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.

Are You Ready To Hire A Marketing Firm?

Every business owner is faced with the similar options and approaches to handling their communications strategy and campaigns.  Most start by trying it themselves, because they believe they know their business best, and want to give a try at the “fun stuff” – like marketing and advertising.

Like many businesses, you might also consider hiring a full or part-time marketing assistant or consultant.  Before you do…ask yourself this: When your business needs electrical work do you do it yourself? Hire an electrician to be on staff full-time? Or ask your plumber to handle it?

Bring in the Experts.

Though simple marketing and advertising might seem simple enough to do yourself, nothing hurts as much as a costly misfire.  Not only will you send the wrong message to a very busy public, but your budget will likely suffer and you’ll be in no position to recover or redirect the funds and time wasted.  The fact is, no one can do the job as effectively and efficiently as someone who lives and breathes the industry everyday.

Seeing the forest and the trees.

With any luck, the consultant you hire will bring with them an objective opinion and a fresh perspective.  It’s easy for many business owners to lose perspective on their brand as they become immersed in daily operations.  When you’re managing the minutia of business, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture.  Often, a business’ marketing will reflect this, and the actual benefits of a product or service is lost to a detailed description of its functions and product details.  All emotion is lost in the pitch, and as such, isn’t received by the intended audience.

If you add another ball, technically it is juggling.

Even if you give the added tasks of marketing to an employee, attention is being taken away from other important responsibilities and projects.  Consultants on the other hand, are dedicated to one, and only one, important portion of your business.  The right one will stay focused on your brand’s image and sales – allowing you to keep your attention on other important development projects and goals.

Be Like Gumby.

The right consultant will remain very flexible, and should be ready to take on an assignment at a moment’s notices.  The ease of getting a project started is just a phone call away from being put into production.  Conversely, hiring a new employee to handle your marketing takes time to advertise, interview, and sort through candidates – often to find you may or may not have committed to the overhead of an employee.

The C- Word

Hiring a marketing consultant or firm may not require a long-term Commitment.  When a marketing firm completes a project, they have the flexibility to move into whatever position you need, from quarterly analysis, to basic maintenance, to completely out of the picture while remaining on the sidelines when you’re ready to take a new step forward.

Whatever your stage in business, it’s worth your time to set clear strategic goals for your marketing budget – and spend it wisely.  Investing in a professional or team of consultants to help you execute your campaign will not only save you money in the long run, but deliver greater results for your investment.

Do you work with a marketing firm?  If so…we’d love to hear about your experience!

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.

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.

Warning: The Social Media “Guru”

courtesy of communications catalyst

courtesy of communications catalyst

Recently, there seems to be a coincidental alignment between reality and theory.  In this case, the topic of social media “gurus” was being discussed around our social and professional circles when I ran across several other blog posts that seemed to align exactly with the content of our debates.  And so, it seems, a good topic to bring to this blog.

With the decline in the job market, self-promotional tools and schemes have proliferated.  I can’t count the number of “get rich on Twitter” or “make money on Facebook” programs that have been pitched my way in recent months.  Along with those programs seemed the rise of the “social media guru” – an obvious attempt for some to brand themselves in a new marketing sector while they continued to struggle with today’s economic decline.

While I enjoy participating in the social media sphere, and encourage our clients to strategize their engagement – I’m no social media expert.  As the face of these marketing channels literally change on a daily basis, I’m wary of anyone who might be so bold as to say they are on top of all it’s rapidly changing facets and nuances.

If you’re in marketing or are marketing your brand, your budget has likely been cut, staff has departed or been reassigned, and the pressure to produce sales from a dwindling market has increased.  Producing qualified leads is still very possible today – converting those prospects from “fence sitters” to buyers is an entirely different challenge.  New sales goals, reduced marketing budgets, and increased expectations have challenged us all to apply more creativity and sound strategy to the brands we know and love – and especially to those that aren’t entirely transparent to the target audience.  What then, given these new circumstances, is a good marketer to do?

Some have turned to social media as the cure-all in hopes that the inexpensive promise of reaching new prospects is well worth the time and investment dedicated to Facebook, Twitter, and a host of other potential market channels.  My inbox is flooded daily with new strategies and “opportunities” to use these free channels to maximize what remaining budgets any client may have.  Yet the challenge remains – just where do you start?  And how do you measure ROI?

Having conducted a few seminars for interested entreprenuers, I can tell you they all share that very frustration.  Often, they’ll throw their hands up, realizing they don’t possess the time or expertise to start a campaign with any strategy and turn outward for help in the “free social media” sphere.  Just Google or check LinkedIn for “social media expert” – then stand back for a glut of referrals to a wide variety of companies and individuals.  Do you hire a big agency?  A one-man-shop?  How do you know who is really worth the investment?

And given the dour economy – many people jump in without much investigation, in hopes of moving to any type of response sooner than later.

Then I ran across a great blog post by Eric Weaver at Brand Dialogue, who clearly outlined some very basic considerations I think each of us would be smart to help guide the decision process.  I’ve recounted them here for your review:

1. Engage a consultant that shares a “media-agnostic perspective”. It’s not the tools that create results – as much as we may love them…it’s the strategy and messaging that will ultimately win the game for any brand.  Ask the consultant how they fit into the marketing mix that includes the tried-and-true traditional channels.  If the response is all about the tools – keep looking.

2. Seek a marketer, not a “techy”. We marketers see these tools in terms of brand, outreach, dialogue…and most importantly, trust.  Technologists often think they understand these integral parts of brand strategy…but more than often…they don’t.   Seek  marketers who have embraced and utilized social tools as part of overarching awareness, conversion or loyalty campaigns – they get it, and can guide you to success overall.

3. Look for quality… not quantity of clients – not followers. Cult followings of people who are similarly enamored by the technology follow those of the same type – and they’re not reaching new markets that can help your brand. Don’t mistake online popularity or digital verbosity with expertise – they are far from the same thing.

4. Look for selflessness rather than self-interest. Consultant relationships can go well – or wrong.  Don’t engage anyone who might turn on you and use you as an example of what not to do.  A good consultant will champion and advocate for their client brands without regard for their own personal growth or online positioning.  Beware the “hangers-on” who are focused on a steady stream of work than deploying the right strategy for your brand.

5. Demand evidence of commitment. Look for testimonials and absolute proof positive that this “guru” has consistently produced for people and brands like yours.

6. Look for final products, and ask them to fully disclose their role. Find out exactly what that consultant has done for any client, and ask for an example of that specific work.  Too often, we see big claims for campaigns from someone who has only taken a small role in the development of the strategy.

Yes…it’s difficult to find the right social media mix and help for your brand in today’s market.  But take the time to vet any consultant who offers their help – no matter how inexpensive or great the claims may be.  Beware the technologist who talks a good game, but is actually learning how to market at your expense.

I’d really like to hear more about the successes and failures we’re encontering in this new field of consulting – and help our clients find the best solution for their social media campaigns with the right mix of talent, strategy and messaging.

What experiences have you had in this area recently?

Managing Your Social Media Campaign

Get Connected

Having conducted a couple of informational seminars and networking meetings recently, I’ve been hearing a pattern of questions from a wide range of entrepreneurs from my community:  “I know social media is something I need to be doing for my business, but I don’t know where to start, or how much time to devote to it”.

It’s a complex social media world out there, and while many people only think of a few channels such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, there are literally hundreds of other choices (including blogs, wikis, podcasts etc.)  that might be good options for your communication and marketing strategy.  Add to that the somewhat long development period required to establish yourself and your company as a credible “voice”, and you’ve got a recipe for confusion and misguided time investments.

When I came across an article by Leo Babuata on Mashable, I was happy to see his basic step-by-step summary of “How To Simplify Your Social Media Routine”.  For me, this seemed an easy-to-understand, basic summary that anyone could follow, and avoid the risks of wasting time and ruining long-term productivity.

Here’s Babuata’s recommendations for your consideration:

Step 1. Use simple tools to make the most of social media.

The simpler the tools, the better. But tools that combine two or more social media into one are best, because that means you need fewer tools. An example is TweetDeck – not only does it incorporate Twitter , but you can see your Facebook  friends’ updates at the same time.

Another good example is Digsby, which combines email, IM, and social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn.

My setup uses Gmail , as it’s the communication tool that I use most often. I’ve set it up to be my all-in-one inbox: I can Twitter, Facebook, delicious, Flickr, IM and more. You can make Gmail your ultimate productivity center.

Step 2. Focus on sending out high impact messages.

Here’s something that many people who use social media don’t understand: if you send out too many messages, people might stop following you or might even block you, because you’re flooding their inbox.

The secret is to try to make every message you send, or at least a high percentage of them, high-impact messages. Examples: share really useful links, news related to your field, things that are really funny or inspirational, or inside information about your business or blog. The key is to make sure almost every message is something that people will want to share with their friends.

Limit yourself to high-impact messages to reduce the time you spend communicating.

Step 3. Let go of the need to read everything. Learn to scan.

It’s impossible to consume ALL the information that comes at you. It’s like trying to drink from a fire-hose — not only is it a waste of your time, it can be damaging, because you have other important things to do.

So be selective. Find sources of information that are valuable. And scan to get the gist of what’s going on, instead of trying to read every message. Let go of the need to stay on top of everything. Let it go! And instead, just take a dip in the river now and then.

Step 4. Figure out which social media give you the most value, and simplify.

I recommend trying the main forms of social media, but only for a little while. It doesn’t hurt to try them out, but you simply can’t keep up with it all, and what’s more, it’s not the best use of your time. Not all forms of social media are effective for all goals, for all people.

Instead, find just one or two or three that are most effective for you. For me, blogging and Twitter are the best. I try to stay in touch with Facebook, but MySpace and the rest are not worthwhile, for me.

Your choices will be different. But in the end, be selective and guard your time wisely.

Step 5. Form close relationships with people who give you the most value, not everyone.

I’m not suggesting you only follow a handful of people on Twitter or Facebook. But while you can have a large number of friends, you won’t have the same degree of closeness with all of them. So find the people who give you the most value — who share great info, who make you laugh, who inspire you, who give you great suggestions for improving, who help you on a regular basis, who you enjoy talking to. Then focus on building relationships with them. They’re worth spending time with.

Step 6. Manage your time wisely.

It can be easy to do social media too much. Find ways to integrate social media activities in your life without them overwhelming the other work you have to do, and your personal life.

You can set regular schedules, such as doing it 2-3 times a day at certain times, or 10 minutes every hour, or at certain times when there’s a lull in your schedule. But be sure to have boundaries — the rest of your life should be held sacred too.

No article is able to effectively help manage anyone’s social media campaign.  And for that matter, social media in itself is just one small part of an integrated marketing communications strategy.  I continue to find that many business leaders, especially smaller companies, continue to think that social media is a panacea for marketing effectiveness – and continue to struggle with establishing themselves with credibility and measurable results from thier efforts.

Like any profession, social media offers experts that can help guide you to establishing a process that works for your company specifically.  If you don’t know where to begin, or how to strategize a social media campaign that will help your efforts, I’d recommend you team with an individual or company that can show you the results from their efforts – and not just anyone claiming to be an expert in today’s social media sphere.

And don’t forget: Social Media is a communications channel (like traditional media, public relations, etc); not a comprehensive, integrated communications marketing strategy.

Marketing To The Recession Focused Consumer


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.

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