PROFILE

Ryan Mathews

Founder, CEO, Black Monk Consulting

Ryan Mathews, founder and ceo of Black Monk Consulting is a globally recognized futurist, speaker and storyteller. Ryan is also a best selling author, a successful international consultant and a sought after commentator on topics as diverse as innovation, technology, global consumer trends and retailing. He and his work have been profiled in a number of periodicals including Wired, which labeled him a philosopher of e-commerce and Red Herring, which said of him, “It’s Mr. Mathews’ job to ask the hard questions”. In April, 2003 Ryan was named as “the futurist to watch” in an article on the 25 most influential people in demographics over the last 25 years by American Demographics magazine.

His opinions on issues ranging from the future of Internet pornography to ethnic marketing have appeared on the pages of literally hundreds of newspapers and magazines including the New York Times, the Washington Post, Business Week, Chicago Tribune, Detroit Free Press, Advertising Age and American Demographics. A veteran journalist, Ryan has written cover stories for Fast Company and other leading magazines has been a frequent contributor to National Public Radio’s Marketplace on topics related to innovation. He is widely regarded as an expert on consumers and their relationship to brands, products, services and the companies that offer them. Ryan has also done significant work in related areas including supply chain analysis, advertising and new product development.

Ryan is the co-author (with Fred Crawford) of The Myth of Excellence: Why Great Companies Never Try To Be The Best at Everything (Crown Business), which debuted on the Wall Street Journal’s list of Best Selling Business Books. Myth was named to the bestseller lists of Business Week, 1-800 CEOREAD and other business book tracking services. It was also a bestseller on Amazon.com, whose Business Editors selected it for their list of the twelve best business books released in 2001. Writing about Myth Federal Express chairman, president and ceo Frederick W. Smith called Ryan an “exceptional strategic thinker.” A.G. Lafley, president and ceo of The Procter & Gamble Company said the Consumer Relevancy model advanced in Myth was, “…the best tool I’ve seen for incorporating consumer wants and needs into your business.” Ryan is also the co-author (with Watts Wacker) of The Deviant’s Advantage: How Fringe Ideas Create Mass Markets (Crown Business), which received uniformly high reviews from the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, Fortune, the Miami Herald and Time magazine. He was also a contributor to the best selling, Business: The Ultimate Resource (Perseus). Ryan is currently at work on his third book (again with Fred Crawford), tentatively titled, “Engagement: Making Sense of Life and Business” which addresses issues as diverse as a new model of branding and the search for the elusive global consumer.

A frequently requested keynote speaker Ryan has addressed a wide variety of subjects in his speech practice from the future of beauty to the future of house paint. His audiences have included labor groups such as the United Food & Commercial Workers Union; not for profit organizations like Planned Parenthood; associations from the Photographic Retailers Organization to the Grocery Manufacturers of America; academic institutions like Michigan State University and Pennsylvania State University; high technology forums such as Information Week’s CIO Boot Camp and Accenture’s E-Business Symposium; consulting audiences including Cap-Gemini, Ernst & Young and Deloitte & Touche; to consumer goods manufacturers from Sherwin Williams to Procter & Gamble, Kellogg’s, Coca-Cola and numerous others. He has worked and spoken extensively in Europe for clients including Grey Advertising, Musgrave, Ltd, the British Post and Unilever. In addition to speaking and his other areas of expertise Ryan has done significant client work in organizational development as a facilitator and scenario planner.

Ryan received his BA from Hope College in Inner Asian history and philosophy and did his graduate work at the University of Detroit where he studied phenomenological ontology. He is a Kentucky Colonel and his reputation and experience as a chili authority won him a seat on the International Chili Society’s board of directors. He has also served on the Advisory Board of the Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management at Michigan State University’s Eli Broad College of Business.

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  • Posted on: 11/17/2017

    Is private label grocery about to go to the next level?

    It's 2017, can we please stop talking about "private label" brands and start speaking in terms of "retailer-own" brands? What's the difference? Well, for one I think "private label" strategy is still reactive and positioned against national brands, where "retailer-own" brands tend to define the shopper's experience. There's a world of difference between brands that exist just to establish a price point and those that actually define the brand value of a retailer.This is a revolution from the top of the retail food chain, (H-E-B., Whole Foods and Wegmans) to the the value end of the spectrum, (Trader Joe's, Lidl and Aldi) and everywhere in between. The critical issue here is that, in the past, retailers could make money simply by aggregating national brands and today they themselves have to be the "dominant brand" in the mind of the consumer. You don't get points for aggregation anymore. Successful retailers will enhance their brands (nameplates) over those of manufacturers and that will organically increase the role retailer-own brands play in their stores.This isn't a price play anymore, or at least not exclusively a price play. If you think about it, creating value around unique, "only available here" products is the only path most supermarket operators have toward the future.
  • Posted on: 11/16/2017

    Will breakfast at Tiffany’s attract Millennials in search of ‘Instagrammable’ experiences?

    Millennials -- along with Gen Z -- are the market of the future, which is exactly why we should be talking about them. Again, as I stated in my post, the critical issue is what this all means for the Tiffany brand. Turning Tiffany into a tourist destination means thinking of the brand as either kitch, a cliche, nostalgic, or part of "tourist New York" -- like the t-shirt guys, the pretzel carts and those obnoxious people in costume in Times Square, posing for selfies. But none of those positions help the Tiffany brand redefine itself for the future. The problem isn't whether or not Tiffany can make a few bucks selling breakfasts and lunches or get lots of hearts on Instagram, it's whether or not the brand is relevant today and -- more importantly -- tomorrow.
  • Posted on: 11/16/2017

    Will breakfast at Tiffany’s attract Millennials in search of ‘Instagrammable’ experiences?

    I think we need to clarify the question a bit. Whether dining creates additive value for Tiffany is not the same question as, "Will Millennials get what Tiffany is doing?" And neither of those questions approaches the real question which is, in my mind, "How does this move impact the brand?"While I realize that Millennials are a creation of marketers and not a firm demographic cohort and that, as a result, there is disagreement about who is, or is not, a Millennial, let's pick 1994 as the arbitrary end of the cohort. When the last Millennial was born, Breakfast at Tiffany was already 33 years old. Today, the movie -- and therefore the reference -- is celebrating its 56th birthday. So is Tiffany positioning itself as a retro brand? Would they have been better off opening a cyber cafe or a creative AR environment than worrying about Instagrammable spaces? Of course, only time will tell how well this approach works but -- based on the article -- I'm not too bullish on its prospects.
  • Posted on: 11/06/2017

    Can Kroger make a name for itself in fashion?

    Desperation comes to mind. I'm sure the decision making process went something like, "We need a higher margin category," or, "One-stop shopping works so well, why don't we add fashion to our inventory?"I really can't imagine what they are thinking. Of all the categories to add, fashion wouldn't be at the top -- or middle -- of my list. That said, stranger things have happened. There are two approaches that could work, at least in theory: be so fashion-forward that the beautiful people would have to come to Kroger to show how au courant they are; or be so low priced on basic items like t-shirts or children's clothing that you attract the Walmart shopper. In other words, I don't hold out much hope for the idea. I'd love to be wrong, but I have to believe there are more productive uses for the space.
  • Posted on: 10/27/2017

    Can live streaming make online customers feel like they’re in-store?

    Ben, I guess I'm thinking that there is a difference between "making it work" and fully optimizing. And yes, if we are just talking about video voyeurism, I guess that raw feel is authentic. But my guess is that people will prefer their "real life" edited -- think "reality" television -- and that, if this proves popular, you'll need something beyond a videographer to keep the audience engaged. Also, I see this as an opportunity to extend the store's digital ecosystem, i.e., livestreaming, linking in social networks, using visuals to create "merchandising narratives," etc. If you are going to really be connected, why not?
  • Posted on: 10/27/2017

    When are text messages welcome from retailers?

    Not really. CVS does it now and many financial services companies offer you options of text, email, etc. So it isn't all that challenging.
  • Posted on: 10/27/2017

    Can live streaming make online customers feel like they’re in-store?

    In principle I like the idea but in practice I think it requires a radical rethink of what retailing is. We need to bridge the gap between the store as a transactional space and the store as media. This means rethinking everything including what kind of skills are needed to make retail work. There is an art to great livestreaming, and it begins with understanding that the rules of media are different from the rules of retailing. Finally, there is the issue of engagement levels. Do I need a livestream to encourage me to replenish items which I have low emotional engagement with like paper towels? Probably not. So for now, the best application of the technology would seem to be in service departments and/or specialty stores.
  • Posted on: 10/27/2017

    When are text messages welcome from retailers?

    It should be first noted that Narvar is in the "alerting" business, so they have a very large dog in this fight. As to how to determine how to contact customers -- I'm with Max. Ask them! There's no magic in setting up an "opt in" alerting program. CVS uses this kind of texting tool to notify you when your medications are ready, need authorization, etc. Get tired of the messaging, you opt out. As to which tool wins, I'd say it may be texts, but only if they are used judiciously. Otherwise consumers will see them as more digital spam and will stop paying attention to them. Also I think that -- sooner than we believe -- we will see more and more consumers switching over to some kind of AI-driven buying agent program which will screen, prioritize or ignore messages from retailers and other branders.
  • Posted on: 10/27/2017

    Walmart puts robots to work with humans in more stores

    I'd say the jury is still out. To date, the robots can only point out an out-of-stock situation. It takes a human to rectify the problem. So stocking levels still depend on humans in the end. And that may be a problem since these are presumably the same humans that didn't replenish inventory on their own. Now, there seems to be no question that robots will continue to be integrated with human retail workforces -- and not just for routine tasks. As advances in AI and robotics continue there are a variety of applications that an automated worker will be called on to address. That said, I don't think robots pose a real threat to human workforces, at least in the near term.
  • Posted on: 10/26/2017

    Will Amazon conquer digital advertising platforms next?

    I think the time frame is critical here. While Phil and Ben are right in the near term, I think we have to consider that Amazon's game may change over time. Their pattern is to experiment first, gain a toehold, maximize opportunity and then move to what I'm sure some of their competitors see as predation, but what I'll call hyper-competition. So today they have a clearly differentiated goal and approach. But tomorrow, who can say that they won't try to out-Google Google? After all, if your mission is to surround a consumer and filter out competition, why stop at selling stuff? As to winners and losers, time will tell. technology has a nasty habit of evolving through disruption. As to sharing, that again depends on how you believe Amazon will define its long game. I could envision a future in which Amazon would want to block out non-Amazon advertising vehicles, so why share any more than you have to now?
  • Posted on: 10/26/2017

    Retailers need to do a better job delivering groceries

    It's simple: consumers use a separate -- and higher -- standard for deliveries than they impose on themselves. If they leave the ice cream in the trunk when they run into Starbucks on the way home for a quick double, triple, caramelized, pumpkin spice, organic Jamaican blend, 108.67 degree, soy latte and it gets soft, they forgive themselves, toss it in the freezer when they get home and curse the weather. If an external cold chain doesn't deliver that same ice cream in a rock hard block, they are up in arms. So given this double standard for quality, the answer to the second question is probably no. But that said, that probably won't be a deal breaker, it just means convenience-minded consumers will have something else to kvetch about.
  • Posted on: 10/26/2017

    Nike turns its back on ‘undifferentiated, mediocre’ retailers

    I don't know if the "massive transformation" will be a success, but staying tied to underperforming -- read deep discounting -- retailers is an almost certain path to failure. In the Nike world it's all about brand and brand doesn't benefit from a lack of differentiation or association with weak partners. So I see this less as a bold move and more a strategic necessity. Doubling the consumer direct business is a challenge, especially in a category where certain key purchasers, i.e., late Millennnials and Gen Zers, like to make shoe buying a group activity with final purchases often occurring after a peer consortium has expressed its approval. That said, it all depends on the interface mechanisms and the ease of returns. As to the final question, physical and virtual retailers are going to have to learn how to live and grow together or they are just going to have to go away. There's plenty of opportunity to create excitement in this category in physical stores -- limited releases, celebrity appearances, pop-ups, etc. -- to keep non-digital outlets viable for years to come.
  • Posted on: 10/25/2017

    How will AI transform the online experience?

    Stephen -- True, which is why I believe Amazon is trying to insert itself in so many facets of the purchase cycle. Also, can you imagine a consortium of data collectors? Who wouldn't want to share with Amazon if it meant they could know what Amazon knows? Over the next few years we are going to learn what customers value more -- convenience and personalization or privacy and choice. Should be interesting.
  • Posted on: 10/25/2017

    Online fraud is a $4 billion retail problem

    Extremely critical. It is easier to game a system than it is actual people. The last question is a bit trickier. I'd say -- at a minimum -- you really want to explore references. But, in the end, preventing fraud requires retailers to know as much about potential system vulnerabilities as the bad guys do and that means augmenting your loss prevention efforts by hiring the best coders you can find and maybe even a "white hat" hacker or two. And remember, in the digital age there really are only two kinds of systems: those that you know have been breached; and those that have been breached, but where the breach has not yet been discovered.
  • Posted on: 10/25/2017

    Amazon to begin making in-home deliveries in 37 cities

    Well, once again Amazon has us all talking about it. I think of Key in much the same way I thought of drone delivery -- great for getting free publicity, illustrative of the way Amazon keeps thinking outside the box, a creative tool for torturing competitors, just not a very practical idea.I've been close to the whole deliver in the home idea since the old Streamline days and while I get the idea, the execution always seems to leave a little bit to be desired. I've often said that Amazon's goal is to surround the customer in as many ways as possible and Key is just one more step along that path. The real issue here -- as with voice activation -- is determining how much prime- (sorry about the pun) mover advantage is worth in this space.Obviously if -- and it's a HUGE if -- consumers are going to accept the idea of allowing access into their homes, they are only going to allow one company the rights. That's what Amazon seems to be teasing at here. They will have Echo control all the systems in your house and have Key be a portal for all the physical services you might need. Nifty, just not going to happen today, or tomorrow.

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