Independents’ optimism ‘off the charts’ coming out of NCPA annual meeting
Ford’s Connelly talks anticipating, planning for change
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.”
Wahl emphasizes importance of engagement with consumers
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.”