Published on: May 7, 2013by Michael Sansolo
It was a simple question and a straightforward answer that in just a few words summed up pretty much everything that’s going on these days. And it’s an answer you need to consider.
Here’s how it happened. Last Monday, I was running a panel discussion on the impact of social media on internal and external communications during a pre-Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Future Connect session. So I posed a simple question to Mark Irby, vice president of marketing for Publix and a member of the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council that produced the social networking study.
The question: How has the social web changed how you do your job?
Irby smiled and turned toward the crowd:
“Oh, it’s only changed everything.”
He went on to explain how the advent of the social web has altered how companies communicate with shoppers, forcing them to listen more, understand the changing nature of value and recognize that today shoppers, not marketers, are in control.
It was a perfect bookend for Future Connect, matched with one of the closing speakers, Doug Stephens, president of Retail Profit. In his speech, Stephens talked about the way the world is changing, especially the shifts in the economy, the key changes in demographics and the advent of simple and ubiquitous technologies.
In short, Stephens said, everything has changed. He explained that too many companies continue to change incrementally, while the world is changing exponentially.
Stephens’ points should not be taken lightly. He talked about how the current economic state isn’t about the Great Recession or even the tepid recovery. Rather, he called this period a "great reset," with a wide scale remaking of the economic truths of the past 50 years. Middle skills jobs are disappearing, in favor of high- or low-skill, creating great economic inequality and a shrinking middle class.
That economic truth, he said, is why success in retail today is largely coming from companies at the extremes who excel at convenience or high-service offerings and earned customer loyalty. The middle, in contrast, is shrinking, increasingly claiming companies like JC Penney, for example.
In addition the primary demographic trends he cited are the growth of single-person households, the increasing economic power of women and the aging of the population. In all three cases the challenge facing marketers in every field is understanding that the traditional offerings of value, selection and even solutions may be out of sync with tomorrow’s shoppers...and many of today’s.
Lastly he talked about the technological revolution and the incredible speed with which smart phones and mobile technology in general has given customers access to incredible amounts of information, putting them increasingly in greater control of every decision they make. (Kevin made a great point about this yesterday, talking about the stunning acceleration in downloads of apps.)
Stephens’ point (which I believe our social media session also captured) is that the managers and leaders of the future face a far different world than today. The heightened pace of change shows no sign of letting up, meaning the challenges a manager is likely to face and the skills he or she might need in five, 10 or 25 years are going to be very different than current experience allows.
One study Stephens cited spoke of how most school-aged children will likely work in careers that don’t currently exist and that even college freshmen study a significant amount of material that is obsolete by the time they graduate four years later.
Certainly there are countless important lessons from the past and they must be learned. Lessons in customer service, ethics and even history teach us many things about the path forward. But the reality is that tomorrow’s successful companies and leaders will need something entire different.
They will have to be prepared for exactly what Irby said: things changing completely. In a time of revolutionary changes, evolutionary thinking can fall far short of what’s necessary.
Or, as we've often said here on MNB: In a time of fundamental change, incremental actions rarely suffice.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at email@example.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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