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Emerson Group event explores changing industry

Emerson Matt Poli

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PHILADELPHIA — The health and beauty business is changing fast, and speakers at the recent Emerson Group Industry Day event here noted that companies will need new skills, as well as nerve, agility and vision, if they are to remain relevant.

Emerson Marketing executive vice president Matt Poli set the stage for the 10th annual Emerson Group event by noting just how much has changed over the last 10 years. In 2007 the iPhone was introduced and Apple sold 1 million of them. That same year, Facebook had about 20 million users, Netflix had 600,000 subscribers and Amazon had about 3.4 million Prime members.

Last year Apple sold 200 million iPhones and, together with other smart phone makers, has completely changed the way people access the internet and shop online. Facebook has more than 2 billion users, Netflix has more U.S. subscribers than cable television, and Poli said Amazon has an estimated 65 million Prime members. Those changes have profound implications for marketers and retailers, Poli added. People don’t see commercials while they’re watching Netflix, for example, and Amazon Prime members spend twice as much on as the online retailer’s other customers.

The amount of consumer and retail data available today makes more personalization possible, but it also changes the context in which marketing and category management occurs. “How do you market to an algorithm?” Poli asked rhetorically.

Other speakers gave their views on how digital technologies are changing the playing field for retailers and suppliers, and what capabilities businesses will need thrive in the years ahead.

Marcus Lemonis, the CEO of Good Sam Enterprises and the star of the CNBC show “The Profit,” argued that making connections with people, including not only customers but coworkers and business partners, will give businesses the edge they need. Colleen DeCourcy, chief creative officer at the Wieden+Kennedy advertising agency, argued that the right branding message — something as elusive as capturing lightning in a bottle — can cut through the clutter and allow companies to forge meaningful connections with consumers.

Musab Balbale, vice president and general manager of Walmart eCommerce/, detailed the way the digital revolution is increasingly blurring the lines between online and in-store retailing. In its efforts to offer greater convenience as well as the lowest possible prices, Walmart is turning its brick-and-mortar outlets into distribution centers for online orders, and its web sites into information resources for consumers who prefer to do their shopping in physical stores.

Michael Dart, a partner at A.T. Kearney, detailed how the fact that the supply of goods available today is outpacing demand, together with changing technology and the fragmentation of the mass market, is shifting the entire basis for competition.

In his introductory remarks, Poli warned conference attendees not to assume that they could take their time in responding to the changing landscape in which they compete.

“In our industry, more than 95% of the sales are done in brick and mortar,” Poli said. “I concede that — it’s a fact. The problem is, there’s no growth there. And online accounts for less than 5%. But that business is growing at a rate of 30% to 40% a year.”