business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

All of us know a whole lot about many things, but the reality is that we simply cannot know what we don’t know. Sounds pretty Zen doesn’t it? The reality is that it can create fatal blind spots in business.

I got a massive dose of this last week while moderating a fascinating conference for the Category Management Association (CMA), where some of those things we don’t know seemed pretty frightening.

For example, the CMA meeting featured Kevin Hartman, a Google executive discussing analytics, who dropped two bombs of new knowledge on me. The first is that the cost of making calculations has declined from multi-millions to pocket change in just a few years. That means the ability to analyze data has grown beyond belief.

Plus, Hartman gave us the shock and awe treatment by explaining that all our current technological expertise is merely scratching the surface; maybe one percent of what is actually possible. If that’s the case, I’m both excited and terrified to think what even 20 percent might be like.

This is another simple reminder that no matter how advanced you believe you or your company are today, you have plenty more to do. Plenty!

For instance, the main topic of the conference was the unveiling and explanation of Category Management 2.0, a topic that should be central to any company interested in serving today’s consumers. Category management, which hopefully you already know well, created a new level of marketing and product assortment discipline in the retail food industry, by urging companies to consider the role that each and every product plays.

Category Management 2.0 takes that to a new level, urging the industry to build even greater skills by using analytics to both better understand and serve consumer need states. In short, it’s a focus on how to best to serve the shoppers you have, based on who they are and why they are shopping at that moment.

Sure it sounds hard, but today’s tools make it possible. Gordon Wade, one of the driving forces behind the original category management and 2.0 movements, explained why it’s time to step up. As he reminded the crowd, the original category management effort pre-dates Facebook, Twitter, iPhones and even Google, among other things.

So yes, category management was an excellent effort for its time, but the times, the tools and the capabilities have changed.

It reminds me of a point we make here constantly: what was good enough is simply no longer good enough.

Interestingly, one of the conference’s guest speakers gave the new effort a powerful rationale by telling a story that had nothing to do with category management.

Daymond John, best known today as one of the regulars on TV’s Shark Tank, told the story of his personal rise to riches. John explained how FUBU, the small clothing line launched in his boyhood home, got an incredible boost thanks to the ignorance of a major global retailer.

Back in the 90s, rapper LL Cool J, a neighbor of John’s, was featured in a Gap commercial back wearing a FUBU hat even though the Gap didn’t sell the item. Basically no one on the commercial team understood that the hat was from a non-affiliated independent company. A bunch of people got fired and FUBU (and John) got a massive launch toward success.

As John explained in another part of his speech, “Poverty of the mind is permanent.”

In this age of rapid-fire analytics, we can amend that slightly to say it is both permanent and fatal.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . 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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