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Notes and commentary from FMI's MarkeTechnics 2004

SAN FRANCISCO - Would it be inappropriate to suggest, even before FMI's annual MarkeTechnics Show is over, that it is too much defense, not enough offense?

This isn't to insinuate that the conference is without merit. Certainly there were items of interest - on Monday, a workshop by Metro AG's Dr. Gerd Wolfram, in which he described the various innovations being implemented by his company in its Future Store, and another session in which Kathryn Cullen of Kurt Salmon Associates in which she discussed what companies need to do to position themselves for Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology. (Though we kept thinking about the MNB user who suggested once that RFID is part of Wal-Mart's plot to take over the world - the investment is just pocket change for it, but it manages to overwhelm and bankrupt everyone else who tries it. That seems a little "conspiracy theory" for us, but it's hardly the craziest idea we've ever heard.)

Certainly there were pockets of ingenuity on the exhibit floor. We really liked, for example, a new Personalized Offer Page (POP) product developed by MyWebGrocer, which essentially creates a customized emailed promotional circular that is linked to frequent shopper data; it can be used to develop a shopping list that can either be taken to the store or to buy online if a store offers that capability. We continue to believe that Notiva is offering the industry a common-sense and yet uncommonly smart reconciliation tools that drive costs out of the trade settlement process. And we thought that Coinstar is doing some really interesting things with its technology, upgrading its coin-counting kiosks so that they offer prepaid cash cards, prepaid wireless airtime, bill payment, and even the ability to download games to one's cell phone.

But as we walked the show floor and spoke with retailers, we had the sense that many of these folks were playing defense, looking for ways to backfill their operations to prevent you-know-who from getting too great an advantage. And that, quite frankly, makes us crazy.

Defense, you see, is a matter of preventing the opposition from scoring points, or at least not too many points. Defense doesn't score points.

This industry needs retailers that score points.

We believe the time has come for the Food Marketing Institute to bring back its Meal Solutions conference. FMI won't be able to use the Meal Solutions name, of course, because it probably has too much baggage. Too many retailers see Meal Solutions as a failed initiative, not realizing that it probably wasn't done right or wasn't given enough time or had too many expectations attached to it.

Maybe we could call it "FMI's FMI: Fresh Marketplace International," and let’s create an innovative showcase that helps retailers be more creative about developing programs that appeal to consumers. Let's find ways to help retailers differentiate themselves from all their competition, to give them the tools to do things that connect to the customer.

While Henry Chesbrough Ph.D. of the University of California at Berkeley was talking about technology when he made the comments in his presentation Monday morning, it struck us that his "chess vs. poker" metaphor backs up our conclusion. Chess, he told the audience, requires the players to "think far in advance" in an environment where the board is well defined and the rules clear-cut and unchanging; poker requires the player to continually bet on new business models and strategies, to play move-by-move, and to know-when-to-hold-'em-and-know-when-to-fold-'em. (Who knew that Kenny Rogers was a retailing guru?)

Again, this isn’t to suggest that MarkeTechnics doesn't have a significant role to play in the food industry.

But enough defense already. Let's play some offense.
KC's View: