Last night I went to an event at the Digital Arts Experience in White Plains, NY called "Branding in a Digital World: How to Stay in your Lane." I left, with my head spinning as it is want to do after listening and interacting with smart, insightful entrepreneurs and experts. 

There was the very exuberant Chris Dessi, founder of Silverback Social, who had so much to say he sometimes had to be gently coaxed to stop--even though I could have listened to him talk for the whole hour.

Brett Collins, a typography and web designer (Oh God how I miss good old-fashion typography -- a lost art for which I have deep affection for given my years as an art director). Brett founded Counterspace, and his web designs  are so well-conceived that as a visitor I was sucked in by the nuance of each and every choice he has made.

And Sherry Bruck, CEO of Harquin, whose 25-years of experience in traditional marketing have made her razor-sharp when it comes to breaking through the clutter without losing sight of what a brand stands for. And remarkably, she does it without hurling a bunch of "guru" catchphrases at you. 

I learned a lot, but here are some of the things that have stuck with me and are great for clients, from mom-and-pop shops to Fortune 500 companies, to think about when deciding how to brand and market themselves--using experts of course.

Just because there are literally hundreds of digital tools to be used doesn't mean they're all right for you. A true expert will understand not only who your real audience is (and lots of times it's not who you think), but which are the right tools to reach them. Who knows, maybe a 6-second vine video will do more to raise awareness than 6 blog entries. 

While content has always been king, context has become more important than ever. Chris recounted how the savvy marketers at Oreo were so tuned in to real-time events that when the lights went out at the Superbowl they designed and tweeted this ad which was retweeted more than 14,000 times and made advertising history.


Great content. Great context. So be aware of what's going on in your field, with your supporters and even your competitors.

Know your audience to build brand equity. Chris relayed a great story about the brand Little MissMatched--a company that sells adorable mismatched socks that are super hot with tweens and teens. He created posts and tweets that used teen-speak (lots of LOL's, and !!!) not realizing at the time that the true audience for the product was actually moms and when you're speaking to someone it really helps to do it in their language.

Sometimes you want to be all things to all people, but you will fail.  Find your niche. Sherry's friend, a personal trainer in her 40's was trying to target both the old and young, male and female, fit and those just starting out. It's pretty hard to compete against all the other people in your field isn't it? Ultimately she focused on the female, over-40 set and guess what, her business boomed, because she could deliver the right services to a very specific audience with very specific needs and desires.

And lastly, Brett Collins' advice, "Be brave." Trust your marketing, social media and design partners to take the journey with you. Understand that they may not, and probably shouldn't, have all the answers the minute you ask them, but will work with you to delve into your brand's psyche and create some kick ass results.

And, when all else fails, be brave enough to "change lanes," pivot and try again.