Last night’s “Business on the Move: How Mobile is Changing the Game” event in New York City was a rousing success, drawing more than 100 mobile experts and enthusiasts for a provocative exploration of the mobile frontier.
Co-hosted by T3 and PCMag, “Business on the Move” events bring mobile leaders together to explore mobile’s potential and spread mobile best practices.
In the days to come, we’ll blog the event’s high points here and discuss where mobile is going in 2013 and beyond. We’ll also share video highlights of the sessions and panel discussion at our NY event.
In the meantime, take a look at the short video below from last night’s event, courtesy of the amazing mobile video app, Montaj.
I recently had the chance to speak with a remarkable entrepreneur who described herself as “half a BRIC” because she’s a Chinese woman who grew up in Brazil. She spent her professional career at global P&G, Pepsi and Western Union positions before moving into business for herself.
We had a fascinating discussion about global marketing and economic trends. Of the many things she said that stuck with me was that the head of a major retail corporation in China recently described America as “retail’s graveyard.” It’s a stark reminder that although we work hard for modest gains in consumer spending, the center of gravity has shifted.
The future of retail.
But while the spending power may have shifted to shores beyond ours, we are still quite an inventive bunch, aren’t we? I recently attended a presentation of PSFK Salon’s “The Future of Retail” 2012 report—which is recommended viewing for marketers, agencies and entrepreneurs.
The report showcases some remarkable ways brands and start-ups are responding to shoppers’ demands, which are ever-increasing in terms of expectations and sophistication. And the ways in which the shopping experience is being transformed are remarkable; from social shopping to crowd-sourcing customer support, from virtual outlets to AR showrooms.
Needless to say, the confluence of mobile and social was evident in almost every single example presented. The ways people are using technology and data to provide richer and more relevant shopping experiences are incredible. After seeing example after example of brilliant ecommerce sites and tech-enabled retail services, it was almost dizzying to then think about all the stuff that I’ve been toying with of late, like Fab.com, NakedWines, and BirchBox.
What really works?
Thankfully, they served wine at the event, so after a settling glass of Sauvignon Blanc, I simmered down. And then the oddest thing happened. I almost can’t believe I went there, given I am typically on a soapbox to keep the target audience at the core of it all, but my big question was, “OK, I get how all these innovations are cool and are working for shoppers, but what are they doing for retail?” I understand and advocate the value of initiatives that do things we agencies encourage clients to do: find ways to empower and reward the consumer (e.g., social shopping), create brand preference (e.g., service apps that connect directly to a favorite salesperson), and even reduce operational costs (e.g., crowd-sourcing customer service).
Those present, myself included, were genuinely impressed by the technical, strategic and creative ingenuity we saw. But if I think about the “America is retail’s graveyard” perception—and given that we’re literally talking about retail—what innovations are truly impacting sales? I asked the question, but didn’t get an answer that spoke to sales data or trends.
And the question is...
If these efforts are largely pointing to investment plays, that’s fine and actually quite encouraging. Also, I understand that many of these initiatives are still in their nascency, so it could simply be too early to tell. And I will always advocate for the consumer, so kudos for making them king. But I did feel as if I had two heads when I asked the question about sales. Perhaps it was crass to essentially ask a question that, unveiled, is essentially, “So, is any of this actually making money?” It’s just that in an environment where deals and discounts have become commoditized, and luxury ever more affordable and accessible, retail in this country continues to hurt badly. It’s clear the model needs to change so everyone can benefit.
What worried me was not that we didn’t have an answer to my question about the impact of these innovations on sales, but that we didn’t seem to have asked the question at the beginning, before setting off in creating these remarkable services. If I were a retailer, I’m not sure I’d buy that.
It’s been an eventful few weeks for Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP. “Sorrell will carry torch in relay for London Olympics,” the latest headlines buzz, only a couple weeks after they reported “Sorrell claims Cannes judges could have been pressured into block voting,” which in turn was only about a week after they disclosed “Sorrell faces shareholder vote against his £6.8 million remuneration package.” If some other scandal were to break next week, I’d say we’d have a terrific telenovela on our hands.
Somehow, he has managed to score headlines on three things that matter to me: sports, advertising and money. (They’re not the only three things that matter to me, but hey, let’s be honest). All three things are capable of bringing people to wonderful highs and desperate lows. All three can do incredible good, but all three can fall victim to corruption and cause great damage.
At the end of the day, the wins should all be based on merit, right? Compensation should be commensurate with contribution and returns. Awards should be won and not coerced. The Olympics should offer a level playing field. Nothing about any of this seems very fair.
Yet at its core, advertising is all about unfairness. It is about creating unfair advantage for a brand, product or service, that in turn yields mind-share or market-share that is disproportionate to its own unaided reach. Advertising creates this unfairness to produce visibility beyond the borders and networks of the business itself, and to create relevance for the audience that may not have otherwise existed, or been considered.
Where we start to get into shaky territory is when advertising serves masters other than the brand and that brand’s audience. Healthy competition to encourage and inspire better work is good for everyone involved. But for many agencies, the unspoken point of it all is “win awards.” Our industry was exposed a little while ago for submitting scam entries, a well-known practice for years. Yet while you’re out winning awards, procurement is squeezing your agency’s margins to the point where they almost don’t matter, so do whatever you can to keep your staff costs low, but your own paycheck and perks healthy. It’s no wonder many have lost sight of what made advertising rewarding and fun to begin with.
Look, I don’t believe for one second that anyone here is in this business for true altruism. We all want to create the next famous, game-changing idea. We all want to make money. Advertising can do all this. But with all this power comes a great responsibility. I think if we shifted our focus back to the point of advertising, which is, well, advertising, then we’d see work that was richer, we’d be richer and we’d have fewer of these silly debates about awards, compensation, and gaming the system.
Because finally, the work would be worth it. Then we’d have a torch we’d be happy to pass along.