Ralph Jacobson

Global Retail & CPG Marketing, IBM

Ralph Jacobson is the Global Consumer Products Industry Marketing Executive for IBM. He is responsible for marketing IBM Consumer Products Industry Solutions to clients in areas including business strategy, operations and the consumer experience.

Ralph has worked in the CP and retail industries for more than thirty years. For more than a decade, Ralph has consulted to more than one-hundred clients around the globe, from Shanghai to Saudi Arabia.

Originally Ralph began his professional career at the largest supermarket company in Chicago, where he worked in store operations and marketing for seventeen years. He is married with two sons and resides north of Los Angeles, California.

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Building a Smarter Planet Blog

Only 40+ years in the Retail & CPG Industries. Let's talk about your business challenges sometime soon! Maybe I've seen them before somewhere in the world, like Shanghai, Saudi Arabia or Bangalore!
  • Posted on: 03/27/2017

    Should retailers ditch five-star ratings?

    Wow. We have officially become a zero-attention-span / instant-gratification / I-have-no-time-to-think-about-anything society. If it isn't "yes" or "no," then I can't give any more specific thoughts on the topic, sorry. Seriously? Wow.
  • Posted on: 03/23/2017

    Is social media influence the new key to building brand loyalty?

    Today, social content is "table stakes" for retailers and brands. Social influencers are critical to driving true loyalty. Manually defining key brand influencers is tedious and unproductive. There are great technologies that can capture the unstructured social sentiment data that can generate fantastic insights for retailers. Employing a dedicated staff for quick responses to influencer content is a great component to an effective marketing strategy.
  • Posted on: 03/23/2017

    Will customer tracking help save shopping malls?

    We're talking about at least two different topics here, 1) How malls can drive more traffic, and, 2) How can shoppers be tracked effectively? The first question lends to thoughts of compelling drivers for today's shoppers. Depending on the study, 90%+ of people of all ages still shop in physical stores. This won't change anytime soon. The challenge is to create the draw that gets them into the mall and makes them want to return often. Easier said than done, yet I see retailers of all types becoming the anchor tenants the bring the shoppers in.The second question has to do with consumer adoption of technology, in general. Only a few years ago, we struggled to capture basic information for retail "loyalty" programs. (I use that word loosely, but that's yet another topic.) Today, people are happy to opt in to most any program, and I believe it is only a matter of time when most people of all ages will be comfortable with video tracking, and even tracking devices implanted into the human body.
  • Posted on: 03/23/2017

    Is ‘wantedness’ something that marketers need?

    I'm not certain I agree with the statement that not all brands or retailers can aspire to this level of engagement with consumers. When I think of iconic brands across all product lines, I think of Rolls Royce, Rolex, Ducati, Hermes, etc. These are brands that captivate "loyalists" even if those loyalists cannot afford to own those products. There are plenty of enthusiasts for these brands, and those brands are more than dedicated to their consumers. Such brands need not necessarily be luxury brands. The brand and/or retailer may signify a hobby, a personal passion or whatever for the consumer. So this aspect of a consumer not even owning the product yet still exhibiting the effects of the "wantedness" of the brand shows that any brand can aspire to this. And in some cases it can happen overnight with the power of social sentiment these days.
  • Posted on: 03/21/2017

    Why is the U.S. so bad at airport retailing?

    Why is U.S. mobile phone service so poor compared to many foreign countries? Why are European home construction materials and finishes better quality than in the U.S.? The same reason as why airport retailing may be nicer in some ways over there vs. over here. It's all-around priorities. I believe there are more and more innovative U.S. airports that are doing a great job with retailing. Is there still room for improvement? Sure. However, I don't think this will last forever, especially as shoppers demand better and improvement efforts become even more of a priority for us.
  • Posted on: 03/21/2017

    How can sales associates successfully juggle customers?

    Good suggestions in the article. Staff training to learn how to prioritize and multitask is critical. This is not a perfect science. There will be a shopper who cannot be satisfied regardless of the staff attention. However, if the staff can learn which shopper takes precedence based upon who needs help first or if there is a more urgent situation, then most service issues can be appropriately resolved. Just acknowledging, as often as required, that "you'll be right back with them" is more than half the battle.
  • Posted on: 03/20/2017

    What could a new memes platform mean for retail?

    Most memes seem to have harmless intentions, however I can also see the day when one is shared that capitalizes on a detrimental news item regarding a specific business. I suppose anything can be abused. I guess my paranoia is showing.
  • Posted on: 03/17/2017

    Should retailers obsess about e-mail blast timing?

    Both retail and CPG have only average CTO (Click-to-Open) rates compared to other industries which enjoy much higher rates, including the insurance industry, for example. So email should be only one tool, and probably not the highest-priority one. There are literally dozens of surveys offering similar information with somewhat varying findings. There must be an effort to include all aspects of effective email marketing in order to maximize the productivity of these campaigns. Time of day, high-impact subject line, effective CTA (Call-to-Action), etc. are only a few.
  • Posted on: 03/15/2017

    Will AI transform retail marketing?

    Just one example of real machine learning and artificial intelligence in retail today is one online merchant that has a publicly available app that aggregates inputs from shoppers to help determine the best gift for any occasion based upon the natural language responses shoppers type or speak for questions asked by the app. This service has become particularly valuable to the retailer because, as opposed to a call center person who typically only suggests a couple of the most popular items to the shopper, this app digs down throughout the assortment to suggest the best item for the shopping mission. We are seeing greater movement of SKUs in the bottom 80 percent of the product line than ever before.
  • Posted on: 03/13/2017

    Are retailers ‘blind’ to digital marketing’s flaws?

    The "shotgun" approach of throwing money at all types of digital and hoping you'll see some ROI is futile. Digital has some great leverage potential, however you need to determine the bang for the buck just like traditional methods of marketing. The trouble is, most marketers still struggle to show real ROI even with traditional methods. So digital tends to cloud the effectiveness of overall marketing efforts if it is not productively managed. Digital marketing tactics like real-time personalization, for instance, are driving huge results for retailers as we speak. The innovators are using ROI models that capture the relevant data to paint a next best action nurture stream campaign to make digital stronger the more data it collects over time. That's machine learning. Cognitive. It's working. And it's truly the future.
  • Posted on: 03/13/2017

    Will ‘Fearless Girl’ lead to more women on retail company boards?

    Quite simply, the vast majority of corporate boards are comprised of corporate friends and corporate celebrities. Rarely are the truly best-qualified people for the roles chosen ... regardless of sex, race or other characteristics. If the best people for the job are chosen, we would see an immediate influx of women and minorities filling up the boards and making these boards far more effective.
  • Posted on: 03/10/2017

    Can calls for food transparency be answered digitally?

    I think these tools can be extremely useful for consumers. As CPG brands create more awareness in the marketplace of the availability of this information, I believe consumers will embrace this capability.
  • Posted on: 03/10/2017

    Do consumers want AI and AR in their mobile apps?

    I would be extremely wary of consumer surveys that show findings about shoppers' desires for AI usage by retailers. If you question consumers on what AI actually is, I'd bet Al McClain's paycheck that 99 percent of them could not define it. Are there some basic, perennial challenges, (like in-stock conditions and mass, un-targeted discounts) that retailers still struggle with? Sure. Can AI help address these problems? Yes, it already is with some innovators today.AR is another story. It's flashy, yet I don't see it replacing brick-and-mortar anytime soon.
  • Posted on: 03/08/2017

    Is the sole proprietor toast?

    Along with the well-known advantages of independent retailers (e.g., shoppers who want to support local businesses, etc.) in all formats (e.g., grocery, apparel, etc.) there is at least one inherent advantage in the digital commerce world. Shoppers who look online have no idea how large or small a retailers is unless that retailer has a marquee brand. So small retailers can easily "punch above their weight" with effective e-commerce presences. Another aspect we need to acknowledge is that there are some huge independent retailers that have maintained their small-business culture. Those innovators are successful with these shoppers in spite of their large revenues.
  • Posted on: 03/01/2017

    How omnichannel is offering wholesalers and retailers new partnering opportunities

    Just like retailers and their suppliers/manufacturers, wholesale distributors (W-Ds) need to be incredibly agile in today's marketplace. Quite simply, the physical demands of omnichannel commerce are driving myriad requirements that W-Ds can step up and take control of. Services is where W-D growth lies. That has been true for years now. There is even opportunity for W-Ds to capture revenue with CPG direct-to-consumer channels in some of the areas mentioned in this article.

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