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?

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.

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.

Drive By Branding


I ran across this post (no pun intended to the image above) from fellow blogger Pam Moore, and thought it was so on target that you might enjoy its serious levity as well.
Brands, as we may both know, are not just logos – and they certainly aren’t built as quickly as a logo might be designed.  Beyond your company’s basic marketing platform, your brand represents the goals, objectives and unified identity that you want your customers and partners to be able to clearly identify and understand.  Great brand strategies have plans and purpose – just like great businesses have a business strategy for their products and services.

Definition of Brand:

A brand is the identity of a specific product, service, or business. A brand can take many forms, including a name, sign, symbol, color combination or slogan. The word brand began simply as a way to tell one person’s cattle from another by means of a hot iron stamp. A legally protected brand name is called a trademark. The word brand has continued to evolve to encompass identity – it affects the personality of a product, company or service.

Pam Moore’s 15 Hints You are Guilty of Random Acts of

Branding (RABs)…  or what I like to call “Drive By Branding”:

1. You make midnight changes to your logo and launch the next morning on Facebook.

2. Your new logo does not match any of your other colors or fonts… yet you launch the lame  midnight logo anyway.

3. You leave a networking group and feel some competitive pressure, so you decide it’s time for a website overhaul which lead to the logo change.

4. You have no plan for your new website or logo overhaul.

5. You developed your new logo and/or brand elements in Powerpoint. You did a screen capture

of the image from Powerpoint because you don’t know how to create a .jpeg or .png file.

6. You have no idea how you are going to modify the rest of your brand elements to match your now launched but terrible logo.

7. You don’t know what to do with your ugly logo you launched. Nobody responded to the email asking for feedback.

8. You don’t really have good Adobe Photoshop or design skills yet you do all of your own graphic design work.

9. You have no formal training or real business experience on brand, marketing or design yet you do all of your own plus your clients design and brand work.

10. It doesn’t really bother you that all of the above is true. Your thought is “it’s just colors, people know what I can really do.”

11. You think it’s cool to be just like your competitors. You also figure it’s easy to copy them so why not do it.

12. You think your market will think you are the same as your competitors if you just copy/paste their experience and make it your own.

13. You think it would take too much time to put a real brand strategy together.

14. You think by copying your competitors brand people will think you’re just like them even if they double your experience, have twice the team and real branding skills.

15. I am annoying you with all of these statement because they are true. You want to think I am wrong, but you know deep down in your heart I am right.

Ok… let’s be honest.  Are you guilty of any of these villainous acts of branding?    Can you imagine how much time and money you might save by taking the task of branding seriously before you begin marketing or advertising your product or service?  We have branding process that works…every time if you’re in need of any help.


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.

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