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Cathy Monetti

A writer by trade, Cathy founded the firm that is now Riggs Partners in 1987 and has served as the firm’s lead creative strategist since that time. She is a voracious student of all things Next.
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posted by Cathy Monetti Mar 15,2017 @ 04:45PM

Connectivity. And Uber.

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I RECENTLY TOOK my first Uber ride.

I know, I know, this is an embarassing admission. But there it is, and here is why I mention it at all.

I am fascinated by the Uber experience and the statement the phenomenon makes, not just about our culture, but about connectivity.

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IT WAS OUR FIRST NIGHT in San Diego and we had just made dinner reservations. The weather was awful (yes, we brought rain to Southern California), so even though the restaurant was not more than a mile away, walking was out. That's when my daughter suggested we consider Uber. We had a rental car, so it took a little convincing to decide to leave it parked in front of the house and to summon "a local" to drive us up the hill to Bull & Grain. But that's just what we did.

The car arrived in mere moments, and the three of us climbed in. Eliza quickly struck up the conversation that was repeated with every subsequent Uber driver: How long have you been driving? What made you decide to do it? How do you like the work? I was fascinated by each and every one of these exchanges. They were personal (albeit short) commentaries about life and its twists and turns: It was the first night with Uber for one admittedly anxious woman, a school teacher with young children at home. Another was a longtime driver who happened to be a jazz musician with great artist recommendations (Anita O'Day) and a strong suggestion we rearrange our intenerary to include a visit to Cabrillo (we did) and the museums at Balboa Park (we didn't but wish we had).

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UBER IS HOT, there's no doubt about that, with some experts putting the private company's value in the $60 billion range. (Billion.) While this evaluation is a rather hotly debated topic, there's no denying "mobile moment" appeal on which the concept is based. Hailing a ride requires the push of a button. Cars are (generally) close by. Fares are established up front, and because the bill is paid automatically and electronically, no cash changes hands. That means there's no worry over being ripped off by a circuitous route driver, and there's no fretting over a tip. (I can't overly state the value of this part of the model.)

And there is the fact your driver is not a distant, impersonal professional but a "regular" person who has a particular set of circumstances that brings him/her to Uber driving in the first place. The whole experience feels more pedestrian, somehow, like these people are your neighbors--human beings with complicated lives and jobs and families, challenges and charms, flaws, dreams and failures. You might be strangers in a car, but there is also between you a sweet window for connection, somehow, a quiet understanding you are just people going about life and doing it the best you can.

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THIS CONNECTIVITY is a very real part of Uber's appeal, that's what I think, and it's the point I want to make. It's an acknowledgement, however understated, that we are all in this together, that whether you're the one giving the lift or the one paying the fare, both sides of the Uber equation are actually doing something good, something that helps a brother out.

It's a pretty compelling business benefit, I have to say, even if it's a quiet one.

posted by Cathy Monetti Nov 28,2016 @ 03:30PM

Humanitarian. Oh, yes.

Like so many, I awoke on Friday to the sad news the great South Carolina humanitarian Judy Davis had died. It was a shock that hit me hard, and I spent the day with Judy and her family on my mind and my own heart in rather a state of disbelief. The question is ages-old, and yet I wrestled: How could this happen to someone so vital? So generous? So good? How could our city sustain such a devastating loss?

Davis, Judith (web).jpgShe was one of the great ones, is the thing. For years, Judy was a calming voice of reason in important conversations all around our city. From boardrooms to lunch tables, she was an eternal optimist and a tireless advocate in efforts to improve whatever needed improving. She fought hard, but she did it with such grace and elegance you hardly noticed. She was a motivator, too, serving as a mentor to so many and sharing her gifts as a keynote speaker at one time or another at nearly every event in our community.

But there was something else about Judy Davis--a quiet quality that endeared her to me and countless others. She always made me feel like I was the special one. She'd smile that bright smile, and her eyes would sparkle, and for that moment she gave the immeasurable gift of validation, so beautifully articulated by Oprah Winfrey as the greatest gift one human can give to another:

I see you.
I hear you.
What you say matters.

 Oh, Judy. You were one in a million, and I'm so thankful to have spent time in your orbit. 

 

It was my honor to serve with Judy on the Central Carolina Community Foundation board and I thank them for use of their photo. 

Read more about Judy Davis here. 

posted by Cathy Monetti Sep 29,2016 @ 03:28PM

Marketing Fundamentals in the Age of Revolution

My head spins as I think of the billion ways the science of marketing has changed in the last few years. Our toolbox has become so expansive, the options so varied for creating communications and brand experiences it is as daunting as it is thrilling to consider them.

When you find yourself overwhelmed, remember this bit of good news. Some things haven’t changed—and these truths apply to every business challenge marketing can help address, no matter what the delivery channel.
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Resist the urge to begin with a solution.

It’s so easy to leapfrog to the exciting (and seemingly productive) endgame. It feels efficient, and in this warp-speed competitive landscape, who doesn’t want that? We hear it often as clients come to us with their requests for specific deliverables. We need a TV spot, or a brochure, or a social media campaign. Our response is always the same. What business problem are you trying to solve?

Next, solve the right problem.

This takes hard work. It also requires that you be honest, direct and specific. Ask enough tough questions that you get a clear picture of the challenge you’re dealing with. Things like: Why is this the problem? When did it begin? What caused that? What are the contributing factors today? Is one of those the real issue here?

If you don’t go through the drill-down, you’ll likely end up with a solution that never gets at the cause, and therefore provides short-term relief, at best. It reminds me of an issue we’re dealing with in my neighborhood right now—the fact that our cove on our pretty manmade lake has disappeared since we moved in eight years ago. There’s a plan for digging it out, something about which we are thrilled. We will have water again! But it won’t solve the real problem, which is the silt that flows in every time it rains. Stopping that flow is the real problem to be solved.

Once you’ve drilled down and have identified the right problem, there’s another important question.

Is this an issue marketing can help solve?

Of course we marketers love it when the answer is yes. But so often there is other work to be done before marketing can help. Perhaps the issue is operational, or it could be a substandard product or service. Are employees informed, engaged and able to uphold the brand and its promise? If not, address these issues before spending a dime promoting or you’ll not only waste your marketing budget, you’ll also likely dig a deeper hole. As advertising guru David Ogilvy stated so poignantly: Great marketing only makes a bad product fail faster. It’s so true. The last thing you want to do is spread dissatisfaction with your offering or invite customers in for a poor experience.

So the cards are on the table, the contributing issues have been addressed, and it’s time to market. Now what? There’s a lot to consider in developing powerful messaging, a plan for sharing and meaningful opportunities for engagement. But I’ll offer this vital step as a starter.

Look through the lens of your customer first. It sounds so simple, and yet most of the time this is done so half-heartedly—or not at all—much of the work that follows is off base. For most of our Riggs Partners’ clients we recommend bringing on a researcher who can get true and unbiased input from the target audience. And our goal is not to confirm what we suspected. It is always, always to discover something we didn’t already know. (That’s where the proverbial pot o’ gold lies.) When you find that sweet little nugget—that comment or recurring theme or nudge that shifts your perspective, even if just a little bit—begin there. Because now you’ve got something meaningful to work with that will resonate with the folks you are trying to reach.

Even in this age of person-to-person digital communications, developing and deploying a marketing plan is an expensive proposition. Add to this the reality that options for communicating are virtually limitless, and good decision-making becomes an overwhelming process. As in all things, when you’re not sure where to start, start with what you know. Begin with the basics.

*This article was originally featured on Columbia Regional Business Report 

posted by Cathy Monetti Aug 18,2016 @ 04:56PM

Change, Nuance and Finding the Sweet Spot

A not-so-secret to success in business is the willingness to evolve. It’s been true from the beginning of time, I suspect, and I am quite sure the requirement has never been more significant than it is in the dynamic world market of today.

I believe so strongly, in fact, change has been a fundamental of our company since its founding nearly 30 years ago. It’s a practice we go about proactively—so much so that a joke around RP is how nice it would be to come in FOR JUST ONE DAY and not feel as if we were starting over.

 Oh, I am proud of that challenge.

 

AND SO IT IS that we’ve spent the summer talking through some newly articulated tenets for our work. I don’t have to tell you of the sea change brand marketing has experienced in the last few years; the digital revolution has not only supported the power shift, it created it. But there are subtle shifts, as well, tiny nuanced considerations that can mean the difference between well considered and invisible.

For example, it’s no surprise a well-designed brand/customer connecting point is the result of smart strategic planning. And yet it’s tempting to issue these like buckshot. There are so many options available to us today, what with endless delivery channels and proclaimed thought leadership and the prevailing belief the world waits (with bated breath) for whatever it is we have to say/sell/do.

But there is a sweet a spot.

Oh, there is a sweet spot and I encourage you to carefully articulate it. Work hard to identify the right time/place/exchange that will create a true brand loyalist—someone who will choose your brand over any other option and, more importantly, will tell others about it.

78272483_thumbnail-749515-edited.jpgA FEW WEEKS AGO we were having this very tenet discussion as we sat around the big kitchen table at the WECO. The question presented to all the Riggers was this: Give an example of a time you were converted to a brand loyalist. What was the brand touchpoint? How did it make you feel? What can we learn from it, and how can it make our work better?

I kicked off the conversation with my own story from the US Open tennis tournament. Sponsored in part by Lexus, VIP parking was available at Flushing Meadows to anyone who arrived in a Lexus or who presented a Lexus key. We zipped past the long, long line of cars waiting to fork over twenty bucks for general parking (on the outskirts of the gigantic tennis complex) and were ushered right in to a sweet spot (pun intended) near the stadium. And it was free.

The message: We, at Lexus, take care of our drivers.

Why it worked: a meaningful benefit ($20 and a great parking space) offered at the perfect time (a premiere event)

But there was also this important nuance: It was on brand for Lexus (luxury brand = VIP)

The conversation that afternoon was fascinating. The stories of brand loyalty were as diverse as our group, although many were of great customer service—a great reminder that even in this day of digital communciations, human exchanges still trump all.

 

WHAT ABOUT YOU? Can you remember a time a brand did something that converted you into a loyalist? 

I’d love to hear the story and share it with our team. Comment below, or send me a note to cathy@riggpartners.com.

posted by Cathy Monetti Apr 13,2016 @ 04:08PM

The First Principle of Branding


IN 1974, THE PHYSICIST Richard Feynman gave a commencement address to graduating scientists at Caltech during which he said: The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that.

The speech, titled The Cargo Cult Science, is now a rather famous one in which the Nobel Prize winner makes the case for integrity over righteousness and sensationalism. As Maria Popova points out on her wonderful Brain Pickings blog, the message is “all the timlier today as the fear of being wrong has swelled into an epidemic and media sensationalism continues to peddle pseudoscience to laymen ill-equipped or unwilling to apply the necessary critical thinking.”

Pseudoscience, certainly, but I would suggest it is equally timely when applied to business or mass communications or brand building. Feynman went on to say, After you’ve not fooled yourself, it’s easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that.

Whoa, as my daughter would say.

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THERE IS SUCH POIGNANCE to the language Feynman chose to use. I love his calling out of our head talk--the internal dialog that takes place between our true selves and that voice in our head that endlessly chatters, the one with which we debate and eliminate and calculate and conclude. This thought process is meant to lead to resolution, much in the way scientific experimentation is meant to lead to conclusion. But we should always be suspect: the voice in our head nearly always offering a limited view, an ulterior motive, a foregone conclusion with which it intends to shape outcome without our true selves ever noticing. And so it is that we come to create our own stories, our own version of the truth, based on our own limited, and admittedly biased, worldview.

You must not fool yourself, he warned students who would have the benefit of science to prove their conclusions. Let’s just imagine how easy it is to fall prey when you are talking about the nebulous business of branding.

 

WE ARE SO QUICK to move to communications without doing the hard work of “proving” what the thing is all about in the first place. This requires dissection, challenge, and alignment on questions that are not always easy to answer. It also requires brutal honesty, a “true self” assessment that is neither overinflated nor overindulged thanks to our own head story or the one perpetuated in the halls and social media feeds of our businesses.

These questions are a good place to start. (And keep in mind they must be answered time and time again over the life of a company.)

 

What is the problem we want our business to solve?

Who has this problem? Who cares about it?

How can we make a difference?

Is someone else already doing this?

Can we/are we doing it differently?

How do we prove it?

Do our employees/associates know this? Are they passionate about it?

 

This is not the kind of exercise a CEO or marketing director can typically sit down and knock out. Instead it takes the varied perspective and insights of people throughout an organization who come together for conversation and discovery, sometimes with a trained facilitator who can probe dark corners and encourage open discussion. Very often primary and/or secondary research is helpful, providing a more scientific, well-rounded and fact-based dimension to the process. This might include market evaluations, competitive analyses, and interviews with current and former customers, as well as conversations with prospects you haven’t successfully converted.

It’s hard work, needless to say, but healthy labor that leads to clear purpose and ultimately an honest, trustworthy brand.

 

AFTER YOU’VE NOT FOOLED YOURSELF, it’s easy not to fool other scientists. Perhaps this is the more powerful point, or at least the more comforting one. Because once you’ve done the hard work of building an honest brand your communications strategy will come more easily. Remember to develop and share content that reflects and demonstrates your brand’s values--particularly in digital mediums, where the ability to go direct results in a more personal interaction.

 

SEVERAL YEARS AGO we were working with a client whose large, established business was going through significant change. New competitors were eating into the established customer base, product lines were shifting to meet changing market demand, and leadership of the company was moving from one generation to the next. We sat through a couple of meetings during which the founder couldn’t seem to offer anything more than a list of random marketing tactics he’d like us to get right on.

We advised that given the significant change taking place, a reshape of the brand was in order. Item One would be the formation of a brand team to do the heavy lifting in answering questions simliar to those above.

“Why would I ever do that?” came the leader’s response. “I mean, what would I do if I didn’t like their answers?”

Yes, we could only say. Yes, exactly.

 

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