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.

Creative Ways To Use Your Facebook Timeline


For those of us who help create and manage social media campaigns across many platforms, changes to any social media channel’s format often present a host of challenges – and opportunities.  Once you’re past the angst of having to deal with an entirely new format, it’s time to think about ways you can leverage this new development to your advantage.  Here are just a few creative ways you can use Facebook’s new Timeline layout to elevate your brand:

Design Creative Cover Photos

Like an overpowering billboard, the new 851 x 351 pixel “cover photo” is up to you to plan and use effectively.  With a little creative elbow grease, you can transform this expansive area into something downright awesome.  Not everyone is capable of graphically designing with the complexity of the space provided in mind, let alone using the free online opportunity to their real advantage.

Yes…there are rules to using this space to Facebook’s specifications.  This is not a space for commercial use.  Inviting your visitors to like your website, or tell your friends about your business is not allowed.  Nor can you include such things as price or purchase locations – and don’t think this is a place for your business address and contact information.  But do think of it as a first impression to your brand’s overall image, a visual “hello” to old and new fans.

Don’t let that discourage you from promoting your business.  If you’re stumped, take a moment to review these examples of effective Facebook Timelines. 

There’s no reason you can’t use your timeline area to promote the benefits of your brand – and change the image out frequently to keep your Facebook audience interested and engaged in your ongoing progress.

Pin Or Star It For Emphasis

Some information on your page may be promotional in nature.  Pinning your posts to the top of your page will keep that one special post at the top of your timeline for an entire week (7 days).  If you’re running a business promotion or have a conversation that’s become extremely popular, pinning your post to the top is one way to control the content on your timeline page without the previous landing page options.

Pinning is easy:

On your Facebook fan page timeline, choose the post you wish to pin to the top.

Hover your mouse over the top right hand corner of the post and the pencil will appear with the options Edit or remove.

Click to Enlarge Image

Click the pencil.

The menu will now appear with the option to Pin to Top.

Select Pin to Top.

Another Timeline option Facebook as enabled is the ability to “star” posts – enabling them to be given preference in your timeline.  A starred post will expand to display across the full-page of your profile – a wide 403 pixels.  Consider starring messages that have great images of your brand, or even you, to emphasize its importance to your audience.   Here’s a great example that includes a video in the post – for a wider screen appeal:

Celebrate Your Brand’s History

Facebook’s Timeline features “milestones” – a great way for you to make special note of your brand’s development over time.  Did you start in a garage only to grow into an office?  We’re products or services added to your company mix that were new to your business sector?  Milestones are a great way to tell your brand’s story in historical order.  Don’t forget to  make note of any awards you’ve received, sales goals achieved, or new campaign launches that may have been memorable.

Here’s another good opportunity to engage your employees – and even your fans to help you identify which milestones they feel were most important in your development.  You might even be surprised by their answers and insights!

This tactic works especially well for older brands with rich histories that have been ingrained in our culture.  Take for example Ford and ESPN – both of whom share old television campaigns we may likely remember (if you’re old enough!).

    One consideration  here is to review all of the past content your brand has used, and integrate them into your timeline as historical milestones.

Create A Contest

One of the first and most talked about Facebook/Timeline contests has been from Red Bull.  The socially savvy used their own timeline as a platform to launch a well received scavenger hunt.  By searching through the brand’s timeline, and learning about their key milestones, clues were provided to win the contest.  A simple and effective way to both educate and engage a loyal following of growing fans.

Or, for example, take Coca-Cola – who has hidden clues and riddles in their posts on their Facebook page.  Once unlocked, it takes you to a third-party website; an easy way to track the promotions click-through rates to prizes.

There’s no doubt these are just the beginning of many creative applications to come from agencies and brands around the world.  As the administrator of your brand’s Facebook page, it’s time you started thinking about ways to creatively use it to your unique advantage.

How are you planning to use it for your brand’s page? 

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.

Branding For Social Media


No matter what stage in your business or career you are currently in, social media can help you achieve some of your goals.  Establishing yourself as an expert with credible authority will help you gather a willing audience if you build and maintain a positive online reputation.

I ran across these five easy steps to consider that were originally posed in one of my favorite online resources – 30-Minute Social Media Marketing.  I think you’ll agree that they apply equally to your personal brand as well as your professional reputation.

I’m not going to revise or alter the original content because I think they are right on point:

1. Begin with Branding
The first step to joining the digital age and starting your journey on the social Web is to evaluate your own brand promise. How do you want to position yourself in the marketplace and in front of your target audience? A focused brand is a strong brand, so determine your niche and use it as your primary brand message and image.

Your audience needs to develop expectations for your brand in order to develop loyalty to it and feel secure enough in your brand message to talk about it with their own friends and connections, particularly across the social Web. You must meet customer (i.e., audience) expectations in every brand interaction or people will feel confused and turn away from your brand in search of another that does consistently meet their expectations. Don’t let your audience get away. Determine your brand promise and position and stick to it at all times.

2. Create Your Branded Online Destinations
Once you know how you want to position your brand in the minds of your audience, you can create your own branded online destinations. The destination you choose to start with is up to you and depends on the types of tools you enjoy using and feel like you can stick with for the long-term. Start a blog, create a Twitter account and get on Facebook, and then play with the features and get a feel for which tools you actually enjoy using. Those are the tools you should focus on using as your original branded online destinations.

Most importantly, choose one branded online destination to be your core branded online destination. This is the place where all of your online content and conversations will lead back to. It will be the central hub of your online presence and will become the go-to place for people to learn anything and everything about your brand and writing business.

I recommend a blog for a core branded online destination because blogs are so search engine friendly and flexible, but the choice is yours.  The most important factor is that your core branded online destination is kept fresh with new content that effectively represents your brand promise and invites interaction and sharing.

3. Find Your Best Audience
Who do you want to connect with online in order to build your business and/or career? You can engage with existing and potential clients, online influencers, experts, customers, and more on the social Web.  You simply need to determine who you want to talk to and go out and find them. Visit Google.com and type in the keywords your audience is likely to use to find brands, businesses, content and conversations like yours. Follow the links. Chances are you’ll end up finding multiple sites where your target audience already spends time.

When you find your target audiences’ online hangouts, spend some time listening to the conversations happening on those sites. What topics are important to them? What gets them excited? This type of information-gathering is extremely valuable and allows you to create your own content strategy to best meet your target audience’s existing wants and needs.

4. Join the Conversation
Look for social destinations such as blogs, Twitter profiles, Facebook pages, forums and so on where you can interact with other people by publishing comments, asking questions, and answering questions. However, you must avoid self-promotion. No one will want to engage with you if you spend all your time trying to sell your writing products and services.

Instead, apply the 80-20 rule of marketing to your activities, and make sure at least 80% of the time you spend on social media activities is not self-promotional and only 20% is self-promotional.

In time, those audiences will get to know you and develop expectations for your conversations. Eventually, you can lead them back to your own branded online destinations through links to related content. There you can deepen relationships. It’s this type of relationship-building that enables you to develop a band of brand advocates online who will talk about your brand and defend your brand against naysayers. There has never been a more powerful form of word-of-mouth marketing, and you can tap into it thanks to the social Web!

5. Publish Shareworthy Content

How do people find information in the 21st century? Do they pick up the printed Yellow Pages directory or go to the library? No. They log into their computers or pick up their smart phones and visit http://www.Google.com where they type in keywords related to the business, product or information they want to find. You need to be represented in search results when people search for keywords related to your business or area of expertise!

One way to make sure you’re effectively represented is by publishing amazing content that people want to talk about and share with their own connections. In time, you’ll benefit from what I call the compounding effect of social media. The more content you publish, the more entry points there are for Google to find, index and deliver in search results.

If your content is amazing, people will read it and talk about it on Twitter, their own blogs, and so on. This conversation not only boosts word-of-mouth buzz about you, but it also creates more incoming links to your content. More incoming links mean more ways for people to find your content across the web and higher search rankings from Google.

Coming Full Circle
Your social media participation cannot be one-sided.  You need to focus on building relationships, getting on people’s radar screens, and indirectly marketing yourself, your brand, and/or your business. Remember, quality trumps quantity, so don’t spread yourself too thin. Organic growth of quality followers will deliver the best long-term growth results. Every day that you wait to join the online conversation is a missed opportunity.

What do you think about these points to begin your mission to build a solid online brand?  What would you add, change or delete?

Forget “The Box”


I literally wince every time I hear someone (often from another agency) say “we need to think outside the box” on this project/campaign/strategy.

Forget “thinking outside the box”.  There is no “box” in today’s marketing.

As a consumer, I’ve become cynical and skeptical about being marketed to.  The more impressions I get every day, the more I crave value, relevancy and authentic messages and images.  I want to connect on a much deeper level to the brands that I choose to love and allow into my life.

Look around us at the brands that are succeeding even in today’s economic climate – Avatar, iPad, Old Spice are a few good examples.  No matter how rotten the economy, or how en vogue it is to abhor conspicuous consumption, we’ll gleefully plop down our precious earnings for brands  that inspire us, entertain us, and in general, provide us a respite from the traditional ad pitch.

With social media, it seems that the experience economy has literally exploded.  No matter what your social status, your spot in the world, or your preferences, your life has picked up speed to a blurry pace.  By the time traditional advertising has caught up with you, you’ve already seen it, reviewed it with your friends, and if you liked (or disliked) it – shared it with a much broader group of individuals that the traditional ad agency may not have even begun to target.

And so it goes that social media is here to stay – in a big way.  I’m personally not convinced that social media is marketing alone – but just an important channel that must now be considered in every campaign, from every perspective conceivable.

Today, more than ever before, brands need to be fast.  They need to be smart.  And they need to speak to their audiences in more specific, relevant ways that people will actually pay attention to, and share with their community.  Traditional media may still be the foundation of that communication, but it’s certainly not the mainstay.

What do you think the future of marketing looks like?  What brands are resonating with you…and why?  Please share your thoughts, we’d appreciate your viewpoint!

Will “Social Media” Phrase Peak In 2012?


According to a post by Justin Kistner, Social Evangelist at web analytics company Webtrends, social media will peak in 2012 – just in time for the Mayan calendar to end and the world as we know it. Mr. Kistner also noted today that the current era of social media “is Facebook’s game to lose.”

Some interesting data Google Trends (below) suggests that the term ‘Web 2.0’ became popular in 2005 and peaked in mid-2007.  How was this measured?  Google use, of course. . You see that the term “social media” started to become popular in 2008, and then took a sharp turn upwards in usage n 2009.


I’ll side with to Kistner’s assessment that we have a year or two more of growth with the use of the term “social media”.  If the trending proves similar to other semantic trends,  2012 would be a reasonable year for it to peak.

Do you think the term “social media” could last longer in the venacular than “web 2.0”?  What might the next popular phrase for this communication sector be if not?

The Social Media Hype For Restaurants


courtesy of GRDine.com

As with many trends, there’s always an axis in the bell curve of popularity.  So it goes with social media; although that axis has yet to appear.  When it first arrived on the marketing scene, social media was seen as a “God send” for the struggling restaurant industry.  From the biggest to the smallest, restaurant chains to mobile food trucks embraced social media like no other market sector.

But has it really worked?

Here’s an interesting review of the effectiveness for social media from Nation’s Restaurant News. The publication asked both restaurants and consumers about their engagement in social media.  The magazine basically focused on Facebook and Twitter – the two most commonly used social media platforms in the industry today.  What they discovered was more than enlightening.

  • Although 61% of restaurants said they were actively on Facebook, only 8% of consumers said they ever follow restaurants via Facebook.
  • 78% of restaurants planned to use Facebook even more in the next 6 months to market themselves, but a mere 15% of consumers said they planned to “like” and follow restaurants.
  • Although 53% of restaurants say they currently use Twitter to market themselves, only 3% of consumers say they  follow any restaurants on Twitter.
  • While 66% of restaurants say they plan to use Twitter more in the next 6 months, just 9% of consumers say they will use Twitter more to follow restaurants.

So the trend here is that restaurants may see social media as an inexpensive, effective way to market themselves, but the market they seek may not be there.  What may be most concerning in this trend is that, even in these difficult economic conditions, restaurant owners may not be investigating other affordable alternatives to their marketing mix – with hopes that social media will “save the day”.  Clearly, they may be betting on a trend that may not prove effective for them in the long run.

I believe that in time, social media’s wild enthusiasm will give way to the hysteria – and we’ll return to a more balanced perspective of how to find, engage, and attract consumers for restaurants – and other brands.

Perhaps, just in time for the iAd craze to start.

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