Published on: March 24, 2010SAN ANTONIO -- MNB’s “Content Guy” was at the Information Resources Inc. (IRI) 2010 Summit here, and filed the following stream-of-consciousness report...
8:15 am....Whoever decided to serve smoothies as part of the continental breakfast gets big points. Ice cold, made with blueberries and bananas...and apparently healthy. Nice change of pace...and maybe indicative of the tone that IRI is hoping to set here.
8:46 am...What is it with good looking women playing violins? As the audience files in, there are bunch of them on stage playing ... and this is the second or third time in the past few months that I’ve been at a conference where the opening act consisted of women dressed all in black playing fiddles...is this some sort of trend that nobody told me about? (Or, more likely, that everybody else knows about but that I missed...)
8:50 am....Thom Blischok, IRI’s president of Global Innovation and Strategy, takes the stage. He is resplendent in a bright red blaze, white shirt and white tie. If the smoothies and coffee didn’t wake people up, the wardrobe did. But Blischok knows the value of putting on a show...he is overflowing with enthusiasm, and that has both tangible and intangible value.
He refers to the violinists as the “Innovation Symphony,” and says that they show what can happen if we play different kinds of music. Notes that last year’s Summit in Las Vegas focused on gathering consumer insights that could have a real impact on sales and profits...but that this year, a third “i” has to be added...innovation. “Disruptive thinking,” he calls it. No argument here.
Blischok also promises a “big announcement.” Hmmmm....
8:51 am...Dr. Romesh Wadhwani, founder and managing partner of Symphony Technology Group and chairman of IRI. takes the stage. He’s wearing a dark suit.
The past is past, Wadhwani says, and the industry is dealing with a “far more accelerated rate of change than we’ve ever seen before.” He notes that in the past, the industry has taken certain things for granted. It believed that national brands would always be strong, but the growth of private label has eroded that; it believed that prices could always be raised to mask the impact of a recession but maybe this isn’t true anymore; that promotions could always give sales a lift, but today maybe not so much; and that the first moment of truth is in the store, but the growth of consumer list-making - and shoppers’ fealty to what they write down - suggests that now the first moment of truth is at home.
Wadhwani also suggests that the change in consumer mindset creates opportunities - because it means that consumers are shopping in more places to get the deals they need, which means that more trips are in play...and if a retailer can grab just one of those trips that it didn’t have before, it can have a real impact on the bottom line. But to do so, he suggests, the industry needs more granular information, a different approach to what he calls “shopper-centric brand management” and a more holistic view of the world in which the consumer lives.
Interesting numbers. He says that intuitively, one would believe that during a recession, high income shoppers would increase spending, and low-medium income shoppers would decrease...but in 2009 the opposite was true...and spending by “low income, young boomers” went up 12 percent last year. The second fastest growing segment was retirees, who upped their spending by seven percent last year. But who in the retail/CPG business is targeting low-income young boomers and retirees?
Ah, here’s the “big announcement.”
Wadhwani says that in recognition of a changed marketplace and evolving needs in the retail and CPG industries, IRI is changing its name to the Symphony IRI Group, to take advantage of the synergies that exist between the various companies that exist under the Symphony Technology Group umbrella. The IRI name, he says, “is brand limiting for us”...the company has to move beyond market measurement to focus more on solutions capabilities...”without taking market measurement and analytics for granted.”
9:44 am...Blischok retakes the stage. He doesn’t seem perturbed that he’s going to need new business cards. He’s delighting in the change, it seems, and says that “if you believe in status quo, you are in the wrong industries.”
I don’t think he goes far enough. I would have said that almost no matter what industry you are in, a belief in the status quo is a kind of death sentence.
9:49 am...Philippe Schaillee, senior vice president and chief marketing offer for Sara Lee, takes the stage. He makes an excellent case for both a more focused approach to brands and a broader consideration of how the consumer spends his or her dollar, using the Jimmy Dean sausage brand as an example. (He explains who Jimmy Dean was/is for the many people in the audience who seem to have no idea. Unfortunately, I remember Jimmy Dean from his performing days...I remember “Big Bad John” and his appearance in the James Bond movie, Diamonds Are Forever. I feel old.) Schaillee says that the brand changed its approach to marketing and product development when management realized that Jimmy Dean sausage was only part of .7 percent of breakfast occasions...and that the company had to measure itself not just against other sausage sales, but also against the sale of yogurt, cereal, and waffles, as well as against both all in-home and eat-out breakfast occasions.
10:33 am...John Freeland, president and CEO of IRI Symphony Group, does a brief bit of proselytizing. No argument here with his comment that the companies quickest to adapt will be the ones that succeed.
11:01 am...Rick Anicetti, CEO of Delhaize Shared Services, takes the stage.
The seventies and eighties were a time of “one size fits all...same, same, same...an efficiency machine built on productivity.” The bloom is off that rose, he says.
Anicetti says that the industry has to have a far more granular in how it approaches information - has to have a better understanding of “trip missions.” To do so, he says, Food Lion has two “lab” stores that it hopes to grow to four by the end of the year...each has more than 100 cameras spread around the store capturing shopper pattern information...using facial recognition software...scoring hundreds of thousands of transactions...and then matching that data up with loyalty card information to get a far more robust view not only of what the customer is doing, but how and why.
“The noise in the marketplace has become a roar,” he says. “How do we cut through that noise? It cannot be about price alone ... we have to have great customer insights.” He says this will require new tools, and new levels of collaboration between the retailer and vendors. “Traditional category management won’t succeed,” he says.
Great line: “When I was a store manager, the most sophisticated piece of equipment that I had on my belt was a box cutter.” Times have changed.
“Vendors must become multi-lingual,” he says. “You have to talk your language and my language...don’t think there is going to be a universal code for this kind of work.”
And, Anicetti says, “vendors have to talk to me about something other than selling more boxes.”
11:33...Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great,” is the final speaker of the morning. The speech is familiar but always worth hearing.
The central message: “Greatness is a function of conscious choice and discipline...not circumstance ... decline is largely self-inflicted...ascent is largely self-created...
12:45 pm...While attendees head off to lunch, I’m going to the workshop room where I’m going to prepare for the breakout session where I’m going to speak about the issues raised in our new book, “The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies.”
Should be fun.
- KC's View: