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Ford’s Connelly talks anticipating, planning for change

BY Michael Johnsen

PHILADELPHIA — No one knows what the future holds — unless, of course, knowing what the future holds is your job. Ford Motor Company’s corporate futurist Sheryl Connelly joined the 8th Annual Emerson Group Retail Industry  Day to not just share what tomorrow’s consumers might be interested in buying, but more importantly to share a coiled perspective that starts broad and hits closer to the consumer as each new layer is analyzed.

“As business people, you cannot be afraid of the future,” Connelly said. “You have to try to anticipate where you want to go and how the market will receive you. What context will you have to navigate? What path will you follow?”

It’s not as simple as getting from point A to point B along your corporate timeline, defining the direction of your company and implementing a linear strategy to proceed along that course, Connelly said. Futurists have to incorporate change into their strategies. They have to navigate the potential ramifications of that change and implement a course redirect halfway through in order to reach the objective point.

“When people think about the future, they often look to the past,” Connelly warned. “They think that what’s worked in the past, what’s served them historically, will continue to serve them going forward,” she said. “It’s a bit like looking in your rearview mirror, while going 90 miles an hour forward. It’s really a horrible compass in terms of what to expect going forward.”

Using that rearview mirror to navigate the future will eventually drive your business off the road. According to Connelly, a better tool for future forecasting is a process she called "STEEP" —

• Examining how SOCIAL developments like consumer demographics, lifestyles and values will influence you brand;

• Determining the role TECHNOLOGY plays in the lifecycle of your products;

• Factoring the ECONOMY into your analysis and exploring how your brand fits into the overall scheme of things;

• Considering ENVIRONMENTAL impacts, including both your production footprint, as well as supply chain ramifications; and

• Thinking about how POLITICAL developments may impact your business.

For example, what happens if oil prices were to rise to $300 per barrel? “Most people would immediately go to ‘What does that do to our supply and demand?’ ‘How would that change our consumer outlook?’” Connelly said. “But I say before you get to that, you have a lot more questions to ask. You have to ask who are the political winners and losers? What are the economic implications for the winners vs. the losers? And inside each of those regions, what would it mean for the rich, the poor, the middle class? What kind of technologies would come out in that context? Grassroots, garage innovation that’s distributed in a bottom-up paradigm or would it be heavily funded venture capital that’s only available to the select few at the very top of the pyramid?”

“When you start asking questions like that, you recognize that no discussion is ever linear. If you pull on one string of these future scenarios, the entire fabric changes.”

Successful futurists consider juxtaposed scenarios, Connelly said. For example, what happens to your company’s strategy if the economy continues getting stronger, and what happens if the economy experiences another setback? It’s not about putting plans in motion for either eventuality but to consider what happens to those plans.

“Ultimately, if you can come up with a business plan, a strategy or product offering that works on either end of the spectrum, you don’t need to know what the future holds. Challenge your status quo. Ask yourself how resilient is your business plan,” Connelly said. “The best way to predict your future is to create it.”

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Wahl emphasizes importance of engagement with consumers

BY Michael Johnsen

PHILADELPHIA — The 8th Annual Emerson Group Retail Industry Day set the stage for a day of deep thinking on how to better go to market, how to better compete and how to better innovate with a keynote presentation from motivational speaker and TEDx lecturer Erik Wahl, author of the aptly named book “Unthink: Rediscover Your Creative Genius.”

Wahl quickly brought the room of suppliers, retailers, marketers and members of the private equity community back to the first day of grade school with a new teacher, when everyone was a little hesitant to bring attention to themselves, with the question, “Who here can draw?” No one volunteered, of course, but that was exactly Wahl’s point. Ask a room of businessmen to put themselves out there like that, and very few people volunteer themselves for that kind of peer scrutiny. Ask a room of five year olds, however, and every child would have a hand in the air.

“At what age did that creative river that once did flow so freely, effortlessly, through each and everyone of us; at what age do you think it started to dry up?” Wahl asked. “Pablo Picasso said every child is an artist. The challenge, ultimately, is how to remain an artist once we grow up," he said. “How to retain that childlike passion, that childlike ability to differentiate, to creatively solve challenges and ultimately plug it back into your adult life, your retail business, your connection to consumer. To stop selling and start engaging."

Rethinking, or unthinking, how you approach business could be the creative spark that you need to truly connect with the consumer and wholly differentiate from the competition, he said.

“And more importantly, for you in retail, in health and beauty, you can also tap into a wealth of new ideas, creativity, innovation, to plug back into your brand, to connect to your consumer, to transcend the commoditization that has the potential to become just simply a transaction,” Wahl said. “Defy your competitor, even major brands and CPGs, and use this time of ultimately economic, as well as technological and political, uncertainty to actually shift and go on the offense and brand yourself as that category of one.”

Wahl is himself in the business of creating disruptive strategies, he told the Emerson Group audience. “That concept of creating disruptions, absorbing disruptions, navigating ambiguities or complexities as the consumer changes, even that concept of creativity itself, I think it’s been wrongly diagnosed as being a genetic trait that we either were born with or without,” he said. “It’s a practice and disciplined skill that every single one of us in this room has access … to tap into, not to simply tap into, but to plug back into your strategy, back into your brand, back into the authenticity of the engagement with your consumer,” Wahl said.

“Business is social,” Wahl concluded. “And the future of the economy is going to be social, and those who are able to build trust into your brand and amplify it through social channels are better equipped to be able to succeed in the future.”

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Emerson Group’s Retail Industry Day offers new ways to think about consumers

BY Michael Johnsen

PHILADELPHIA — Now in its eighth year, attendance at the annual Emerson Group Retail Industry Day, held here at the Ritz Carlton, was up significantly — by more than 100 participants — and many in attendance reported this year's lineup was “the best yet.”

First on the speaker card was unconventional artist and motivational speaker Erik Wahl, who encouraged a roomful of suppliers, retailers, marketers and members of the private equity community to recapture some of the unbridled enthusiasm for creativity they had as a children and apply that "color-outside-the-lines thinking to product introductions and new services.

“The challenge, ultimately, is how to remain an artist once we grow up — how to retain that childlike passion, that childlike ability to differentiate, to creatively solve challenges and plug it back into your adult life, your retail business, your connection to the consumer. To stop selling and start engaging.”

Redefining how to think about the market was a common theme throughout the day. For example, Gary Vaynerchuck, entrepreneur, author and CEO of VaynerMedia, returned to Emerson's Retail Industry Day by way of Skype for a colorful Q&A and some straight talk on how to best reach today's consumer through the social media they consume.

“I'm desperately spewing this venom and this advice for one reason,” Vaynerchuck said. “I believe that [among] the entrepreneurs in this room [and] the Emerson Group as a whole, there's a collective energy here that can taste the blood in the water. I'm just trying to give that extra push to make this real. I want you guys to win more because I want one of you to email in three years and say, ‘You know that talk you gave when you were on Skype, that meant something.’”

Emerson's theme for the day was one of convergence, as retail environments, technology and shopping behaviors all evolve into delivering the No. 1 concern on the consumer's mind: “Save me time.”

“The changing landscape of the consumer in the U.S. today will continue to get more and more fragmented,” Matt Poli, VP Emerson marketing, told attendees. “The consumer is in control, and I think smart businesses, great marketers and sales people are going to leverage technology to teach themselves and understand the consumer much better.”

The diverse card of thought-provoking speakers included:

  • Sheryl Connelly, responsible for global trends and futuring at Ford Motor Company, explained how to analyze macro trends and anticipate how those trends may impact your brand;
  • Wendy Leibmann, CEO and chief shopper at WSL Strategic Retail, walked attendees through the latest trends in shopper attitudes and explained the possible ramifications of the growth in adult-only households;
  • Bryan Gildenberg, chief knowledge officer at Kantar Retail, shared how click-and-collect and value-driven retail models will shape the retail landscape in the coming years;
  • Ana Ceppi, VP business development at Univision Communications, outlined the significant opportunity available to marketers who are focusing on Hispanic shoppers;
  • Mickey Cloud, VP at VaynerMedia, drove home the value associated with the reach and affordability of advertising almost exclusively through social media; and
  • Ryan Olohan, national industry director, healthcare at Google, shared how truly creative companies are innovating beyond the scope of their businesses.

"You have the ability to capture the consumers' attention," Poli concluded. “Every vantage point [provided today] demonstrated to you the utmost importance in doing that,” he said. “The job rests with everybody in this room to ask, ‘How do I want to engage, how do I want to capture the attention of the consumer?’”

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