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posted by Jillian Owens Apr 27,2016 @ 08:30AM

Don't Underestimate Your Audience

My first foray into digital marketing began the day I started a little blog called ReFashionista. My blog features before-and-after images of different oddball/ugly thrift store duds I cut apart and re-stitch into fashionable frocks. It took off, and now I’m at the exact level of internet fame that makes my life weird sometimes.

I consider myself a mediocre sewist. My mad sartorial skills aren’t what make my blog popular. It was my blogging. I created content on a regular basis that was authentic and thoughtful, and each post was written with the assumption that my audience was smarter than me.

An insecurity complex can actually be a great asset for content marketers. I never tried to make my audience think I was more skilled than I was. I’m incredibly prone to self-deprecation. Blogging for your business shouldn’t be any different in that you should never underestimate the intelligence of your audience.

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Hopefully your business has a blog. It definitely should. If well executed, it’ll help you business page’s SEO and establish you as a thought leader in your industry. But this only works if the content you’re putting out there is sincerely making the reader’s life better. And you need to be honest with yourself about that.

The problem I see with the prolific nature of the blogosphere is that sometimes we fall into the trap of pushing out whatever content we can, even when we know it’s lousy. We assume our audience will flock to our content simply because we’re putting it out there. We believe our audience isn’t as clever as us and can’t tell the difference between content that’s authentic vs. canned or original vs. repurposed.

Guess what? If you can tell the difference, so can they.

How many redundant, boring, over-simplified and borderline plagiarized blog posts have you read the first two sentences of, only to immediately bounce off the page to find an article that actually helped you in some way?

That’s the rub. How do you straddle the line between prolific and brilliant? Between frequent and worthwhile? When planning your blog calendar, make sure you’re giving yourself reasonably frequent deadlines. How many high quality blog posts can you or your team author per month? If the answer to this is four per month, don’t try for ten.

Always be looking for trends in the type of content your readers are engaging with, as well as the content they’re bouncing away from. This analysis will help you discover what they find valuable and can will guide your overall digital marketing strategy.

If you find your content useless, so will your audience. After all, they’re pretty smart.

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.

posted by Courtney Fleming Apr 06,2016 @ 05:00PM

A meaningful engagement: teaching California retirees how to use Instagram

Last month I had the opportunity to visit Paradise Valley Estates (PVE), a continuing care retirement community and a Riggs Partners client in Fairfield, California. My assignment? Teach PVE residents how to use Instagram.

I’m confident as a digital marketer. I’m fluent in social media and the digital world–but this was a demographic I’d never taught before (70-90+ years old!)

I was an early adopter of Instagram in 2010. This platform changed the course of social media by providing an almost entirely image-based outlet to share our lives and connect with each other. Instagram’s myriad of filters and other photo-editing options can make anyone feel like a professional photographer. I’m not alone in this preference–Instagram continues to gain popularity with more than 44 million monthly users.

As I approached my classroom, I had no idea what to expect. What if they weren’t interested? What if no one showed up? What if what my presentation didn’t make sense? In addition to usual pre-presentation jitters, I worried that differences in age and experience would make my presentation seem scattered and confusing.

Fortunately, all my fears vanished as soon as my students walked in the door. The residents were eager to learn and participate. I was blown away by the level of excitement and energy in the room as they explored their newly created Instagram accounts, learned about hashtags, snapped and edited photos using filters, and tagged their friends and family members.

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Somewhere in between explaining the basics of Instagram’s interface and listening to residents shout out their favorite filters—I realized that I was learning just as much from my students as they were from me. Social media has the power to connect people of all ages and backgrounds and create unforgettable experiences—like mine at PVE.

During my stay, I gained more new friends than I can count, all with unique stories and adventures that they’re now ready to share on Instagram. Want to see for yourself? Follow @paradisevalleyestatesca on Instagram and check out their hashtag, #PVElife.

posted by Kevin Smith Mar 23,2016 @ 05:29PM

Your Core Business is not Enough

If work seems more difficult than ever, you are not alone. So many businesses are at a breaking point. Culprits often include a vicious combination of technology, commoditization and sustainability. Competition’s newest cure is to refine your business model. The common truth when rethinking how to best compete is this: Whatever business you are in, your core business is not enough.

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I’ve seen this new business reality drive mergers and acquisitions. It is also changing how companies approach human resources. And both of these shifts are occurring at an increasingly rapid rate. Here are three industries that are feeling the impact in dramatic ways.

The pulp and paper industry is being impacted by technology. A shift in demand is occurring from paper to packaging. The industry is consolidating and mergers and acquisitions abound. Selling papermaking equipment is not enough anymore. The leading players are educating their client’s workforce, servicing the equipment onsite and consulting on optimizing operational efficiency.

Construction services have been commoditized. A study of client with projects greater than $20,000,000 yielded the following insight: “Anybody can build a building.” Specialization used to win business. “Building a hospital? Nobody’s built more than we have” is no longer adequate. The construction companies that can help their clients plan more effectively before construction starts or operate more efficiently after the building has been built will be the winners in 2016 and beyond.

We all know the current economics of healthcare is unsustainable. Today’s hospitals were designed mostly for acute care. Doctors are trained in the science of treating disease. To meet the economic needs of the nation and to effectively care for an aging population, healthcare providers will have to be in the business of keeping people healthy not simply treating them when they are sick. Functional medicine pioneer Dr. Mark Hymen calls this a systems approach to medicine. Hospitals that adopt this philosophy will be in the business of connecting people with a healthier way of life. This is well beyond opening a community wellness center. It is a fundamental shift in mentality.

While some of these pivots are more dramatic than others, none will be easy. Mergers and acquisitions demand structural changes of organizations, cultural integration and strategic shifts in communication. Developing personnel and new product offerings can sometimes present an equally demanding task. If you are feeling overwhelmed you are far from the exception. 

The ideal place to start is by beginning a dialogue with your customers. I recommend scheduling a thirty-minute phone call with a half-dozen customers. Choose people you wish you could replicate as clients. Develop a list of questions that probe how they came to choose you. Try and uncover unmet needs, threats to their business success, and any frustrations they may have. Make the calls or hire someone outside your organization to make them for you.

In doing this, I believe the following will happen. First, you’ll be shocked at how willing people are to share their experience with you. They’ll be flattered you asked and feel valued as a customer. More importantly, you’ll likely be much better informed about how your business needs to evolve. This exercise offers clarity and valuable outside perspective. With clarity, operational and communications shifts are far more palatable.

posted by Kelly Davis Feb 18,2016 @ 03:37PM

With a little love...

When was the last time you stopped and offered a kind and sincere word to a co-worker? Just a little thought on what you appreciate about them or what makes them special?

Last week, our social committee asked everyone to respond to a short, anonymous survey with a word or short phrase of something that we appreciated about each of our colleagues. A compilation of these thoughts was placed on each person’s desk on Monday morning, the day after Valentine’s Day.

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I share this with you not to say, “Hey, aren’t we great?” but rather to encourage you to think about that simple gesture of kindness that you may want to express to the people around you. If you know the folks at Riggs, you might also find yourself nodding in agreement.

Here is a glimpse into the things that we appreciate about one another:

Alexandra Frazier: Detailed perfection with impeccable wit. Thoughtful elegance in all things. She sees the beauty in every single thing, from a word choice to a baking ingredient to a human emotion.

Cathy Monetti: Kind soul with a big adventurous spirit. Generous in every sense and unfailingly so. Takes such a genuine interest in all our talents, careers and lives.

Courtney Fleming: Smart, talented, competent, trustworthy, fun. Wise beyond her years. The ultimate team player with the highest of good intentions. Impeccable taste in hip-hop.

Courtney Melendez: Her smarts. Her beautiful, soulful spirit. Her light-filled smile. Her willingness to make everything better. She embodies grace in everything she does, and in every interaction she has with people.

Katy Miller: Smart, stylish and sophisticated. Whatever it is, she has the smarts, insights, and intuition to just see through to the right, true thing. A great example of service leadership.

Kelly Davis: Thoughtful mentor. Incredible teacher and friend. Soft-spoken brilliance. Able to see all the way around a thing. Calm, measured demeanor.

Kevin Archie: Patient and willing to help. Thoughtful and talented. His perspective on life shines through in everything he does, teaching those of us around him a little more of what really matters in life.

Kevin Smith: Witty, clever and fun. A brilliant conversationalist with an encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture and a keen interest in a great diversity of things. Makes everyone smarter.

Jillian Owens: 100% fearless. Creative. Quirky, distinctive style. The ease with which she moves in the world.

Julie Turner: Joyful and encouraging. Endless optimism and fun. Always sees the good. Lover of words and bacon. The best, most distinctive laugh of anyone in the building.

Marcus Williamson: Imaginative. Enthusiastic. Friendly. Helpful. A vessel of light and positive energy, and his work shines through that. Quietly gets things accomplished with great attention to detail.

Michael Powelson: Perceptive. Brilliant and talented. Gifted. A highly evolved soul. Not satisfied with surface thinking. Sees the humanness of it all.

Ryon Edwards: Sincere. So thoughtful. Everything is designed with clear-minded intention. Honorable. Wildly talented and equally generous. He is the heart of all things beautiful here, not merely in design but in spirit.

Taylor Craig: Open-minded. Brings energy to everything. Love her willingness to observe, absorb and thoughtfully explore all the possibilities as part of a team. Making it happen with grace.

Teresa Coles: Such a beautiful blend of brains and compassion. Grace under pressure. An inspiring and thoughtful leader. A true giver. Committed. Generous and kind.

Tom Barr: Conscientious. Helpful and diligent. Envy his wit. Knows so much about so many things. He makes it all work. So smart, so thorough and so patient. Keeps the rest of us grounded.

Will Weatherly: Thoughtful, intelligent and kind. Capable. Committed. Smart. Insightful. Understands that being effective with people is more important than being efficient. Has a knack for asking the kinds of questions that draw people into meaningful conversation.

Yanti Pepper: Always cheerful. Brings out the best in people. Dependable. She makes everything fun. Keeps us hip to what the kids are into. She brings joy to other people in a way that continually astounds us.

 

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