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Entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk stresses marketing for today

BY Antoinette Alexander

PHILADELPHIA — Attention brand marketers: Market in the year that we actually live in. That was a key piece of advice that entrepreneur, author and CEO of VaynerMedia, Gary Vaynerchuk, had for attendees during his lively, no-holds-barred presentation at the 7th Annual Emerson Group Retail Industry Day.

“The amount of decisions being made in this room because of what you are personally comfortable with versus what is actually happening with your consumer makes me want to vomit on my face,” said Vaynerchuk, drawing laughter and a round of applause from the crowd, during his presentation dubbed, “On the Right Track but in the Wrong Race: How to Get Customers to Really Care About Your Brand.”

Vaynerchuk, a self-proclaimed non-techie, is an entrepreneur who has mastered the art of doing what works. Right now.

Vaynerchuk’s foray into business began at the tender age of 8 years old, managing seven lemonade stands across his neighborhood in Edison, N.J. When he turned 12, he started selling baseball cards at the local mall on weekends, selling $2,000 to $4,000 cards each weekend. In high school, he joined the family business, a liquor store called Shoppers Discount Liquors that his dad started, and it wasn’t long before he became obsessed with collecting wine.

He went on to launch WineLibrary.com, one of the very first wine sales sites. As soon as Google Adwords came out, he became the first — and, for some time, the only — person to advertise against people searching for “wine.”

In the spring of 2009, Vaynerchuk and his brother launched VaynerMedia, a strategic creative agency focusing on social and digital.

Over the years, he has also invested in companies like Twitter, Tumblr, Uber and Birchbox.

“What connects us is very simple. I’m not a techie. … The only reason that I have the luxury of standing in front of you and you are giving me your attention is very simple, … the one little thing I’ve got is that I market in the year that we actually live in,” Vaynerchuk told attendees.

“We are living in a world today, in 2015, where whoever can story tell to the end consumer best wins, whether you are the producer, whether you are a retailer, whether you are a media company,” Vaynerchuk said. “There’s a reason why Birchbox can go in four years from zero to $300 million in sales because they are marketing in the year that we live in, and they are playing the arbitrages that matter.”

During his presentation, Vaynerchuk shared what he believes are today’s most powerful tools — Twitter.com/search and Facebook — more specifically, Facebook “dark posts”.

“We need to start building brands, and the way we start building brands is by actually building relationships with the consumer,” said Vaynerchuk. “… Even though Facebook will sell more stuff for you, I am deeming Twitter.com/search the most important. Do you know why? Because every one of you can go on that web site, type in your brand’s name and see what everybody says about it. Consumer insight data that we’ve never seen at scale, and it’s free.”

Vaynerchuk also stressed the importance of Facebook “dark posts” or unpublished posts. This functionality allows page owners to share their messages with audiences without reaching their page audience organically through newsfeed distribution or timeline. These page posts are only distributed to users through promoted channels.

“We are lucky enough to right now be living through the second industrial revolution, that’s what we are living through,” Vaynerchuk said.
 

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Mansharamani looks at the big picture of an uncertain future

BY Antoinette Alexander

PHILADELPHIA — Are you concerned about the future and the uncertainties that lie ahead? As you work to unravel the mysteries of tomorrow, take a step back and focus on connecting the dots. That’s a key message that presenter Vikram Mansharamani had for attendees of the Emerson Group Retail Industry Day.

“I think by connecting dots and taking a step back you are basically being a generalist. You are going to help avoid this problem of specialization by taking a step back and looking broadly,” Mansharamani told attendees during his presentation titled, “Finding Patterns in the Pixels: Connecting the Dots to Use Uncertainty to Your Advantage.”

Mansharamani, an author, global equity investor and lecturer at Yale University, suggested using “multiple lenses” to see broadly and form connections between existing data. In aggregate, these lenses can prove useful in identifying bubbles before they burst, said Mansharamani, who shared with attendees how he takes this approach when examining financial global markets.

The five-lens approach, as described by Mansharamani, includes:

  • Reflexive dynamics: If you see higher prices resulting in more demand resulting in higher prices then you may, in fact, have a bubble dynamic on hand.
  • Over-investment: Signs of over-investment and misallocated capital. Examples include the mega mall in South China that is virtually empty and a modern “ghost town” in China built for 1.5 million residents yet is home to less than 20,000 people.
  • Over-confidence. When people are setting world records in prices for items like art, for example, that could be an indicator. When business and economic leaders take their “foot off the gas pedal in their personal life, it’s probably because they see clouds on the horizon in their professional life,” Mansharamani said, who suggested keeping an eye on Sotheby’s Stock Prices, as it can be useful as a bubble indicator.
  • Government distortions/moral hazard. When governments get involved there tends to be different dynamics. “I’ll give you a good example. … In China, GDP is the target. So, what you end up having is people doing things to generate GDP independent of economic viability,” Mansharamani said. “… So, I think there’s government distortions, and that’s my fourth lens.”
  • Herd behavior: Magazine covers can be great indicators of what is popular sentiment.

“There is a way to look broadly, illustrating this with the bubble dynamic to say that being a generalist is better in navigating uncertainty,” said Mansharamani. “Why? Because if you are, in fact, specialized and you are, in fact, over-confident then having a generalist approach will naturally mitigate your overconfidence. You will look broadly and find insight in the most random of places.”

Mansharamani also suggested that companies adopt a “structural devil’s advocate.” In some of his consulting work, Mansharamani encourages people to always have one person who is the “no man.”

“If you have one person who is structurally supposed to say ‘no’ to everything, well that’s pretty compelling,” Mansharamani said. “That task will force you to rethink what you’re doing, when and why.”

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Adventurer Aron Ralston talks about challenges at Emerson Retail Industry Day

BY Antoinette Alexander

PHILADELPHIA — The 7th Annual Emerson Group Retail Industry Day kicked off with a moving and inspirational presentation by adventurer and wilderness advocate Aron Ralston, who not only shared his story of having to amputate his arm in order to free himself from a dislodged boulder while hiking in Utah’s remote canyon country, but also revealed what he gained from that fateful journey.

“Yes, when I walked out of that canyon 11 years ago, I left something behind, but I didn’t lose anything. The way I see this is that I only gained from what I went through, when I became trapped and had to amputate my arm and the subsequent recovery,” Ralston told attendees.

It was April 2003, when Ralston went for a hike in Utah’s Blue John Canyon. Seven miles into his journey — and roughly 70 miles from civilization — he accidentally dislodged a boulder that crushed and pinned his right hand. He would spend the next six days alone.

After six days of entrapment, a failed attempt to chip away at the boulder with a dull, cheap multi-tool knife and, with a depleted water supply, now forced to drink his own urine, Ralston freed himself by amputating his arm with that same dull knife. Bleeding, dehydrated and nearly 30 pounds lighter, Ralston then hiked mile after mile to a miraculous rescue.

“It might strike you as being one of the most horrific or potentially horrific experiences of your life, and yet it was not horrific for me at all. In fact, it was actually one of the most beautiful experiences of my life,” Ralston said. “Our boulders come with choices. You all have your boulders.”

Since his amputation, Ralston has written the best-selling book, "Between a Rock and a Hard Place," which became the basis of the movie “127 Hours,” directed by Danny Boyle and starring James Franco. The movie was nominated for six Oscars.

With new prosthetic arms that he designed, Ralston even returned to his outdoor passions. He finished climbing Colorado’s 59 “Fourteeners,” in winter, solo; he skied from the summit of Denali, North America’s highest mountain; and, he’s led a rafting expedition through the Grand Canyon.

“The [boulders] could be the most horrific experience of your life. They could also be the most beautiful experience in your life. The boulders come with gifts,” Ralston said.

“I came to understand that I was a lot more capable than what I would have imagined, and that’s usually the case. We are all capable of a lot more than what we imagine,” said Ralston. “We never really reach out potential either without the boulders.”
 

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