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.

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?
 Keep reading »

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.

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?

Publishing Your Brand


If you listen very carefully, you might hear it… the groans from small business owners all across the land when the phrase “Content Is King” is mentioned to them.

As true as that saying may be, most of today’s consumers go directly to search engines to answer even the slightest of trivial questions.  The mistake that most businesses make today is that they churn out content every day, but without making it part of their overall communications strategy.

Content publishing should focus on two simple goals: educating and building trust.

Content strategy is delivered through very specific content forms, and not volume alone.  Every business today is publishing content, and today is the day you need to think like a publisher.

How best to build trust with your audience?
Blog: There’s no doubt that blogs are the best starting point for content strategy as they allow for simple content production, and syndication of your message.  Search engines gobble up blog content.  Blog content can easily be delivered through other channels like e-books, workshops and guest articles.

Social Media: Step one – claim your stake with profiles on sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.   But don’t let that stop you.  Take it to the next step by claiming your place on communities like Entrepreneur, Inc., or even Business Week.  Creating these profiles and optimizing links back to you site plan an important role in content strategy publishing.

Testimonials:  Third party testimonials may be the most powerful tool in your publishing arsenal.  Seek testimonials in a variety of forms including written, audio and video.  Share them on sites such as YouTube and Google+ to continue to build your publishing portfolio.

Reviews:  Depending on your specific business, sites like MerchantCircle, CitySearch and Yelp! can offer positive user referrals.  While never in control of reviews, overlooking them may prove more harmful than bad reviews.  One thing is certain, you’ll need to actively monitor these channels at all times.

Consider these two easy ways to educate your customer with content.

Seminars:  Today’s consumer wants their information neatly pre-packaged for easy consumption. Seminars, workshops and presentations are everywhere – both online and offline.  Once engaged, these channels provide a great opportunity to really engage your audience.  Taking your white paper or ebook and turning it into a 30-45 minute, value-packed presentation may be the most cost-effective way to both engage and convert casual leads into loyal customers.

White Papers & Ebooks:  In communicating their brand story, documenting the values and views are effectively done in the form of a white paper or book.  This content needs to highlight the businesses truly unique values including why it exists, what it will accomplish, and ultimately – it’s special purpose.

This is certainly a short list of ways and channels for you to reach new, actively engaged customers. What are others you might be using that are working for you?

Once you’ve developed your specific system of content publishing that works in unison for your brand, maintaining and growing our channels becomes a fun and welcomed task, instead of one to dread and avoid.

Gather ‘Round The Brand Fire


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

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

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

How do you craft a successful brand story?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cowboys Need Branding Too


I’m constantly amused by the fact that the business we’re in is often the most confusing and misunderstood – and yet it’s the goal to clearly communicate our value to business.  After all, branding is developing the strategy and communications foundation for marketing, advertising, public relations and social media.  And yet…when you suggest to someone they could stand to re-brand themselves or their business – the first think they think of is a new logo treatment.

The American Marketing Association (AMA) defines a brand as a “name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.

With that rather broad description of our craft, it makes sense to understand that branding is not just about getting your target market to choose you over the competition, but it is about getting your prospects to see you as the only one that provides a solution to their problem.

The objectives that a good brand will achieve include:

  • Delivering your message clearly and succinctly (i.e. the “30 second elevator pitch”)
  • Confirms your credibility and uniqueness in your market
  • Connects you emotionally to your target prospects your target prospects, motivating them to action
  • Establishes customer loyalty to the point of referrals to more prospects

To succeed in branding you must understand the needs and wants of your customers and prospects. You do this by integrating your brand strategies through your company at every point of public contact – or “touch points”.

It’s true that your brand resides within the hearts and minds of customers, clients, and prospects. It is also true that your brand is the sum total of their experiences and perceptions, some of which you can influence and some that you cannot.

And yet… most businesses skip this critical step when marketing their product or service.  It’s critically important to spend time investing in researching, defining, and building your brand – BEFORE you begin to communicate it to your eagerly awaiting public.  After all your brand is the source of a promise to your consumer –  it’s a key foundational piece in your marketing communication and one you do not want to be without.

Take the time to clearly define your brand’s true values (not the ones you think it has) before you begin your outreach and communications.  It’s not only time and money well spent, but will save you countless hours defining and redefining your brand message in the future.

We have a tried and true process for helping you define your unique brand – or even reposition one that you’ve built for years.  If you need help, we’ve got the experience and team that’s just right for you.

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