Rick Steves and How To Correctly Build a Brand

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July 17  |  Brand Building  |   Ryan Clark

I’ve been a HUGE fan of Rick Steves for over 10 years now and it’s finally dawned on me that I love the man for more than his amazing Books, DVD collection and podcasts: Rick Steves has built an empire doing what he LOVES and, in terms of building a brand, he’s done just about everything absolutely right. Rick may be the dorkiest travel man in the business yet he can teach us all a lesson in personal branding at its finest. His digital and broadcast empire has been done so well that it provoked me to write this post to showcase how things should be done. While Rick Steves is the brand name, he is powered by an amazing team that includes family and friends who dearly respect the man.

Photo Credit:

Do I secretly hope Rick will read this one day and consider hiring me to work with him? Yes. Am I sounding like the world’s biggest ass kisser at the moment? Yes. Either way, we’ll look at how Rick managed to transition seamlessly from Books and DVD’s to eventually taking over the web and building a brand that (I think) will be passed on for a very long time to come. Instead of regurgitating link building and social media marketing tips, I’ll be breaking down how the Rick Steves empire was built for the consumer in mind and why they NEVER have to worry about building links or tricking people into following them on Facebook/Twitter.

While you may not have heard of Rick Steves, he and his brand is “famous” within the travel industry. I’ve picked Rick to demonstrate what you should be doing here in 2012 and beyond. Over the years, so many brands have been duped or lead astray with lousy link building, boring social media efforts and no real long term branding strategy in play. I’m going to walk you through what it looks like when you put your love, effort and customers first and how that results in marketing gold. First up, for those who still don’t know who Rick is, check out this blooper clip from his show.

Video Credit: Rick Steves DVD’s

What Does A Natural Link Profile Look Like?

The main point I’m trying to get across is that doing amazing things and being active in your community/vertical will create the only truly natural link portfolio. The Rick Steves empire consists of a real world business first, and then the digital age takes over and his entire company adapts extremely well. Rick also does lectures and PBS specials, which, of course, lead to links and citations and, as you can see from the numbers below, it has done his company well!

Link Data via

That looks quite impressive; I’d hate to be his competition!

While not every company is going to be able to score this kind of a natural link profile easily, this should get your mind turning. Rick somehow manages to make the time to write for various authoritative sources and the rest of his links are seriously au-naturale! You won’t find Rick article marketing, socially bookmarking his content, spamming forums or blog commenting. I won’t completely break down Rick’s link profile as you can easily check it for yourself. I’d just like to showcase some of the goods and how being a leader in your vertical will draw in the links so well you’ll never have to build links.

Looking at the top links for Rick you’ll see he writes for The Huffington Post, NY Times Travel and USA Today Travel. This is one of the huge benefits of being a leader in your niche as you’ll be asked to write for the most authoritative resource available. First and foremost, he has grown his brand on his books and his television & radio shows have really propelled Rick to “celeb” status.

What does having those media advantages bring in regards to links? Well, to name just a few natural citations his organization has, the board of NORML, being on PBS, Wikipedia, and way, way more. His website is truly a shining example of doing things right and I doubt the man even knows what link building is…

Another aspect besides TV and Radio I’d like to mention is something a lot of brands don’t do that they should: mobile and tablet apps. If you’re a major player in your vertical, or are trying to be, you should have something for the mobile crowd, or at least be in the process of getting something done. If not, you should give yourself a smack in the face and wake up to 2012; get in the game before it’s too late.

Ricks’ team has been on top of things and they have amazing audio guides for locations all over Europe. My friends who recently traveled the world used these and loved them while in Greece. You can nab the audio guides and apps for both the iPhone and the Android. This has lead to tons and tons of links both from the markets, app sites, travel news, travel blogs and press releases. This is another great example of creating amazing content that deserves links that are natural.

Social Media That’s Truly Social

By now you should know that having a Twitter and Facebook account is NOT partaking in social media. We have too many potential and current clients hooked on just seeing their follower numbers rise. Rarely do we have a client that is truly engaging with their customers, so hopefully Rick’s example empowers your efforts.

The post you see to the left is from the time I’m writing this article. Within 8 hours of being live, it has 700 likes and 35 comments. Can you imagine how many more eyes saw this in their timeline? This folks, is REAL engagement and a brilliant example of giving your social followers something they love. Not to bring up links in the social media portion, but imagine having those 200 radio stations all linking to your website. This is a clear indication that people absolutely love your brand and if you’re still getting 4-10 likes on your shares, it’s time to rethink your strategy.

I think the main problem for companies engaging in social media is that the beginning stages are quite slow and boring. The old saying that “all good things come to those who wait” couldn’t apply better here. It takes a while to build an audience, so hold in tight for the first few months and just do all you can to engage and entertain. Your amazing content is the key to success so make sure you actually have exciting things going on. Another important aspect is the design to match your branding across the usual suspects (Facebook, Twitter, Youtube). A visually appealing brand makes customers feel at home, comfortable buying and overall you just look damn good (3 piece suit anyone?). Just take a look at the Rick Steves Youtube Channel:

Rick truly loves connecting with his fans whether it be in real life or via the digital tubes called the internet. I always wondered how the man made time to do everything he does and I figured he didn’t do a lot of his social activities like blogging. I’m sure fans also wondered and here’s a great example of how Rick covered this and how it shows to connect to your followers. He made use of the Facebook Notes section of his business page to convey his message.

Some people have emailed us assuming that I don’t actually write these blog entries or read the responses. As my staff can assure you, I jealously guard my responsibility to personally write everything that we put on this page. Except for the rare guest blogger, I write every word you see. (I do have an editor proof my writing. The thinking among my staff: If you saw how poorly I spelled, you might think less of my guidebooks.) And I eagerly look forward to reading your responses. I rarely respond back, because that would suck me into an entire new arena — and I need to draw a few boundaries. (While my staff does make announcements for me on Twitter, I have little interest in tweeting.) One reason I enjoy this blog is that I can be unguarded, candid, and even reckless from a marketing point of view…and just call it fun. I feel like my traveling blog friends are a kind of special inner circle, and it’s refreshing to be able to call it like I see it. I hope you enjoy being part of it all.

This is what social media is all about folks! Engaging, discussing and educating your online friends will set your brand to be the leader in your vertical. The entire “stew” of what Rick’s brand has cooking has lead his website and videos to some of the hardest ranking positions in the entire travel industry. The whole point I’m trying to get across is that doing all the right things does lead to great rankings, boat loads of social followers and a reputation that puts forth trust within the consumers mind. If you can do all these you’ll be laughing all the way to the bank for a very long time to come. Your brand doesn’t build links to make money so do what it does, give your customers what they want and the links will come naturally.

Tagged , , Removes Viewed Me Feature = Lessons In Branding IRT

March 12  |  Brand Building  |   Ryan Clark

So a trending topic today today was how (Plenty of Fish) removed a free featured and has taken into their paid member only section. I wanted to mention it because there are businesses thinking about doing something like this right now, and there will be more in the future. So what happens to a brand when they try and take something which they offered for free, separated them from their competitors and was most likely a key ingredient to their success? While they say the move is to help cover the costs of removing banner advertisements, it seems a good chunk of their users would rather have the ads back.

Since this literally just happened over the weekend we’ll be able to see how this all plays out for the Vancouver based company. There is potential for a large enough sway from their users to get the feature back and settle for an ad based revenue stream. Either way they swing it I think it’ll at least do a great job of getting them in the news which means links and social buzz galore. The POF forum has been lit up with non stop threads complaining about their decision to remove the viewed me feature. As you can see from the picture below, their support staff will be quite busy fielding complaints from there, social media, emails and their support phone number. viewed me feature

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Olive Garden Doesn’t F#$@ Around

February 11  |  Brand Building  |   Ryan Clark


Pure Branding Gold

I have no idea if this is fake but it was a hot discussion on Reddit this past week. I for one hope it’s real as it would be one helluva PR stunt. A lot of brands are not against pulling off a stunt like this although they’re quite family oriented so I can see how this may be a photoshop. Despite that factor, this image has been the talk of the town and it has inadvertently brought a lot of eyes back on The Olive Garden.

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Nike Continues Branding Dominance with #MakeItCount and @NikeFuel

January 21  |  Brand Building  |   Simon

Nike and their long-time agency Wieden+Kennedy have never missed a game, lost a round, missed a shot or any other winning sports analogy you can think of when it comes to branding and marketing. W+K was actually formed as a result of Dan Wieden and David Kennedy taking Nike as their first client, after they left mega-agency McCann Erickson in the early 80s. Since then, Nike and W+K have had only victories in their ilustrious track record together and have never failed to impress both customers and marketers.  And they definitely didn’t lose their stride with the recent achievement with a viral and social media-powered campaign to brand a new product. And I promise that’s the last (intentional) sports analogy.

W+K came up with Nike’s “Just Do It”, which is probably the most well known slogan ever. Since its inception, it has stood as the ultimate motivational phrase. I recently watched the documentary “Art and Copy” that had interviews with people on the impact of “Just Do It” and their responses went far beyond sports or fitness goals. Check out the clip:


The new #MakeItCount slogan is a modern social media take on the same simple concept of their original “Just Do It” slogan.  The #MakeItCount campaign combined traditional marketing elements, such as print, commercials and brand ambassadors, combined with smart social media and viral marketing efforts. They fully leveraged all this through positive customer engagement and, in a sense, customer crowd-sourcing to promote their campaign.

Nike #MakeItCount poster

The #MakeItCount hashtag started up just before Christmas, acting like a new year’s resolution for physical fitness, was all a buildup for a mystery product launch yesterday morning. Nike encouraged its fans to tweet what they wanted to accomplish in 2012. Building a positive and motivational hashtag at the perfect time of year, to lead up to a mystery product launch.

This campaign was so successful that not only was the hype clearly seen through social media, but also in the stock market. Nike Inc. shares hit an all-time high Wednesday, breaking the $100 mark, just in anticipation of the mystery product launch, the day before it was actually revealed.

Nike #MakeItCount marketing campaign

Twitter was an important element leading into this new product launch, was the long-overdue launch of the official @Nike account. They already had a range of Nike Twitter accounts for their various sports and divisions, but were seemingly holding out on @Nike to coincide with the #MakeItCount campaign. Nike’s real-life clout transferred with ease into Klout on Twitter, with all of Nike’s big name athletes following the first day, including Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Steve Nash, the NBA and of course Nike’s strong existing Twitter accounts.

#MakeItCount tweet by Kevin Durant @KDTREY5

Tweet by NBA star Kevin Durant turned into a poster.

Launched on Dec. 29th, @Nike was able to surpass rival @Adidas within 24 hours, gaining around 14,000 followers. after 23 days, @Nike has over 227,000 followers. Over the last few weeks, Nike had their wide range of celebrity athletes, through all sports, countries and cultures, tweet and Instagram their goals for 2012 and #MakeItCount, encouraging fans to do the same. recorded 24,387 mentions on Dec 31st alone. Combined with Instagram, Nike has created a dynamic #MakeItCount page to showcase their fans motivational #MakeItCount tweets, along with their celebrity athlete ambassadors. The current tweet total is showing at over 59,000.

Here is the Youtube commercial released to coincide on Dec.31, which received around 62,000 views that day alone:


Nike was founded on the genuine goal to encourage sports and fitness, along with all the positive side effects they have. And by selling the products that help people to reach this goal, their marketing and products a honest combination that has always been well received by the public. With their ongoing #MakeItCount campaign, Nike has already received an obvious high-level of engagement with their huge fan base and effectively crowd-sourced them to hype their upcoming product.

Nike FuelBand - #MakeItCount

And Thursday morning, the Nike FuelBand was released to plenty of hype, praise and criticism, that you most likely caught some of by now. Even the @NikeFuel Twitter account that was launched yesterday morning has topped @Adidas’ follower count, with over 10,000 after around 36 hours.

Here is the Youtube video that also coinsided with the release, which has seen over 478,000 view in 3 days:


The huge press conference to finally reveal the mystery product involved out plenty of stars (and their Twitter followers). Pictured here at the event is Kevin Dudrant, Carmelita Jeter, Lance Armstrong and host Jimmy Fallon. With coverage hitting every major news source, blog and social media platform as a rusult, Nike has seen instant exposure for their FuelBand that few companies outside of Apple rarely see.

Nike FuelBand press announcement event

Photo courtesy of CNET

For a better explanation of what the FuelBand does, check out the video below:


From  a marketing perspective, the desktop and mobile app are important mentions. They lets you track and monitor your progress, using elements of gamification to keep you engaged with the product.  The social aspects come in here, letting you share your goals and progress with friends through social media, either to motivate, brag or compete with each other.

Now the Nike FuelBand, retailing for $150, isn’t a new concept,with comparable products already existing, such as Motorola’s MOTOACTIV (with costs $250, but with a music player and GPS) and the cheaper JawBone UP at $100. But like the world of gadget brands being divided by Apple and non-Apple, no fitness brands can touch the Nike brand.

Nike was eager to get people testing the FuelBand, with most reviews saying it’s does what it promises too. But when it comes down to it, this product can be seen two ways: Either a great motivational tool for fitness or a unnecessary gimmick that doesn’t technically improve your fitness. With the social elements of sharing with friends and the gamification element of gaining points, beating records and tracking progress, it can be a great tool for some. Or you could just do all those activities without the $150 wristband.

Nike Make It Count Poster

Every Karate Kid-style crane kick counts too.

One thing is for sure, Nike has branded a fitness tracking product like no other company could ever do. They excelled in all areas, from traditional, viral and social media marketing efforts, to leveraging their athlete brand ambassadors to engaging and crowd-sourcing their fans.

And to keep these $150 FuelBands selling, Nike has no plans to let #MakeItCount and @NikeFuel stop trending. First by using their athletes’ continued promotion and and massive combined Twitter following they’ve easily built up. Secondly, with their fans’ utilization of the social sharing and gamification aspects to keep each other engaged and active. Has Nike started a new era in fitness? Or have they just started a big pile of barely used $150 wristbands? We’ll have to wait and see.

Here is Nike’s pop culture/sports/movie montage to promote the FuelBand and #MakeItCount that’s racked up over 1.3 million views in 3 days. Another stellar commercial by W+K that’s imagery resonates with its audience, conveys what the product is about and is just fun to watch, check it out:


Follow me on Twitter:@S_Gerard and for another recent viral and social media success by Nike, check out my post on: Marty McFly’s Nike Sneakers are Finally Back From The Future.

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Deadmau5 + Nokia In London Launch The Lumia 800

December 30  |  Brand Building  |   Ryan Clark

With the launch of the Nokia Lumia 800 they sourced deadmau5 to drop some serious branding magic on the world in London. If you want a top notch example of branding that’s going to bring you serious attention both in the real world and the social, here it is. This event drew in a massive crowd that sparked thousand of user videos, blog posts, newspaper and magazine mentions, pictures, TV buzz, radio buzz…pretty much the bloody works. I love bring you folks amazing examples of branding even if I’m a month behind on mentioning this one.

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2012 ADDY Awards Commercial

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December 27  |  Brand Building  |   Ryan Clark

I just caught this promo video calling for entries into the ADDY Awards and couldn’t get but think this should already be the winner. This contest is open to students, professors and agencies of all sizes and the only thing that matters is creativity. If you want to take part you can drop off your entry to the Miami International University of Art & Design 1501 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, Fl 33132. You can alsoenter by going to

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Best Buy Online Checkout Waiting Room? Whaaaa

December 25  |  Ecommerce SEO  |   Ryan Clark

I was browsing Reddit while sitting on my overly fed arse here on Christmas day and came across this form a Best Buy shopper. I imagine that Best Buy is getting their fair share of shopping traffic all month long, but never ever have I seen a “waiting room” for an online store. I’d love to hear from them or someone else who knows why this is needed.


5 WTF Fiverr Gigs I Kind Of Want To Try

December 22  |  News  |   Ryan Clark

Fiverr is an awesome addition to the marketing world. You can get everything from promo videos to the crappiest link building packages on the planet. There are a lot of strange and unique Fiverr gigs and I thought it would make for a decently interesting post. I have not used any of these gigs but spent some time sipping coffee and sniffing out these weird gigs. There were a boatload of them as well, and I picked what I thought was the most strange.

I’m sure there are stranger gigs to come but for now these five will have to do. Some of these gigs are a wicked deal for only five bucks! I’m not talking about the 50000 xrumer links, nor am I talking about the article spinning or other weird and lousy SEO. I’m talking about random, quirky things people are willing to do for five bucks.

While my five picks may not still be available down the road, make sure you folks link out to other crazy/weird ones you mind in the comments. These gigs are so wild and whacky that it’s help out their link profile and traffic quite a bit. I’ll be trying out some of these gigs over the next few weeks and I’ll be posting the results here on the blog. I think it’s safe to say that these will be some of the strangest company purchases I’ve made to date.

The Fiverr Gigs

WTF #1) Armpit Fart Branding Message in a Bunny Suit?

Get This Gig:
WTF #2) Chainsaw and Knife Juggling With Brand Message

Get This Gig:
WTF #3) Get Positive Energy Sent Your Way

Get This Gig:
WTF #4) Drive-By Verbal Assaulting

Get This Gig:

WTF #5) Hire This Guy To Party With You

Get This Gig:

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