retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

DALLAS -- If there is one topic likely to provide the world of future leaders with different challenges than the present it is certainly the explosive growth of social media.  So it made sense that the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Future Connect leadership conference concluded with an examination of the Facebook, Twitter, etc. phenomena.

Consultant Jeff Molander offered the closing day audience his views on the world of social media with three key directions.  First, retailers need to focus on the basics and use social media to supply customer focused solutions, much as they have always tried to do in stores.  Second, retailers need to think like designers and find ways to prompt customer interaction, such as creating ways to generate questions and dialog.  Third retailers need to translate those customer desires into solutions they can provide.

Molander was actually the penultimate presenter, followed by inspirational speaker Desi Williamson, who energetically urged the crowd to get ahead of change in both themselves and their companies.

The meeting’s concluding day featured the final round of breakout workshops.  In the strategic management track, which I moderated, Marcus Nicholls talked about how companies need to shift their culture away from blame avoidance and finger pointing to a more focused approach on goals and resolution.

Michael’s View: All in all, FMI produced a successful conference of more than 1,500 people and near constant discussion.  It’s hard to overstate the visual impact of top CEOs such as David Dillon of Kroger, Ric Jurgens of Hy-Vee and Colleen Wegman of Wegmans (among many others) sitting at the discussion tables that filled the breakout rooms.  As one CEO told me, that personal participation makes the entire event work for their team.

But I do have to make one disagreement.  In his closing session speech, Molander referred to social media as an evolutionary, not revolutionary force.  If world events have shown us anything recently, it’s that social media connects people for good and bad in previously unimaginable ways and that portends untold opportunity and challenge for all industries.  We might want to think of it as evolutionary, but the steps companies will have to take and the new attitudes that social media will make necessary are anything but evolutionary. 

If the attendees of Future Connect are indeed the future leaders of the food industry, they will need to understand the power of social networking in a very different way than evolution suggests.
KC's View: