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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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?

6 Important Brand Strategy Steps


Spring is in the air, and this is the time of year businesses are energized about meeting and exceeding their goals.  I like to call it “new better bigger stronger” season.

It’s also time that many businesses consider a change in their marketing efforts and presentation overall to help reach new prospects and customers.  Many brands go as far as consider developing a refreshed positioning message overall to upgrade and uplift their communications to new potential clients.

If you’re one of those thinking hard about your brand’s real position in your market today, there are a few simple steps you can take that will get you down the path to a good start:

1. Conduct A Comprehensive Brand Audit: Take the time (and a survey) to listen in on how your prospects, customers and employees/vendor really perceive your brand.  This feedback is critical to discover any “disconnect” between what you think you’re conveying, and what they’re perceiving.  Once you find the gaps in your strategy, you can make appropriate changes for resolutions.

2. Take Time To Create Your Brand Architecture: It’s important that you take time to really define your unique value position, and prioritize it’s very specific features and benefits. Now is also a good time to define some important keywords that you’ll target your communications with for search engines and your various audiences.

3. Develop A Brand Strategy: Take the findings of your unique architecture and match that messaging with your various target audiences.  Make a list of where you plan to find and engage them, and what type of media or marketing support you may need.  Consider every possible media channel you can think of, from public relations and social media to traditional and interactive media.  Write them down and make a list!

4. Create Your Brand’s Story: By developing and writing out your compelling story that addresses your brand strategy, you’ll begin to be prepared to communicate with your market.  Be sure to think from your target audience’s perspective, and not from you own as an owner or employee.

5. Determine Your Brand’s Visual Requirements: Now for the fun part – from selecting colors, type styles and logo characteristics, you must visually reinforce your brand at every step of the way. Perhaps it’s a tweak of your existing logo that’s in order to update it, or an entirely different visual brand is needed – now is the time to make and execute on that part of the brand process.

6.  Develop Your Brand’s Operational Requirements: From logo use, to how the phone is answered – it’s important that you communicate the tone of the first five steps to every single person you engage.  Consistency is key to branding – and you now have the power behind your brand to communicate it with confidence.

Complete and document these steps with care, and you’ll not only see how you stand out from the competition, but you’ll be laying the foundation to grow faster than competitive brands in your same category – even in your same smaller community.

The biggest brands in the world know from experience that a well-defined business brand will generate more leads, rapidly accelerate their sales cycle, and create solid returns to their bottom line in faster time frames.  No matter what size company you are, the same principles of success apply to you.

If you’re like most of our clients and need help clearly defining and positioning your brand, we’re here to help.

Simplify Your Brand


One of the hardest challenges in our business is simplifying our client’s message to its core emotions and values.  It sounds so simple, and so many think they can do it for, and by themselves.  It’s more than a challenge to focus on the simple value of a product or service, than address the complexity of the market environment, and the barrage of messaging customers receive every day.

In 25 years of helping people craft and deliver their company’s message, there’s one simple, important step that is often passed by.  Simplifying the message.  Stepping back for a moment and saying with intent – How can we make this simpler?  Then start stripping away at each and every word and thought until you find the very core basics left.

I can guarantee that your target audience will not only be more responsive, they’ll consider your message a welcome lifeline in a sea of complexity.  What is most confusing to them is a result of giving them too many options at once, then not clearly helping them make a choice best suited to their specific needs.

In order to be simple, you must first go to the extremes of complexity – and peel back the hyperbole and marketing speak until you reach the core message that speaks to solving your customer’s problem – or enhances the basic values of their everyday lives.  Then…the message will resonate like none before.

The difficulty is in taking yourself out of your current thinking – and stripping away the constructs you’ve built about your product or service that you’ve convinced yourself is exactly what your customer wants.   Your perspective counts, of course – but your customer’s counts more.  Without polling or engaging them one-on-one, you’ll only guess at how your brand is perceived – and how best to communicate what can best be sold.

No matter what stage your brand development is currently in – whether a start-up or an established product or service – you’ll be well served by taking a moment to step back, and simplify your messaging.

If you’re challenged in doing that by yourself – call on us – and we’ll help you through the process to your success.

Reno’s Flailing Brand


Readers of this blog may recall that Reno’s brand perception is a topic that’s close to my heart (and always on my mind) for a variety of reasons.  As my hometown, the criticism of Reno as a “third class gambling town” is far from reality – but as we all know, “perception is reality” and we are deserving of our low-class status perception among our key target markets (drive and fly-in).

For more than a decade, the Reno Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority (RSCVA) has fought not only a massive recession that has changed the landscape of tourism regionally, but also a financially and strategically flailing infrastructure that has routinely sought out-of-market expertise in ongoing attempts to reposition our City’s image via new slogans (“America’s Adventure Place”, “A Little West of Center”, “Far From Expected”) targeting what I consider to be widely different demographics.  Today, the agency is in process of seeking new leadership – and struggling with a current campaign that is not well received (or understood) by locals.

While early signs of the local economy recovery are now trending, I personally don’t believe we will ever abandon the classic positioning line of “The Biggest Little City In The World” as it’s featured on the City’s most famous representative icon – the Reno Arch.  Tourists have long struggled with two concurrent slogans for the City; this classic and any number of short-lived campaigns that seem to come and go seemingly like the seasons.

Why haven’t these newer campaigns caught fire in the minds of consumers?  I’m sure there are many theories – of which I certainly have my observations.  But the bottom line is – they haven’t, and they aren’t – and our customers are continually underwhelmed by older, repetitive special events and a general lack of civic duty when it comes to maintaining clean, safe, non-gaming activities that attract a younger demographic and families looking for an affordable, memorable escape.

Add to that the general malaise that you experience in many of the service providers in the gaming establishments, and you continue to tell your market that you’re one kind of product (“exciting/unexpected/unique”) and they continue to experience another (“expected/antiquated/bland”).  This “brand disconnect” is at the core of our image problem, and it’s going to take a lot more than a catchy ad campaign to actually change perception.

SO…what CAN Reno do to address this ongoing problem?

I believe the answer truly resides in the many businesses located in downtown Reno that are NOT gaming oriented – and those businesses far outweigh the gaming industry in numbers and grass-roots voices.  As small business entrepreneurs will tell you, they don’t have time for politics or huge budgets for marketing – and their voice is often absent due to their time constraints and self-defeating frustration.

News that several quasi-governmental agencies and Chambers of Commerce are in the early stages of merging into one organization are hopeful signs that our community is beginning to truly collaborate from “one page in the songbook” – but the infrastructure that is tasked with attracting tourism to our town is still driven by tax revenues from major casino properties and hotel/motels.  While those entities may have the most financially at stake – the message of gambling/outdoor adventure has not proven one that resonates with our regional market.

So where do we go from here?  Who will listen to the many small business owners that are investing in our community today with new restaurants, bars, retail outlets and services?  Other than joining their Chamber and mixing with one another, how can they be part of, and help craft a unified message that focuses on Reno’s community pride and physical realities?

Where do we go from here?  How do we integrate the community into our regional messaging?  Is it important that we do, or do we simply continue down the path of promoting ourselves as a “friendly gambling town”?

Your feedback and ideas are what really interests me as this stage of Reno’s development.

How to Interpret the Language of Branding


Branding professionals, like so many other types of work, often use terms that are both confusing and unknown to many of their clients.  While it’s true that branding terminology can be its own language, it’s not hard to decipher – just type “branding terms” into any browser for a bit of research.  But really, who wants (or needs) to rush to a computer in order to understand anyone who’s job is, in part, clearly communicating basic values?

I’m going to make the assumption that you’d rather have a quick overview of branding terms, rather than spend the hours it might take to review the (literally) millions of results you’ll get from an online search of brand terms:

Brand: There are many ways to express the concept of “brand”, but basically – they’re all the same.  A brand is a promise about who you are and what benefits you deliver.  This “promise” is one that needs to be reinforced each and every time people come in contact with any facet of you, your product and/or your business.

Brand Identity: In more common terms – a logo.  This mark can be made of many parts that represent the values of your brand.  It might include a specific logo design, color scheme, symbols and typeface(s).

Brand Image: Brand image is simply the set of beliefs about what your brand is…what it stands for…what your customer associates with you and your brand’s name.

Branding: Is the process of building positive perceptions in your customer’s mind.  Note: (not YOUR mind…your customers).

Brand Position: How your compares to (and perhaps collaborates with) other brands that are in your competitive market.

Brand Management: Is the process of controlling your brand’s identity and message throughout your entire organization, and through the all communication channels (including the media)

Brand Equity: Is the value of your brand’s assets – its qualities, reputation and recognition – and the demand it creates.  A brand with great equity creates loyal customers that carry their loyalty through to future revenues.

Ther are many, many other terms you’re likely to encounter when you enter a conversation about brands.  Brand message, brand strategy, brand revitalization, rebranding or even brand extension – just to name a few.  You don’t need to worry about these at first – as the basics will help guide you through.

Is Branding Important? Really?

From our experience, far too many companies jump to developing a logo or website before they really have a full understanding of the foundations of their brand.  Too many companies just want to rush to develop award-winning logos and impressive website or  launch materials only to have their sales go sideways when the customer has an actual brand experience.

You and I both know this – false promises don’t work in the end. Your brand must honestly, accurately convey who you truly are each and every time the customer encounters you, and every single other “touchpoint” every other of your brand.

It really doesn’t matter if your selling and marketing a product or service.  And it doesn’t matter if you’re a small company, or a large corporation – the branding process applies to you along with the same benefits you’ll receive from getting it right at the start.

Branding Your Bottom Line


When was the last time you took time to consider your brand?  If you’re thinking about your logo, you’d only be partially on track.

Your company brand isn’t simply what you appear (or want) to be, its what you do, and how your perceived.  One of the easiest ways to understand this is to simply replace the work “brand” with an alternate word – “reputation”. Your company brand includes every touch point by every stakeholder that’s in contact with you, including your internal resources such as management, employees, vendors and most importantly – your customers and prospects.  Crafting your brand’s communications at the beginning of your outreach will save you money, while substantially increasing your effectiveness – especially in comparison with your competition.

Brand Faults

Poor brand development can results in many losses to your bottom line.  Here are a few you might consider avoiding:

No Point of Differentiation

Contrast and compare your product or service with your competition. Besides obvious factors like price, what really makes you different?  WHY should YOUR customer care?  With a strong positioning statement and strategy, your customers will want to build a relationship with you that could last a lifetime.  If price is the only factor that sets you apart, you’ll not gain a significant part of the existing, or future market potential.

Lack of Brand Image

You know how the logo on your card is different than the one on your sign or in your recent ad?  Perhaps the font your using on your letterhead isn’t the same as what you use on your website?  Or that shade of green that you like on your brochure just isn’t the same as your logo?   This inconsistency within your brand will certainly create confusion.  With the few precious seconds that you have to establish your brand in the mind and heart of your prospects, you can’t afford to cause any confusion that might cost you business.

Unreal Brand Values

If great customer service is one of your brand values, then leaving a customer on hold for more than a few brief moments isn’t consistent with your promise.  And if your customers can’t trust your business promise, then how can they trust you enough to buy from you?   Ignoring your brand’s core values will cost you loyal customers and new prospects – and you may not even know it’s a problem if you don’t look carefully at your brand.

Lack of focused offer

If you’re good at providing one singular product or service – then focus on that without trying to become “all things to all people”.  Competition, especially in today’s challenging economy, is more aggressive than ever.  If you’re an accountant, would you consider adding another line of work to your office and provide legal counsel?  Of course not.

But too many brands fraction their efforts early in the process of determining their specific brand niche – and bring so much competition to their door, that they can’t survive the crush of competitive brand messages.  Be the brand leader in your category – no matter how narrow that category may be.

In addition, it’s far more cost effective to market a specific product to a target audience than to shotgun a series of products or services to the general public.  Get specific, and you’ll get results.

Poor Internal Communications

When employees can’t get real information from management – they make it up for themselves, and develop rumors that take more time to address than resolve.  Rumors have “legs”, and can easily become a perceived reality in the marketplace – to your current customers and prospects as well.  If your stability is in question, you’ll feel the money leaving your hands before it even gets to you.

Leverage Your Brand

Branding is critical for every business, and even for nearly every professional personally.  Whether your launching a new business, or have been in business successfully for years – addressing your brand will provide you with the foundation for continued growth, or to gain the necessary market share that you’ll need to be successful.  Build you brand as a competitive asset – as you would your legal and financial status and systems.  As a core value that’s often overlooked, don’t be one of the many businesses who invest in every aspect of their operations – with exception to their most valuable asset – their brand.

What have you done to codify your brand?  Do you have it written down in detail so that you can share it with your staff, customers and prospects?

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