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Martin Thoma
Thoma + Thoma Advertising Agency

Martin ThomaSince co-founding Thoma with his wife Melissa in 1998, Martin has conceived, developed and implemented communications and marketing programs ranging from new product initiatives for global technology companies to public information and safety campaigns for state agencies. His roots in journalism and writing have equipped him to successfully conceive and lead multiple national award-winning communications for regional and national clients.

Martin has represented local, state, regional and national organizations in the tourism, healthcare, energy, financial services, transportation, retail, hospitality, government, insurance and food service industries — including regional, national and international brands such as Entergy Corporation, Entergy Nuclear, MISO: Midwest Independent System Operator, SPP: Southwest Power Pool, MONI Smart Security, Aviagen, PotlatchDeltic, Comcast, Pizza Hut, Clarke-American, Jack Henry and Associates. Martin and his partner Melissa created the proprietary brand development process known as The Brand Navigator™ to help executive teams unleash the power of their brands to attract customers, engage and align employees, and drive revenues. Martin wrote the book, Branding Like the Big Boys: How to Grab Market Share, Improve Margins and Increase Loyalty In Your Small Business, available for purchase on Amazon. He is frequently sought out for comment on brands and branding by publications like Vice Sports, The Boston Globe, Arkansas Business and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. His ideas and efforts have been showcased in publications as diverse as eHealthcare Strategies & Trends, The Journal of Accountancy and Transportation Industry News.

Martin has criss-crossed the country speaking on the power of brand leadership, with appearances from Honolulu to Seattle to San Antonio. Martin is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and English.

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  • How Advertising has changed from analog to digital in the last 30 years
  • Why a good brand strategy is essential to growing your small business
  • Tips for developing a marketing budget, brand identity, and more ...

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Thoma + Thoma Agency Website

Branding Like the Big Boys




[00:00:09] GM: Welcome to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. Through storytelling and conversational interviews, this weekly biography show and podcast offers listeners an insider's view into the commonalities of successful people and the ups and downs of risk taking. Connect with Kerry through her candid, funny, informative and always encouraging weekly blog. And now it's time for Kerry McCoy to get all up in your business.


[00:00:35] KM: My guest today is Mr. Martin Thoma, the co-founder of the highly successful and aptly named ad agency, Thoma Thoma, in Little Rock, Arkansas. In 1989, after working several years in print journalism and copywriting for newspapers and ad agencies, Martin Thoma and his wife, Melissa, leveraged their talents, which are many, and opened Thoma Thoma, a branding and marketing communications firm.

It wasn't long before their small creative boutique got noticed. The power couple’s firm was winning awards and growing. Their dependability to conceive, develop and execute marketing campaigns has led to a diverse group of customers, projects and products. Nothing too big, nothing too small for the Thomas. Some of their body of work may be viewed on their website at thomathoma.com That's Thoma.

Besides being risk-takers and entrepreneurial necessity, the couple's gift may lie in identifying their clients’ strengths, developing their clients’ brand and getting the word out. So much so that they are the co-creator of the brand navigator system, they describe their software as a unique, proprietary and proven process to discern, define and articulate brand power.

We're going to find out what that means. And to share his learned and tested knowledge with both small and large companies alike, Martin Thoma writes and speaks frequently on the concept of living your brand. He has written a book, Branding Like the Big Boys.

It is my great pleasure and Gray’s great pleasure to welcome to the table my friend, fellow entrepreneur, visionary and longtime entrepreneur, businessman, Mr. Martin Thoma of Thoma Thoma Ad Agency. Hey, Martin, my friend.

[00:02:27] MT: Thank you, Kerry. Thank you for that wonderful introduction.

[00:02:29] KM: You're so welcome. You and I were on the cutting edge of technology in the mid-90s.

[00:02:36] MT: When the internet was born.

[00:02:38] KM: But, you know, people weren't putting their credit cards online.

[00:02:41] MT: No, they weren't out. That was a whole new thing.

[00:02:45] KM: And we were out there spending our tiny little savings on this newfangled idea and product. I mean, it was me and you, Marla Johnson from Aristotle and John Paul, JP fitness.

[00:03:01] MT: That's right. That's right.

[00:03:01] KM: Those were the only people I knew in Little Rock doing it.

[00:03:03] MT: That’s right. That’s right. Yeah. That was a big bet at that time. And you were going all-in on ecommerce. You were out in front, Kerry.

[00:03:09] KM: It almost – so were you. You help do my first website. It almost bankrupted me also, because we were too far ahead. And I learned what the meaning of being on the bleeding edge of technology means.

[00:03:21] MT: Means you're bleeding red ink.

[00:03:23] KM: You are bleeding red ink.

[00:03:25] MT: Yes. Well, and there are early adopters, and there are generally not enough early adopters to make commerce go. It just took a while, didn’t it?

[00:03:36] KM: Mm-hmm. It did.

[00:03:36] MT: But I will give you this. There are a lot of ecommerce startups that are gone, gone, gone. Aren't they? There are a lot of them. There are a lot of them that are gone. And you have built a heck of a business on your ecommerce platform.

[00:03:49] KM: Well, thank you. People always ask me, “How do you get such great name, flagandbanner.com?” And I'm like, “Well –”

[00:03:54] GM: It’s the first one.

[00:03:54] MT: Got there first. Got there first, didn’t you?

[00:03:57] GM: I had my pick.

[00:03:58] KM: So let's talk about your business. Because it started – you and your wife started out in 1989.

[00:04:05] MT: That's right.

[00:04:06] KM: And here it is, 1995. There's this newfangled thing called the internet. What did you think your business was going to be when you started off that a little cottage boutique ad agency? What did you think you were going to be doing? Writing copy? You're a journalism major.

[00:04:22] MT: Melissa was a graphic designer. I was a copywriter. Together we could make layouts. We could make ads. We could make brochures. We could make TV spots, radio spots. We can do PR. We can pretty much put any kind of creative communication solution together. We were both sides of the of coin, if you will. Both sides of the equation.

When we set out, we really set out to create a freelance boutique. There was the two of us for about five years, maybe seven years. We didn't have a single employee other than the two of us. And so, our vision at that point was putting food on the table, bread and butter on the bread, and working for ourselves. Creating something that we can be proud of that we owned and that we had some agency over, direction over.

And so, as far as grand designs about building any certain kind of a business, that looked like something to us. At that point, I wouldn't say that we had that. We were really simply just trying to create a lifestyle and some agency for ourselves. Agency not as a business. Not as an ad agency. But agency in our own lives, where we had some control, some autonomy, some choices about the work, about the lifestyle, about the capabilities that we've built.

[00:05:43] KM: I guess you got more frustrated working for other people, because you had your own vision of what things should look like for customers, and they didn't always follow your plan. That's seems like that’s how entrepreneurs always start out.

[00:05:56] MT: I've got a feeling that's a pretty good description of an entrepreneur. Somebody who's frustrated working for others because they think they've got a better idea, a better way. They want to be their own boss.

You know, it's funny, I learned pretty quickly that being your own boss is really a myth, right? When you open your own business, now you have many bosses. Every one of your clients is now your boss. As well as you start hiring employees. Now they're your boss.

[00:06:24] KM: Yeah, that's so true.

[00:06:25] MT: But we do get to bank decisions. And Melissa and I just spent a month in Mexico, part vacation, part work from Mexico.

[00:06:37] KM: Who are you working for in Mexico? You speak Spanish.

[00:06:39] MT: I'm learning. Poquito.

[00:06:41] KM: I thought you did speak –

[00:06:43] GM: There you go.

[00:06:44] MT: You know, we didn't have to ask permission to go do that. We worked for our clients here in Arkansas and around the states. We didn't have a client in Mexico. We just wanted to work from somewhere else and try them. That was one of the learnings from COVID for us, that we should be – we could be anywhere in the world and still conduct business.

[00:07:05] KM: Be creative.

[00:07:05] MT: Right. Be creative.

[00:07:06] KM: And actually, get better ideas, because you're not in your boring same environment.

[00:07:10] MT: Right. The payoff for us is we didn't have to ask permission to do that. We got some agency in our own lives. And that's really – I think that was really the driver for us. We want to create –

[00:07:23] KM: You’re like Ernest Hemingway. I think he can live all around the –

[00:07:27] GM: Oh, even Cuba. Yeah.

[00:07:28] KM: And Arkansas.

[00:07:29] MT: Cuba, Key West. Yeah, Arkansas. Paris. Yeah. If you’re a writer, you can work wherever you are, right?

[00:07:38] KM: That’s kind of what you – well, that is exactly what you are. You’re a journalist major.

[00:07:40] MT: Yeah. Yeah. Right. Right. Exactly.

[00:07:43] KM: I like your blog. We're going to talk about your blog. Everybody should read your blog. You can tell your – it's not like my blog, which I've been writing since 2004. Can you believe I'm writing a blog that long?

[00:07:55] MT: Good for you. Yeah, yeah, that's almost 20 years now, isn't it?

[00:08:00] KM: And it's commitment. But you can tell I'm not a writer. You can tell you are a writer –

[00:08:07] MT: Well, if you write, you’re a writer, Kerry.

[00:08:09] KM: Son, Gray, go ahead and say it. He's making faces.

[00:08:13] GM: I'm the one that edits her blog every week.

[00:08:15] MT: Every writer needs a good editor.

[00:08:17] GM: For better or worse.

[00:08:19] KM: I know. It's fun, though. Melissa, let's talk about her talents. She's a graphic artist. She's an opera singer.

[00:08:27] MT: Melissa as a woman of many talents. She's very creative. She's the epitome of creative. You know, when we did some of these personality profiles, these were process-oriented, research-oriented, pure creativity-oriented. Just a flash of brilliance. And Melissa came out 10 out of 10 on this pure creativity dimension.

I'm like, “Okay. Well, this really explains her.” Because she's just pure creative. She's just pure firepower, you know? You don't even have to get through the brief before she's got 10 answers for you.

[00:08:58] KM: Really?

[00:08:57] MT: She’s a lot of fun to work with. She produces a lot of creative ideas in a very short time.

[00:09:03] KM: Were your parents entrepreneurs?

[00:09:06] MT: No, no, I'm the black sheep of the family.

[00:09:08] KM: What did they do?

[00:09:08] MT: My family is full of farmers, educators, PhDs, scientist, accountants, and the like. Nobody really got me growing up. Yeah, I'm the black sheep creative. I fell pretty far from the tree.

[00:09:27] KM: When you said I'm going to go into journalism, they were like, “What are you going to do with that?”

[00:09:32] MT: Well, I liked writing. So this is one of the influences of Melissa, my wife. I was kind of wandering around in college trying to find my way. Actually, studying chemistry at that point. My older brother's a chemical engineer. My dad's a PhD biochemist and –

[00:09:48] KM: Good Lord. You don't even know. You can’t even say what it is.

[00:09:51] MT: I can’t even say all the things that they do. My younger brother is a PhD, soil and water scientist. And so, here I was wandering around in college taking chemistry, inorganic chemistry and all these things, and doing well with it, but really not very happy with that, with that course of study. And this is about the time I got acquainted with Melissa. And she's like, “What do you like to do, Martin? What are you good at?” I was like, “Well, I really like to write.” She's like, “You got to come over here to the journalism department. It's full of writers. There are all kinds of really interesting characters over there. Come try it out.” So that was my encouragement to try journalism. Ultimately, majored in journalism and English together because I wanted to write.

[00:10:30] KM: So you weren't in college in the same buildings together. How did y'all ever even meet?

[00:10:35] MT: Well, we've gone to high school together. And so, we were a year apart. We bumped into each other on campus one day and got acquainted, reacquainted, acquainted, I guess? Yeah. A year apart in high school. That's a big difference in age.

[00:10:52] KM: That is. But not in college.

[00:10:53] MT: Not in college. Exactly.

[00:10:56] KM: What about where you grew up? Did you grow up in Arkansas? Is all your family in Arkansas?

[00:11:01] MT: I grew up in Fayetteville. I was born in New York. My dad was a university professor. We kind of moved around –

[00:11:07] KM: Where your parents live now?

[00:11:08] MT: My dad actually retired many years ago. He lives in Australia. And he's been an expat really almost since he retired. Thailand, Germany, Australia. He's lived all over the world.

[00:11:22] KM: He’s a soil scientist?

[00:11:22] MT: He's a biochemist. Yeah. My mother lives in Kansas City now. She's a retired educator and nurse.

[00:11:29] KM: So they're not together anymore?

[00:11:31] MT: No. They divorced when I was in high school.

[00:11:33] KM: He’s just too smart. Try telling her what to do all the time. I couldn't stand that.

[00:11:39] GM: No, you could not.

[00:11:41] KM: What does he think? What does your dad think about chemists? What does he think about COVID?

[00:11:45] MT: He's on the fringe of these things. He and I don't really agree very much on some of these dimensions regarding science, COVID and so forth. I’m not going to repeat –

[00:11:53] KM: Okay. Is he like Elon Musk? A crazy genius?

[00:11:57] MT: Yeah.

[00:11:57] KM: Although, I have to say, I have a crazy friend who's an artist. And he was telling me about Martians in space. And he listens to his ham radio and he can hear stuff going on out there. And I was like, Okay, I'm not going to be able to have drinks with you anymore because you make me crazy talking about this stuff.” And I'll be darned if NASA hasn't confessed that there's stuff out in space.

[00:12:16] MT: Oh, there’s a lot of stuff out. We don't know what all is out there.

[00:12:18] KM: Yeah. So I have to take black.

[00:12:20] MT: Quasars and blackholes.

[00:12:21] KM: Your dad may know more than we think. He's just ahead of his time. All right.

[00:12:24] MT: He might. He might.

[00:12:26] KM: He might. Let's give dad a break. All right, this is a great place to take a break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Mr. Martin Thoma, cofounder, with his wife Melissa, of Thoma Thoma Ad Agency in Little Rock, Arkansas. And author of Branding Like the Big Boys. He brought me the book. I can't wait to read it. And frequent guest speaker where he shares tips on marketing in the 21st century.

Still to come, we're going to talk about advertising. Building and identifying your company brand. Understanding and navigating the many varied advertising options in the 21st century. We'll be right back.


[00:12:57] GM: You're listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. Over 40 years ago with only $400, Kerry founded Arkansas Flag and Banner. During the last four decades, the business has grown and changed. Starting from door-to-door sales, then telemarketing, to mail order and catalog sales. Today she has branched out into podcasts, Facebook Live Stream and YouTube videos of this radio show.

Each week, you'll hear candid conversations between her and her guests about real-world experiences on a variety of businesses and topics that we hope you'll find interesting and inspiring. Stay up to date by joining flagandbanner.com’s mailing list. You'll receive our water cooler weekly eblast that notifies you of our upcoming guests, happenings at Dreamland Ballroom, sales at flagandbanner.com, access to Brave Magazine articles and Kerry’s current blog post. All that in one weekly email. Or you may simply like flagandbanner.com’s Facebook page for timely notifications.

Telling American made stories, selling American made flags, the flagandbanner.com. Back to you, Karrie.


[00:14:02] KM: Thank you, Gray. You're listening to Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy. I'm speaking today with Mr. Martin Thoma, an author and a public speaker on all things marketing. And the co-founder of Thoma Thoma ad agency.

Now we need to talk about marketing. Of all the things a small business owner does in a day, advertising to me is one of the hardest. It's intangible, it's a gray area and it's expensive. Is there a difference between marketing and advertising?

[00:14:33] MT: That’s a great question. I would nest advertising up under the discipline of marketing. There are a lot of activities that an organization undertakes that are marketing activities. Advertising being one of them. I put marketing communications up there as an umbrella over many communication initiatives that a business would take on. Building your website, social media, content marketing like this podcast, which is really clearly supporting your business.

[00:15:05] KM: Yes.

[00:15:05] MT: It’s given you a platform. It’s given me lots of audience members and given people a reason to share some content from a Flag and Banner around the internet. Public relations initiatives. Advertise now. Advertising, we can break it down into so many different kinds of activities and channels, right?

Promotional advertising. I'm looking around the office here. I'm seeing lots of coffee cups, and posters and banners. I know, you also have plenty of specialty products with people's logos on them.

[00:15:38] KM: Flags with other –

[00:15:40] MT: Flags. Yeah, logos, flags, slogans.

[00:15:45] KM: It's so hard and so gray that I some time in my 40s went back to college to take an advertising course. And the guy talked about the three P's. Product, placement, and price. Do they still do that?

[00:16:06] MT: Yeah. Those are fundamentals. I mean, one, what's your product? I mean, you can't market something if you don't have a thing to market. Place is where – like, where is it? How is it bought? Is it t bought at retail stores? Is it bought on a website? Is it bought in a food stall in the market in Miami?

[00:16:24] KM: And then, price.

[00:16:25] MT: Price. How is it priced?

[00:16:26] KM: You want to be the low leader.
[00:16:27] MT: Yeah. You're going to be the low-cost leader? You're going to be a premium price? You’re going to be a luxury good? A mass? EC companies, car companies, perfume, clothing companies trying to sometimes be all things to all people. And it can cause some dissonance.

[00:16:43] KM: You know what I saw on T – you know what I saw on newspaper? I saw a Cadillac dealer put up a price. Say, just for rounding numbers. Retail price, $50,000. Our price, 60. They were over-selling the suggested retailer’s price.

[00:17:01] MT: They could do that for a little while following COVID. I don't know if it still stays –

[00:17:05] KM: Isn’t that interesting? Talk about a luxury product. It was a Cadillac. And they're like –

[00:17:11] MT: Well, that was probably at a time when you couldn't get a Cadillac otherwise, right?

[00:17:15] KM: I've never seen that in my life.

[00:17:15] MT: Maybe you’re spending more than a new price on a used car. That was happening for a while.

[00:17:19] KM: And then one of the things I know that I learned when I went to that class and that I really was doing wrong, he said, “Don't let the tail wag the dog.” I would be like, “I want to advertise on TV.” So I'd pick the tail, which is –

[00:17:38] MT: Right. Right. I want to be on TV. Yeah.

[00:17:39] KM: They’re not trying to figure out what it was going to show on TV. Find out what you want to sell and then find out the avenue that best fits that your customer will be at. Just advertise to them. I was doing that backwards. I was making my ad campaign and then trying to figure out what I wanted to sell.

[00:17:57] MT: Yeah, so that's really the strategic planning function of marketing, which is really where marketing starts and lifts. You got to start with the strategy. What do I have to sell? How is it priced? Where I'm going to find the buyers? Who are going to be the buyers? And then you can start engineering your program, right?

Your professor was right. Don't let the tail wag the dog or you're going to piss away a lot of money doing that. Get a strategic focus. Find your buyers. Figure out what their motivations are and then speak to that.

[00:18:29] KM: When I first started advertising in the newspaper, I would put a product on the newspaper. And then my mother would come in and say, “Did you sell very many of those products?” And I'd say, “No. But we were really busy today.”

It's hard sometimes to know if it's working. Because you may be advertising a product, they see your name and they think, “Oh, I think I'll come down and buy.” You may be advertising the US flag, but they see your name and they come down and say, “Well, I think I'll buy a boat flag today.”

[00:19:01] MT: Yeah, it happens all the time, doesn't it? People think about going in for – or maybe they go to a website and looking for one thing and find something else. That's –

[00:19:09] KM: Is that hard to train your customers to understand that? Or do they just go, “Well, you tried to sell bunting today and it didn't sell. So you're no good.” Do your customer savvy enough to understand that?

[00:19:21] MT: They generally are. And they're genuinely looking at more macro initiatives. And particularly when we’re talking about –

[00:19:26] KM: Oh, yeah, micro, macro.

[00:19:28] MT: Yeah. And particularly, when we're talking about building a brand, you're not necessarily going to see a dollar for dollar with every expenditure you make. You have to look at the overall trend. You have to look at the overall results. You have to look at the program over time. Okay?

Yeah, it's a real catch 22. Because a lot of times, particularly as a small business, you don't really have the luxury of waiting until next year for those dollars to pay off. You need to get a sale now.

[00:20:00] KM: Let's talk about – and branding is about waiting. PR is about waiting. You got to have deep pockets to do long – those games. Let's talk about when you first started. There were three ways to advertise; TV, radio and the newspaper. And maybe a magazine.

[00:20:20] MT: Yeah. Maybe you add outdoor in there. But yeah, you generally have –

[00:20:23] KM: An outdoor.

[00:20:24] MT: You generally had now what we think of traditional or analog means of advertising. Kerry, when we started our business, we were sending type out to a Linotype typesetter. Getting it back in big sheets called [inaudible 00:20:38] and then pasting that down onto an artboard and sending that out to a pre-press operator just to make an ad. Now we build it all on our computer and we send a PDF. It's crazy. There're a lot of businesses that are laying on the side of the road now that just don't exist anymore. Revelations in communication.

[00:20:58] KM: In all technology.

[00:20:59] MT: Yeah. And then when you start talking about the ways and means through which you can get your message out, yes, there's just been a profusion of new media, new venues.

[00:21:10] KM: I have to say, of all the ways that – I mean, of course, Google AdWords. You can't have a business without – in my opinion, without buying into the Google AdWords.

[00:21:21] MT: Right. Right.

[00:21:22] KM: But direct mail does so good for the price.

[00:21:29] MT: Again, depends on what you're selling. Can be –

[00:21:31] KM: Do you use it very much?

[00:21:33] MT: We do some. A lot of times –

[00:21:34] KM: You’re not big on it.

[00:21:34] MT: A lot of times we do postcards. I like postcards because they're cheap to send. They're cheaper to make. And they're a billboard that comes in the mail, right? And you don't have to open it. You can look at it front back, get the message. If you've got a strong offer, a strong product, you've got good performance there.

[00:21:55] KM: And I've tested all different sizes and all different shapes. That big postcard does the best.

[00:21:59] MT: Yeah.

[00:22:00] KM: So there is your tip for the day, listeners. If you want to do direct mail, and don't you think you should go to your customers and your customer base first, that's the low-hanging fruit.

[00:22:12] MT: Yeah. The old rule of thumb is it costs 20% as much to sell to an existing customer as it does to acquire a new customer.

[00:22:21] KM: How much?

[00:22:22] MT: 20%. Cost 1/5th as much to sell something to an existing customer versus creating a new customer. And intuitively, I mean, maybe those numbers shift around. But intuitively, we get it, right? They already have a relationship with you. They understand you. They know you and trust you.

[00:22:38] GM: Brand loyalty.

[00:22:39] MT: Yeah, they're loyal to you. So those are your best prospects, your existing customers.

[00:22:44] KM: I am amazed when I see a second-generation child takeover the first-generation business. Their dad or somebody passes it down to him and they take it. And the first thing they do is they cut their advertising budget, so they can have more money on the bottom line. And before long, that business is gone.

[00:23:04] MT: This just is no longer a world where if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door. If you build a better mousetrap, you better, by golly, market it and do it well and do it consistently.

[00:23:14] KM: And keep doing it. Yes, you've got to keep doing it.

[00:23:15] MT: Exactly. Exactly. Because there are thousands of other companies out there competing for attention every single day. You've probably seen the data. It depends on who you read. But there's anywhere from 3,000, to 7,000, or 8000 commercial messages that each of us as Americans receive every single day. That is a lot.

[00:23:33] KM: What did you say?

[00:23:35] MT: 3,000 to 8,000 depending on what study you read.

[00:23:39] KM: Messages we receive a day. The radio, the TV, your spam, your phone.

[00:23:43] MT: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. Exactly. Yeah.

[00:23:45] GM: Oh, I believe it. Yeah.

[00:23:48] MT: So that’s a lot of competition.

[00:23:48] KM: No wonder I can’t think of anything anymore. There’s too much stuff in my head.

[00:23:53] MT: Yeah, exactly. How can you process all that? Your brain is constantly filtering all that crap out? It’s constantly filtering it out.

[00:23:59] KM: What do you do with that knowledge?

[00:24:03] MT: What do I do with it?

[00:24:04] KM: Yeah.

[00:24:04] MT: Well, we have to recognize that the secret to efficiency, and success and marketing is being very focused, right? We've got to be focused with our audience definition. We got to be focused with our product definition and our value proposition. We've got to understand what it is people are looking for. And we've got to speak to those needs because that's what's going to rise up above the noise, right? We can't just hit everybody, every Tom, Dick and Harry with our message and hope to be successful. It's going to be too expensive. It's going to be wasteful. It's not going to be efficient.

[00:24:38] KM: Target marketing.

[00:24:38] MT: Exactly. We've got to target.

[00:24:40] KM: I took a class one time, a seminar, on how to hire employees and how to write a good employment ask when you're trying to hire somebody.

[00:24:47] MT: Help wanted ad?

[00:24:48] KM: Aha.

[00:24:48] MT: Yeah.

[00:24:49] KM: I was always saying, Flag and Banner needs la-la-la-la-la-la-la secretary to answer the phone. And I learned in that class speaking to your customers’ needs to flip it and say, “If you would like to work for –

[00:25:05] MT: Right. What do they need?

[00:25:07] KM: – for a progressive, fast-growing company answering the phone, call so and so. Whoa.

[00:25:14] MT: The script. We talk about speaking to benefits, not features.

[00:25:19] KM: Speaking to benefits.

[00:25:20] MT: Benefits. Not features. Here's a nice American flag up here. So we can talk about the stitching. We can talk about the fabric.

[00:25:30] KM: Yeah, 3 by 5 nylon flag.

[00:25:32] MT: Yeah, we could talk about the weight of the nylon and the stitch count and all kinds of stuff like that. That doesn't mean anything to anybody but you and the manufacturers. Or we could talk about the durability, the color fastness, the emotion.

[00:25:46] KM: The pride you’d feel. The emotion.

[00:25:49] MT: The emotion. I talked about brands as being the emotional connective tissue between us, our companies and our customers. Yeah, what's the emotional payoff? What's the benefit? Not the feature of the product. You're really flipping that point of view, right? Turning the telescope around and looking through the other end of it and talking to that individual from where they stand and from where their needs are.

[00:26:12] KM: If you want to feel proud about your home, buy a flag and put it out front.

[00:26:16] MT: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:26:18] GM: Flags are inherently emotional, and political and intense.

[00:26:23] MT: Exactly. Why do you fly a flag? You fly a flag to express yourself and to convey some sense of meaning. Yeah.

[00:26:28] KM: That's what makes it so hard to advertise Arkansas Flag and Banner and why I'm everywhere all the time buying ad spaces. Because every American wants a flag.

[00:26:40] MT: Right. But when? Yeah. You got it. Right? When do they want it? That also goes to the – that goes to our work, which is building awareness, building associations. When somebody finally comes around to “I want a flag”, who do they think of? We want them to think of you.

[00:26:57] KM: That's what I say all the time. We got to keep sending it out year-round. Because they may not be buying right now. But they've got to remember us when they decide to buy it. You're exactly right.

Let's talk about this because we got a lot to cover. Google SEM, social media SEM. Search engine marketing. That's Google spend. Do you think everybody has to do it? Because I sure spend a lot of bucks on it.

[00:27:20] MT: Yeah. Again, it depends on what your product is. But if you want to be found on the internet, you are going to have to master search. And you're listing off some acronyms there. But two key components of search are paid search, which is search engine marketing, or SEM. Google AdWords, Bing, lots of other ways that you can be found in search. Even in YouTube and Facebook. You can buy Search Script and ads.

And then organic search, SEO, is optimizing your website, so that people find you through the organic links. So we're just going to say this for your listeners, that when we do a search, we get a whole list of sponsored links, which are ads. And in the sandwich in the middle, the cream filling of the Oreo, is all the organic stuff. 70% to 80% of people only click on organic links.

[00:28:15] KM: Really? I did not know that.

[00:28:19] GM: So how do you – really? That’s interesting. Because if you think, every Tom, Dick and Harry isn't paying that much attention. And they're just going to click what is the most convenient, you know? Which is –

[00:28:28] MT: Most people know. Yeah, most people know. Yeah. Because the data shows that the vast majority, not a slim majority, but the vast majority click the organic link. Really, you want in the top three to five. But number one is best. Top three is next to best.

[00:28:45] KM: Have you noticed that Bing is an older clientele?

[00:28:50] MT: I haven't.

[00:28:53] KM: So we have noticed that Bing has an older clientele because you buy computers and they already have that Microsoft on it. And they never change it.

[00:29:00] MT: They never bother to go look and use a different search engine.

[00:29:01] KM: Yes. That's a tip for everybody. We advertise on both of them. Okay, before we go to our next break and then come back and talk about brand marketing seriously, about your software, text messaging. Everybody's sick of spam. I can't tell you how many people don't open their emails anymore. It's kind of weird. If you don't sit at a desk, you use your phone. If you sit at a desk – and it didn't used to be that way. I've noticed my mailbox is back full of brochures again.

[00:29:31] MT: Oh, your physical mailbox?

[00:29:34] KM: Mm-hmm. Have you noticed?

[00:29:35] MT: Yeah. I get a lot of nonprofit fundraising. I get a lot of products that are coming through. I get a lot of information from car dealers.

[00:29:40] KM: Yeah. And then, for a while, you didn't have that. For a while, your mailbox was empty again, and everybody went to email marketing. And then now that people are not opening their emails, I've noticed, the opening rate is not as good, is we're going to text marketing. What do you think about text?

[00:29:59] MT: Well, text is – I'm going to say it's more intrusive because people pay more attention to their text. It's harder to get people onto tax. And most often, it's opt in or it's your customers. Again, you're talking about the value of communicating first with your own customers. Text is a great way to do that. And there are certainly very effective platform for broadcast text messaging to your customers or to other audiences. They will suffer the same overload as it becomes easier for marketers to get cellphone numbers and to send them. You're probably seeing it. I'm seeing it in my phone.

[00:30:37] GM: My text messaging app already has a spam filter built into it.

[00:30:42] KM: So what's the next thing?

[00:30:44] MT: What's the next thing is probably going to be some sort of –something that's riding on the back of these artificial intelligence, search engines, ChatGPT.

[00:30:54] KM: We’re going to have holograms show up at our door and go, “Hello, Miss McCoy. I heard she wanted to have Amazon deliver something for you today. I'm here to assist you in your purchase.”

[00:31:05] MT: Yeah, it is. It's search, audio search or voice-activated search, right? People are using the smart speakers. How do we insert ourselves into that conversation?

[00:31:16] KM: Oh, yeah. Alexa, Alexa, Alexa, I'm looking for my package. Do you know where it is? Yes. Kerry. It's in St. Louis.

[00:31:23] MT: Yeah.

[00:31:23] KM: Okay. Let me ask you, is there a standard percentage or a guideline for a business of how much they should advertise? I know Coke, who cost nothing to make their product. Has a huge advertising budget. They spend all their money on probably transportation, but not on making the product. Because Coke cans and coke don't cost anything.

[00:31:45] MT: Right. Right. Yeah.

[00:31:46] KM: Is there a standard percentage or a guideline for a business of how much they should advertise? I would love for it to be 8% or 12%.

[00:31:55] MT: Yeah, I've got a couple chapters in my book on this, because I did some research and provided some comparisons. Some of it comes down to the appetite of the advertiser and how aggressive they are. There are some rules of thumb. If you've got a highly transactional business, like a hamburger stand, like Coke, like McDonald's, like Burger King, or Jimmy John's, Raley’s. You know, people eat every day. But you have to continually remind them of your product.

Those companies are spending 7%, 8%, 10% of sales on advertising and marketing. If you've got a firm that's more relationship-oriented and less transactional-oriented, so an accounting firm, a law firm, other kinds of business-to-business firms, they're often spending 1%, 2%. Sometimes less than 1% of sales on marketing.

[00:32:53] KM: I don't know how you don't spend money with Google. Because the minute you turn it up, you make more sales.

[00:32:59] MT: Yeah. Yeah. Well, then it’s just a matter of making sure that it's optimized, right? And so, getting the right return on investment.

[00:33:07] KM: I mean, I have to pay somebody to do that. I have to pay it, outsource it to a company to do that. I cannot do it anymore. 20 years ago, you could do it in office.

[00:33:15] MT: I don't think it pays any individual business owner to try to become an expert at Google AdWords. It’s a science. It requires software. And it requires people who have their heads under the hood doing that day-in and day-out or you're wasting money. I think you're going to get a better return by hiring a professional and an expert to help you optimize that spend.

And that's really what you want to look at, right? I mean, you can spend any amount on Google that you can spend if you're making back the ROI on. You can just keep spending. Yeah.

[00:33:50] GM: Do you feel like that thinking applies to other aspects of marketing or advertising? Do you outsource who's doing your mail lists or your TV ad production? Or you know, at some point –

[00:34:02] KM: How much do you want to do in-house and how much do you want –

[00:34:04] GM: Yeah, at some point, I feel like our in-house marketing department expands and contracts a lot at Flag and Banner as the times change.

[00:34:12] MT: Yeah. Yeah, that's a great question. And almost every business confronts that. All of our clients have in-house capabilities as well as an agency helping them. Sometimes more than one agency. There are plenty of client marketing organizations that that go and kind of cherry pick and hire experts in certain areas.

[00:34:35] KM: Yeah. So if you're great at brand, and somebody else is great at Google AdWords, and somebody – yeah. Yeah.

[00:34:38] MT: Yeah. And in our case, we'll even create partnerships with some of our – with subcontractors and partners who are particularly expert at certain capabilities. We don't necessarily try to be all things to all people.

I think that's a – again, it's an ROI. [inaudible 00:34:55] capability question. How good do you think you can be? And how much talent do you think you can hire? And how well can they perform? There are plenty of organizations that only have in-house marketing teams. You know, and they've got big ones.

There are others that really don't spend that much time. They hey hire one or two experts who are going to be the quarterbacks and the chieftains and they're going to kind of call the shots and organize the outsource relationships. I don't think there's any silver bullet to that question. But it's a great question. That’s one that –

[00:35:30] KM: But there’s not one shoe fits all.

[00:35:31] MT: There's not. And every business owner and leader is going to have to grapple with that themselves and probably kind of flip flop around a little bit on deck until they figure out exactly what the right mix is.

[00:35:42] KM: Yeah. Yeah. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Mr. Martin Thoma, co-founder of Thoma Thoma Ad Agency, a branding and marketing communications firm in Little Rock, Arkansas. Still to come, what does it mean when Martin says, “We help clients live their brand?” We’ll learn what their trademarked brand navigator system software tool does. And Branding Like the Big Boys, Martin's book. Are his pearls of wisdom still relevant in the ever-changing landscape of advertising? And the biggest question, the biggest little mistake companies make in marketing. We’ll be right back.


[00:36:21] ANNOUNCER: Get ready for the flag season, and Flag and Banner can really set you up. We sell so much more than just flags. We also have decorative bunting, full fans and many other patriotic accessories for your house. Stop by our showroom in Downtown Little Rock for more ideas. Get ready for flag season.

Show your red, white and blue for Memorial Day to the Fourth of July. Shop flagandbanner.com or come on buy the showroom downtown Little Rock at 800 West Ninth Street. Flagandbanner.com


[00:36:51] KM: You're listening to Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy. And I'm speaking today with Mr. Martin Thoma, co-founder of the Thoma Thoma Ad Agency. A recognized author and a public speaker on branding, marketing strategy and communications. If you missed the last segment, you should go and listen to it. There was some good stuff if you're a small business owner and you're wanting to advertise.

I will say this about advertising that I noticed that small entrepreneurs do all the time. And I've been guilty of it. Sales are down. What's the first expense you cut? Advertising. Now sales are really down. If you're a really risk-taking entrepreneur and your sales are down, you need to find some advertising dollars to get them back up. It's the opposite of what you might think.

[00:37:36] MT: Yeah, I've written a couple of blogs on this, Kerry, during recessionary periods. Because we definitely see that recessionary winds or recessionary headlines are all in the newspapers and all over the internet.

[00:37:48] KM: Scares everybody to death.

[00:37:49] MT: Scares everyone to death. And truly, one of the first and the easiest things to cut is advertising span, right? I don't have to cut any payroll. I don't have to lay anybody off. I don't have to lose sleep at night over the jobs that I've just cut and the people who are my friends, and my family and my employees that I just put on unemployment. Yeah, advertising is an easy cut to make.

But the data shows that those companies that do that suffer, and they suffer for a long time. Companies that, through recessionary periods, continue advertising, gain market share. And that market share grows over time. It grows much more rapidly after the recessionary period is over than before. Yeah, smart. Hard to do. Got to dig deep to do it. But you're right, it is probably one of the most counterproductive cuts to make.

[00:38:47] KM: You know, I learned that the hard way. I didn't know the data support it. But I have definitely learned that the hard way. Martin, you say our goal is to serve ambitious, growth-oriented companies for whom smart brand strategy and aggressive execution can create market-moving results. When a client comes to you, what is the first thing you ask them?

[00:39:08] MT: What do you want to accomplish? I mean, our work is simply in service to our clients’ strategic business objectives. So branding, advertising, public relations, any of these initiatives that we help create and facilitate for our clients is really only in service to the business objective. That's the first question.

Second question is, how can we help? We can explore that then? Because most likely, just as we were talking about a little while ago, most likely that organization has some capabilities. They've got some smarts. They've got a whole track record.

[00:39:44] KM: So if you asked that question, I'd say I want to grow my business. That's what I want. And they go, “Well, how do you want to do that?” And you go, “I don't know. That's why I'm here. What do you think?” And then you start in with – I liked what you said here. Nearly every client engagement seemed to reinforce their philosophy that a brand was not so much a marketing discipline, as a leadership discipline. Do you get in the head of these people? Do you go look at their business?
Or –

[00:40:10] MT: Oh, sure. Yeah, when we get into a brand – when we get into a brand strategy development exercise or consultation, the first order of business is really to understand what makes that organization tick. What makes it unique? What makes it desirable to do business with?

And we go through a discernment process with the executive team to really try to get our fingers onto the DNA, what we call the DNA of the company. And then, Kerry, we complement that with a – we call that the inside-out look. And we complement that with an outside-in look, which is market research. Interviewing their customers. Serving them online. Getting into the heads of their customers. Then hearing the voice of the customer.

And we often, often hear through these customer interviews words, phrases, ideas that ultimately find their way into the brand strategy, because now we've got the customers talking back to us.

[00:41:04] KM: Is it hard to get customers to talk to you?

[00:41:08] MT: It's surprisingly easy. People like to be asked their opinion. And we do this through a number of means. We'll seek phone interviews. We'll conduct focus groups. We like what we call focus conversations that really focus groups of one that are generally done over a phone call. And then we'll also do internet-enabled surveys.

[00:41:29] KM: So if I hired you, you’d look at my customers and you go, “Can I call these people?” And go, “Okay.” And you call them up, say, “Why do you like working with Arkansas Flag and Banner?”

[00:41:36] MT: And we develop a comprehensive survey that's really diagnostic and probative about validating and informing those uniques that we came up with in the inside-out.

[00:41:49] KM: Does any other ad agency do that? Or is that just you?

[00:41:52] MT: Many ad agencies do market research. I don't believe that there's any agency in the Mid-South that has designed, developed and proven out a system like our brand navigator system.

[00:42:02] KM: What is the brand navigator system?

[00:42:04] MT: So the brand navigator is a process. It's a consultative process.

[00:42:09] KM: But its trademark.

[00:42:10] MT: Its trademarked. You mentioned it. You said it was a software. I wouldn't call it a software product. It's a technology. It's really intellectual property of our firm. Okay? It's a consultative process that we take our clients through. We navigate them through the brand strategy formation process.

[00:42:29] KM: Is it an app? Or is it a piece of paper that you enter questions on?0

[00:42:34] MT: It's a consultation with our smart people. Okay? It's a process we're going to take our clients through that begins with the inside-out, which is a discernment with the executive team as to what makes the product, service or company unique.

[00:42:51] KM: It’s like a hard thing to trademark. It's a conversation. You can trademark a conversation.

[00:42:57] MT: Yeah, it's a process. It's a consultative process that nobody else knows how to do but us. So it's our secret sauce, right? So you can trademark that.

[00:43:04] KM: I didn’t know that.

[00:43:07] MT: Yeah, you definitely can.

[00:43:07] GM: Yeah. It’s intellectual property, right? It's like an idea. Yeah.

[00:43:10] MT: Right. Yeah. Idea, a process, a system.

[00:43:14] KM: I didn’t mean to keep interrupting you. You bring them in and they say, “Yes, I want to do business with you.”

[00:43:21] MT: Right. Right. Right.

[00:43:21] KM: And then you say, “All right, let's start the brand navigator system.” Or do you do that before you decide to take on a customer? And do you ever decline clients?

[00:43:33] MT: Okay, several questions there. The brand navigator is typically an engagement, right? So our clients already hired us to help them with their brand strategy formation. Once they've hired us, then this is typically the first thing that we do. Not always. Some clients are – they're really in a hurry to get to market with something and they need an advertising, a marketing, social media program built. We may get right to work and come along and work on the brand over time. We've done it that way.

But generally, our first engagement is the brand strategy formation. That yields a system of narratives, we call narratives or mantras that are the – we termed them the brand leadership frames, Kerry. You mentioned this earlier. A brand is a leadership principle, not a marketing activity. That would be something that separates our –

[00:44:29] KM: A brand is a leadership principle.

[00:44:32] MT: A brand is a leadership principle. Because a brand is really – and managing a brand is really about everything you do. It's not about your ads. It's not about your logo. It's not about your website solely. Those are components of brand expression. But really, building a brand, differentiating your company, helping get new customers and drive loyalty through the power of your brand is a matter of leadership.

[00:44:59] KM: It’s like a personality of the company?

[00:45:01] MT: Yeah. You know, Jeff Bezos – I've got a definition of a brand that I like to use. Jeff Bezos of Amazon once said, “Your brand is what people say about you when you leave the room.” Okay? Using his definition, it’s really your reputation. I like to say, and the definition that we use is that your brand is everything that is thought, known, said felt and experienced about your company product or thing, right?

When you think about it that way, everything is in your brand. Your brand is everything thought, known, said, experienced, felt. It's got knowledge. It's got word of mouth. It's got feelings in it. That's all your brand.

If you want to use that definition, and then you want to start working on managing your brand and turning your brand into a competitive weapon, which is really what we're trying to do. We're trying to use that brand to move the market, to move the world. To acquire customers, and market share and attract and retain the best employees.

Then managing your brand becomes a matter of managing everything you do. Everything you do, you say, how you show up, what your culture is inside your company, what your customer service definition is, your customer experience, all of that is in your brand. And all of that requires management and leadership. This is why we say live your brand.

[00:46:30] KM: Live your brand.

[00:46:31] MT: How do you do brands? You live your brand?

[00:46:34] KM: And that's what your books about.

[00:46:35] MT: That’s what my book is about.

[00:46:37] KM: And you got that because you have had really, really big customers. And you've had really small customers.

[00:46:46] MT: That's right.

[00:46:46] KM: And so, your book is aptly named Branding Like the Big Boys. So you kind of learned all of this personality branding from the big boys maybe and decided to give it to the little guys?

[00:46:57] MT: Yeah. What we've done, we've worked with really big companies. A lot of our work is with small and middle market companies. Most of our clients are small and middle market-wise.

[00:47:07] KM: And then you get a big sale in there. Good for you.

[00:47:09] MT: Yea. But we looked at the development of brands and may recognize that the really big companies and the national brands were effective at this. And they were using certain practices and principles well.

Our own client didn't really grok that. A lot of times they showed up and said, “I just want to make the cash register ring.” You know? Okay, we want to help you make the cash register ring. But consider this, consider what Coke, and Mercedes, and Google, and Apple, and Nike, and Nordstrom and all of the really successful, well-known, well-loved brands are doing to manage to live their brand. And consider whether you can't, as a small and middle market business, also do some of that.

Yeah, you don't have the multi-millions and you don't have the armies of MBAs leading all this that Google does, or Nordstrom, or whoever, Apple, right? But you've got assets. You've got smart people. You've got capability. And in many ways, as an entrepreneurial company, you have more agency and control over what happens, right?

[00:48:18] KM: Yes. Absolutely.

[00:48:19] MT: Over what the culture is in your company. What the customer service is. What the customer experience is. What the advertising message is. You have much more control.

[00:48:28] KM: How the employees act.

[00:48:30] MT: Exactly.

[00:48:31] KM: Okay, here, give me an example.

[00:48:33] MT: If I could bring a couple of banks to the table, a bank that we work with in North Arkansas that has operations in Ash Flat, Batesville, Mountain Home, Salem, Melbourne, all over. FNBC Bank. And banks are customer service organizations. At the end of the day, what really tends to differentiate them is the customer experience that they deliver, the customer relationships that they forge. And truly, their people.

Our work with FNBC in crystallizing, and characterizing and communicating their brand uniques ultimately led to them be becoming one of the most sought-after employment destination. They began attracting the best bankers in that region.

[00:49:20] KM: That's great.

[00:49:20] MT: And they attracted some very high-caliber, very talented banking teams that were fed up with big banks that had acquired their small banks, and they wanted to work in a better culture. So they approached the CEO of our clients. Said, “Hey, we understand that you're the best bank to work for in the region. We’re thinking about leaving. And we want to explore this with you.”

[00:49:44] KM: Martin, thank you for bringing me that book.

[00:49:48] MT: You're welcome.

[00:49:49] KM: I told everybody that I would ask you, what's the number one mistake too many small businesses make?

[00:49:54] MT: I love this question. I often say that I got my MBA in the pages of Inc. Magazine. Both Melissa and I had journalism and liberal arts degrees. We didn't know anything about running a business when we started a business. And I came across an article many years ago. It was an interview with an entrepreneur. And this little phrase stuck with me for a long time, “I'm successful now. But I had no idea how much work, how much time and how much money it would take to get there.” And I just keep that in mind. It is going to take longer. You're going to work harder and you're going to make less than you ever thought possible until it shifts.

[00:50:37] KM: Until you don't.

[00:50:38] MT: Until you don't. That's right. I guess I would kind of distill that to the number one mistake could be unreasonable expectations and thinking that starting a business is a get-rich-quick scheme. It's not. It's a slow, disciplined effort that will reward you in many ways, in many more ways than you ever thought possible if you'll stick with it.

[00:51:03] KM: Great advice. I love your blog. Where can people read your blog?

[00:51:09] MT: Thomathoma.com. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:51:10] KM: Thomathoma.com.

[00:51:13] MT: That's right.

[00:51:13] KM: And can you sign up for it?

[00:51:15] MT: Yeah, you can subscribe to it.

[00:51:17] KM: You can subscribe to it. It's a really good blog. I really enjoyed reading it. And are you still doing speaking engagements?

[00:51:23] MT: I'll speak anywhere anybody asked me to come. Yeah, you bet.

[00:51:25] KM: Do you charge?

[00:51:26] MT: Generally, no.

[00:51:28] KM: You are kidding.

[00:51:27] MT: Generally, no. I get paid sometimes, but on honorarium. But yeah, I'll generally speak anywhere that anybody invites me.

[00:51:35] KM: Oh, that’s really nice of you sharing your knowledge. I've really enjoyed visiting with you. As I said at the beginning of the show, we've known each other for years. We've been in the trenches together.

[00:51:43] MT: That's right.

[00:51:44] KM: I have you a gift.

[00:51:46] MT: Thank you.

[00:51:49] KM: If I had known you were born in New York City, I'd have brought you a New York City – I’d have brought your New York flag. But I didn't know that. So I bought you in Arkansas and a US flag.

[00:51:57] MT: I’m an Arkansas through and through. So that’s –

[00:51:59] KM: Yeah, you grew up here. There you go.

[00:52:00] MT: There we go. Thank you. Thank so you much.

[00:52:03] KM: For your desk set, a desk set of US and Arkansas flag.

[00:52:07] MT: I love it. I can show my colors proudly now.

[00:52:09] KM: You sure can. Thanks, Martin Thoma. Tell Melissa, I said hi.

[00:52:13] MT: I'll do it. Thank you, Kerry. Enjoyed this time together.

[00:52:14] KM: You’re welcome. Thank you.

In closing, to our listeners, thank you for spending time with us. We hope you've heard or learned something that's been inspiring or enlightening. And that it, whatever it is, will help you up your business, your independence or your life. I'm Kerry McCoy, and I'll see you next time on Up in Your Business. Until then, be brave and keep it up.


[00:52:34] GM: You've been listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. All interviews are recorded and posted the following week. Subscribe to podcasts wherever you like to listen. Kerry’s goal is simple, to help you live the American dream.


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