For the better part of fifteen years, I’ve consistently tapped into the minds of industry and product experts to keep my finger on the pulse of changing trends and emerging technologies. After learning to navigate a remote way of life this past year, I decided to reach out to Michael Forhez, Global Managing Director for the Consumer Markets at Oracle, to get his take on the adaptation and evolution required to reach today’s connected consumers and how we begin to rewrite the story of retail beyond 2021. Here’s what I learned.
You can learn from Michael too — Join him on April 20, along with NRF VP of Member Relations and Strategic Partnerships Artemis Berry and other industry experts from Yankee Candle, Foot Locker, and ABC Fine Wines & Spirits, for our Retail Industry Insights: The New Connected Retailer to learn more about how to adapt to the changing markets.
As an evangelist within the consumer markets, Michael has committed his career to engaging with various stakeholders to better understand and reflect their collective requirements.
Beginning his career “in industry” with Revlon, Unilever, and Kraft General Foods, and now as global managing director within Oracle’s industry strategy group, Michael brings more than 30 years of diversified sales, marketing, and management consulting experience to our customers across the globe.
This past year, the way we engage with the world has shifted, introducing both challenges and opportunities for almost every enterprise. Some retailers are struggling to evolve in this new normal, while others are aggressively pushing ahead, with success in their sights.
Michael advises both groups to keep their eye on the customer when looking to the future. “Whenever society is confronted by a problem, new technologies and solutions emerge to surmount it,” he says. “Be sure those solutions are useful and can be built to suit the customer’s needs.”
Similarly, Michael stresses the importance of taking time to analyze your customer data and being able to pivot. “It’s important to sense and respond to meaningful customer change with as much speed and efficacy as possible. Capture, share, and extract meaning from your customer information, but do so authentically and respect their privacy.”
Michael has often raised the thesis of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable” as a metaphor for our times. Taleb argued that because extremely rare “black swan” events are impossible to predict yet have catastrophic consequences, we must assume they’re possible and try to plan accordingly. But if we can’t anticipate our future reality while we’re living in it, how can retailers prepare, or at least be proactive, for what’s to come?
To paraphrase Leo Burnett marketing legend Rishad Tobaccowala, Michael offered, “The future does not fit in the containers of the past.” These days, especially, you can’t always rely on your traditional strategies for success. Times have changed too much for that. But looking forward and being open to new ideas can set you on the right path. “For leaders and managers, it’s important to not only think outside the box but to also think in terms of new boxes,” he says, “as what solved the challenges of yesterday or today won’t necessarily work for tomorrow.”
Many of the changes we’ve seen this past year have been quite dramatic in terms of customer demand. Michael says one can even argue that “the global acceleration pattern caused by the introduction of 5G technology and the COVID-19 pandemic should be characterized as almost hyperbolic rather than simply exponential.”
Brands today strive to find and develop deeply loyal ambassadors. But with Millennials and Gen Z in particular, the loyalty-generating mechanisms of the early years now seem inadequate, even tone deaf at times. And with the rest of the population growing ever more comfortable sharing everything with everyone online all the time, what does loyalty today even look like and how can you sustain it?
According to Michael, loyalty “is essentially based on an organization’s ability to create a learning relationship—more specifically, an ongoing, customer-specific collaboration in near real time that senses and responds to meet shopper needs over time. And the development of the ‘I want it when I want it’ customer provides a fresh opportunity for creating ‘customer stickiness’ and building loyalty.”
While Michael says meeting these demands for consumers and businesses who know exactly what they want and when should have been on the axiom of any consumer business model, it hasn’t quite worked out that way. He says, “Many managers and leaders still look at the world through the twin lenses of mass marketing and mass production, which served as an effective strategy over several generations, but that view has now outlived its practical usefulness."
We’re in a new era. “We now have the means, with internal customer data, first-party data, and anonymous second-party data, to deliver and guide our insights that surprise and delight a more connected, discerning, and demanding consumer,” says Michael.
“The COVID-19 pandemic and emerging technology have changed how the consumer markets will need to serve its purpose inside the fabric of an evolving economy defined with a new generation of infrastructure, insights, and predictive analytics.”
His one caution: “Theory is simple—what comes next is more complex. The framework is in place. Now it’s about the implementation.”
It’s safe to say we’ve all learned a thing or two about ourselves during this time of quarantine and disruption. The question is: What are we going to do with what we’ve learned? How can we use that insight to improve?
For Michael, in a word, it’s patience. He shared the importance of developing patience with himself and with others. With that said, however, “the world spins on, and all of us with it.” He says he’ll “allow for more space and grace as the world takes a pause and a breath, even as it channels its energies to perform better.”
The same kind of introspection is critical for consumer markets. Take a pause and reflect on your purpose. Why are you here? For brands and retailers, Michael says the response should be quite clear. “Find out what consumers need and want, and then get it to them in the most expeditious manner possible.”
To hear more of Michael’s thoughts on retail and how to adapt to the changing markets, register today for Retail Industry Insights: The New Connected Retailer on April 20.
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