has an equal or better product or service.

* Identify A Broader Competition Range. In today’s roller-coaster market, you aren’t simply competing with similar products and services, you’re in a much broader range of penny-pinching options you need to identify that are related to your brand.  Buying a used car or taking a vacation may be the choice facing the consumer – not whether to buy a new or used vehicle.  When consumers are tightening their overall spending habits, a much broader range of considerations come into play.  Identify those options and position your brand against them – you’ll remain a more competitive option in the consumer’s mind if you recognize the changing landscape of their decisions.

Today’s consumer continues to make decisions based on an emotional attachment to the brand – and not simply their concern for value.  Once they’ve made that decision, they deserve to be treated with a great deal of respect and appreciation – an element often missed in today’s challenging market.

Buying decisions are still being made today – and for those who take new steps and innovative actions to forge a different kind of bond with their customersm, they’ll emerge a much stronger brand with a wider audience when the economy begins to grow at a normal page again.

WordPress Marketer’s Blog Roundup


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We’re fortunate to be included in a collective of bloggers on WordPress that concentrate their efforts on marketing reviews and ideas.  Here’s a quick recap of some of their latest (and greatest) updates:

* Brady’s Crew has some 50 great ideas from Time Magazine on how to improve your website.

* Dave Knox over at Hard Knox Life has some compelling ideas on why corporations should integrate social media into their communication mix using Motrin as a good example.

* Rick Leibling takes time with Junta42’s content marketing list, and notes Eyecube is growing in readership.

* Francis Anderson takes a quick look at Dido and Elf Yourself.

* Groves Media survived hell week with a round-up about manic Christians, Google, Crunched Celebs and Dead Parrots!

* Jax Rants investigates a really cool Sweet Spots site by Nike.

* Liquid Architecture shares some insights about the gaming community’s reaction to President-elect Obama.

* Marketing Integrity’s new site location rethinks church marketing, and it’s role in growing participation.

* Micha Solomon give props to Elite Media’s truly elite sales rep and process.

* Nicola Davis shows us something really interesting – AC DC’s innovative music video in an excel spreadsheet!

* Octagon First Call makes a really good point for brand communication, using XBOX as an example.

* Online Marketer Blog is offering a free e-book for download about writing holiday donation emails.  Take time to read it…great advice.

* Share Media’s Matt Hames takes note of Motrin’s social media response challenge, and the importance of context over content.  Something’s obviously up with Motrin…this is the second time the brand is on our radar.

* And finally, Weather Pattern’s shares the experince of getting a free future edition of the New York Times.

This roundup is just a sampling of the great ongoing work these bloggers passionately cover.  Please take time to read them, and share their insights and information with those you know might enjoy them as well.

Your Brand Probably Sucks


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The term “brand” continues to have a good deal of misinterpretation and misinformation attached to it – even today as it’s become part of our common daily conversation.  Many, if not most, brands today are not truly brands – they’re simply nice logos attached to products.

Martin Lindstrom, author of Brand Fast Trackers, tapped into Brand Connections’ CEO & Founder Brian Martin about every marketer’s holy grail – consumers’ innermost thoughts.  In his latest book “Buyology – Truth Lies About Why We Buy” Martin cleverly connected over 2,000 people to brain scans in a scientific effort to really determine exactly how different products affect the brain.  Measuring the subject’s pleasure centers in an effort to prove his “smash your brand” theory.  Martin’s theory is that brands continue to retain their value – even when devoid of logos or other clues which consumer’s instinctively recognize.

I’d agree with Lindstrom’s suggestion that the vast majority of today’s consumers are so overwhelmed and jaded by year’s of a barrage of commercials that they now guard themselves when they perceive traditional advertising messaging and collateral.  In that environment, subliminal messaging is far less invasive, and achieves a much higher degree of positive response.

Lindstrom weigh in: “[Marketers] have become so rational,” with their “better-for less” positioning  “it is such a short-term way of building brands.”

To the point, he’s noted that visuals (yes, your logo) is last in the list of sensory importance:  “We’ve learned that the most powerful sense when we’re building brands and selling brands is not the sense of sight, it’s the sense of sound, followed by the sense of taste, touch & smell, then followed by the sense of sight.”

The combination of all five sensory experiences is the goal of marketer’s everywhere – and too often we forget the experience of the brand while concentrating on the imagery and positioning of it.

The challenge may be to take your personal perspective of the brand you know and love aside, and allow others to give you honest (perhaps even painful) feedback about what your brand truly means to them.  Then, reposition the elements of the brand to address those common perceptions.  You may be surprised to learn what your customers and prospects truly feel about it, and how your current brand is, or isn’t working as you’d believed.

Perception is reality – especially in today’s barrage of messaging.  Do you really know how you’re being perceived?  In today’s more-than-challenging market, getting in touch with the reality of your brand, and taking a hard look at the many facets of it (including your logo) may be the difference between survival and financial ruin.  Don’t take your brand for granted – you may well be the worst person to truly identify it’s real value and viability.

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