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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
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Thoma + Thoma Agency Website

Branding Like the Big Boys


UIYB 241 Transcript
[00:00:09] GM:
Welcome to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, a production of
agandbanner.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
[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
It wasn't long before their small creative boutique got noticed. The power couple’s
rm 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, de
ne and articulate brand power.
© 2023 Up In Your Business
UIYB 241 Transcript
We're going to
nd 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
[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
[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
rst 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.
© 2023 Up In Your Business
UIYB 241 Transcript
[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,
agandbanner.com?” And I'm like, “Well –”
[00:03:54] GM:
It’s the
rst one.
[00:03:54] MT:
Got there
rst. Got there
rst, 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
© 2023 Up In Your Business
UIYB 241 Transcript
[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
ve 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.
© 2023 Up In Your Business
UIYB 241 Transcript
[00:06:37] KM:
Who are you working for in Mexico? You speak Spanish.
[00:06:39] MT:
I'm learning.
[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
[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?
© 2023 Up In Your Business
UIYB 241 Transcript
[00:07:38] KM:
That’s kind of what you – well, that is exactly what you are. You’re a journalist
[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 pro
les, these were process-
oriented, research-oriented, pure creativity-oriented. Just a
ash of brilliance. And Melissa came
out 10 out of 10 on this pure creativity dimension.
© 2023 Up In Your Business
UIYB 241 Transcript
I'm like, “Okay. Well, this really explains her.” Because she's just pure creative. She's just pure
repower, you know? You don't even have to get through the brief before she's got 10 answers
for you.
[00:08:58] KM:
[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
[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 in
uences of Melissa, my wife. I was
kind of wandering around in college trying to
nd 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.”
© 2023 Up In Your Business
UIYB 241 Transcript
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?
© 2023 Up In Your Business
UIYB 241 Transcript
[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:
[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.
© 2023 Up In Your Business
UIYB 241 Transcript
[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
agandbanner.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
nd interesting and
inspiring. Stay up to date by joining
agandbanner.com’s mailing list. You'll receive our water
cooler weekly eblast that noti
es you of our upcoming guests, happenings at Dreamland
Ballroom, sales at
agandbanner.com, access to Brave Magazine articles and Kerry’s current
blog post. All that in one weekly email. Or you may simply like
agandbanner.com’s Facebook
page for timely noti
Telling American made stories, selling American made
ags, the
agandbanner.com. Back to
you, Karrie.
© 2023 Up In Your Business
UIYB 241 Transcript
[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
[00:15:05] KM:
[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 of
ce 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
[00:15:38] KM:
Flags with other –
[00:15:40] MT:
Flags. Yeah, logos,
ags, 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?
© 2023 Up In Your Business
UIYB 241 Transcript
[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
[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,
[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.
© 2023 Up In Your Business
UIYB 241 Transcript
[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
gure out what it was going to show on TV. Find out what
you want to sell and then
nd out the avenue that best
ts 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
gure 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
nd 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
rst 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
ag, but they see your name and they come down and say, “Well, I think I'll buy a boat
[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
nd something else. That's –
© 2023 Up In Your Business

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