Published on: January 27, 2015by Michael Sansolo
Which of the following is more improbable: That an episode of "The Simpsons" would clearly explain the future challenges of competition or that a speech detailing the death of retail would actually contain a single nightmarish line?
Let’s call it a tie and accept, incredibly, that the two events happened within 15 hours of each other. Start with the speech.
Doug Stephens, the opening guest speaker at the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Midwinter Executive Conference, detailed the stunning challenges facing retail due to changing consumer habits fueled by the world of e-commerce. Although Stephens offered hope to the conference through the power of experiential marketing, he did include one important zinger.
“Your real competitor,” he said, “is not at this conference.”
Stephens is right. In our times of change there is no telling where the next threat will arise. I doubt Uber attended any taxicab owners’ convention. Nor do I remember Walmart being a regular at FMI events prior to invading the industry 25 years ago.
You never see the one that gets you.
The FMI crowd got another warning along the same lines from John Zogby, the political and social pollster. In talking about the different habits of Millennials, Zogby said this young and powerful generation “will bypass traditional channels not geared to solving problems.”
To make the point clear, Zogby detailed numerous industries being heavily impacted by free apps, from medical care, legal advice or video downloading services. As we are found of saying here at MNB, things are only impossible until they are not.
And that takes us to "The Simpsons. " Thanks to the lingering effects of the stomach flu I skipped the FMI Sunday reception to rest in my room watching television. As a complete sophisticate, that meant tuning into "The Simpsons."
In this week’s episode Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and Space X, literally rockets into Springfield. Finding himself bereft of new projects, Musk hangs with Homer and starts turning all of his inane ramblings into revolutionary inventions. In no time, Springfield is a haven of driverless cars and all manner of creative technologies.
There’s one wrinkle. Tycoon Montgomery Burns links up with Musk, sold on his notion that there are countless new ways for Springfield to use Burns’ supplied energy. Burns is delighted until he suddenly realizes that the innovations are costing him millions of lost profits.
As Musk explains, Burns is passing on profits now to benefit society well into the future. Needless to say, Burns isn’t pleased.
Only it is not a joke.
Think about those warnings from Stephens and Zogby. The future is likely to bring competition unlike anything we know today. And as Musk explained on "The Simpsons," they may do it without any regard for next quarter’s bottom line.
Taken together it means your company need think more creatively than ever about how to provide relevant, important and authentic experiences, services and products to your customers. It means you need keep a wary eye on the horizon and keep asking “what if” as you see changes in other industries. It means accepting that what you might currently think is impossible could very well happen soon.
Or you could do nothing and one day soon, you’ll have a one word response to the trouble you are in.
It’s your choice.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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