Regarding the recent “Zoom and Skype” email…
Retail is a good example of a vertical that’s polarized by the coronavirus. Right now it’s all disruption and chaos, I imagine.
But the response within retail to the extreme systemic distress of physical store closure is where the polarization will happen. The responses will happen along a spectrum from doubling down on what used to work to innovating.
Innovation won’t automatically work. Doubling down won’t automatically not work. There’s risk (uncertainty and the potential for loss/harm) in both approaches.
Both approaches benefit from expertise.
I’m certain that the world’s MBA programs have supplied us with lots of knowledge that’s been refined into expertise to help with cost-cutting and increasing efficiency and squeezing ever more blood from the turnips of existing retail business models.
I’m naturally attracted to a different sort of expertise; the sort that can, for example, innovate around new uses for retail space that are more socially valuable than depressing laser tag arenas or haunted houses.
Kevin Hillstrom’s recent email, “Kara… The Future of Retail” is a delightful example.
I don’t know Kevin personally, but he’s an interesting self-made expert.
If we remind ourselves of the POVSpace map I use with self-made experts, we’d map Kevin as a pedigreed insider arguing from data, using a somewhat disruptive style, but focused on optimization.
Recently, though, he’s been talking a lot about transformation because, well, what other option is there for his clients in retail?
What does it mean for an expert like Kevin to be “right”? Before the coronavirus pandemic drew its grim reaper scythe from the folds of its moldering, black cloak and started to lay waste to the retail vertical, being “right” could look like arguing for easy optimizations based on good data, or extensive experience.
But now…! We’re reminded of this line from Chef in Apocalypse Now:
“I used to think if I died in an evil place, then my soul wouldn’t be able to make it to heaven. But now, fuuuuck. I don’t care where it goes as long it ain’t here.”
Being “right” as an expert serving the retail vertical now looks a lot more like inspiring directionally-correct action to help your clients get anywhere that ain’t here, and guessing a lot as you do.
It’s been really great to see Kevin respond in that way, as we do in his “Kara… The Future of Retail” email. An excerpt:
Do you know who causes us to visit a store in the future? Kara!!
Kara is the person who provides a safe work environment. Been in Target recently? Kara is everywhere with a squirt bottle of disinfectant. Kara makes sure there are wipes for the shopping cart. Kara is stocking shelves at 2:30am.
Kara is also making $12/hour today, and that’s going to change, because Kara is about to be appreciated for how invaluable she is.
In three months will you trust Conrad, the lone employee left at Macy’s, or will you trust Kara, the personal shopper you call because you need a bluetooth speaker solution for your bike and she recommends this item (click here) … not only does she recommend it to you via text, but she tells you to be at Best Buy at 11:15am … just drive up and she’ll run it through checkout for you and will put it in your trunk. Easy!
Yeah, Kara will do all that for you. And you’ll pay Kara a modest $5 concierge fee that Best Buy will allow Kara to keep all to herself, because Best Buy is going to need to make a ton of gross margin dollars going forward. All of a sudden Kara is making $40 an hour. Think other people will want a job like Kara has? Think you’ll have a competitive advantage that will allow you access to the best labor on the planet?? Everybody wins.
Again, I’m using Kevin as a stand-in for self-made experts in general here.
Is Kevin “right” about the future of retail?
Is he serving a vital function in improving the condition of the vertical he’s focused on?
If you follow Kevin online, he’ll regularly remind you that he has services that you can buy. This is marketing.
You’ll also notice that he uses his presence with and connection to the market to help shape the market. This is a characteristic of brand marketing.
Direct response marketing uses the lagging indicator of data to chase markets. Brand marketing uses presence with and connection to the market to generate insight that helps lead the market someplace better. Like Kevin is trying to.
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