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, 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.

  • Posted on: 07/28/2016

    Has Nordstrom lost its customer experience edge?

    Customer understanding is a mandatory prerequisite to creating outstanding customer experience and times -- and shoppers -- are changing. Frankly, it's just hard to give superlative service when you act like your customers ought to live up to your notion of correct retail behaviors.For example, I love to "dress down" when shopping at Nordstrom. It guarantees me I'll get flooded with security scrutiny in the form of service overkill. But is it really service?Not so much. It always feels more like I have two sales associates shadowing me to make sure I'm not making off with a pile of dress shirts.I've watched potential customers walk away in frustration when they can't pay for their purchases with certain credit or debit cards. And, more alarmingly, I've seen hundreds of shoppers cut through the store en route to another destination without even looking around.I'm sure Nordstrom has an excellent handle on its existing customers, but, the again, so did A&P. There is a danger in projecting past success forward as a metric.If I were them I'd look a lot harder at why their own shoppers are increasingly preferring to buy online and adjust my service models accordingly.
  • Posted on: 07/28/2016

    Is it time for marketers to embrace radical transparency?

    It's an interesting model ... but is it really all that transparent?The example shows an indigo textured t-shirt with a "traditional retail" price of $80. So I did some quick comparison shopping, and here's what I found: Frank + Oak has one for $32; Zuma offers the same shirt for $57.00; Apolis' version is $48; Wallace & Barnes has one for $54.50 and Madewell's indigo texture pocket t-shirt has a retail price of $39.50.I could go on, but I think you get my point.Look, no question some people will like this approach, although they probably are the same group that believes that the jewelry store in the mall is really selling their wares for 50 or 60 percent off.Spelling out the costs doesn't mean you can't hide some of them and citing an inflated "traditional" price doesn't make it necessarily accurate.People believe what they want to believe and so any price-based marketing scheme will always attract a core of followers who are surer than sure they have stumbled upon the best deal.That said I don't think this approach will result in a tsunami of transparency.
  • Posted on: 07/25/2016

    7-Eleven makes history with consumer drone delivery

    If we are logical for a moment, this question answers itself.One drone delivering a burrito is great publicity and cost prohibitive.If it proves so popular that soon you have ten drones delivering burritos, or hundreds or thousands as other retailers get in on the act the air will be full of flying belly-fill and drones will be colliding with each other and falling out of the skies like oak leaves in autumn.Oh ... and yes ... it will still be cost inefficient to deliver that Big Gulp.This is a case where more isn't merrier and too much success will launch a tsunami of consumer pushback, negative media attention and over-regulation.As a marketing stunt it may be OK but drones, I fear, are likely to quickly become victims of their own success.
  • Posted on: 07/20/2016

    How can retailers gain something useful from employee surveys?

    First of all, businesses are not democracies. Every decision doesn't have to be popular if it really is in the best interest of the business and/or the customer.I suspect that very few employees like taking orders, think they have long enough break/meal times, enjoy fulfilling routine functions and/or living with the vagaries often associated with labor scheduling.To Max's point, unless you are willing to radically transform your business, careful what you ask for.There are two levels of employee feedback: the useful lessons learned the hard way in the retail trenches and the "if I were in charge I'd never ask anyone to do X." The former is invaluable. The later can be dangerous.It is absolutely true that employees -- particularly frontline employees -- know more about what is right or wrong about a business than most executives comfortably staring at spreadsheets on their computer screens. But if those same executives aren't prepared to act on what they hear -- no matter how irrational -- then they are sewing the seeds of discontent.I know all about the values of being a SNAB (Sensitive New Age Boss) or the complexity of managing Millennials who aren't sure why their Pokemon Go searches need to be interrupted by work in the first place but, really, the show must go on -- and at a profit.So clearly the value of soliciting input exists in a perfect correlation to managing employee expectations. If they think you ought to do everything that they suggest, you may have a problem. If, on the other hand, there is an objective, transparent process for vetting input, it is likely a good exercise.
  • Posted on: 07/12/2016

    Forget Prime Day – It’s Cow Appreciation Day

    "Moo-ve" over all you slick big data crunchers, I wouldn't steer you wrong here. Chick-fil-A has already milked this idea for everything it's worth, and that's no bull.I don't know if this will roundup any more customers but -- when it comes to gaining maximum publicity with a minimum investment -- this is hardly the firm's first rodeo.While other marketers might be cowed by the idea of asking customers to makes asses ... er ... sorry ... cattle out of themselves ... Chick-fil-A is clearly spot-on in terms of getting the herd in line.Who cares if anyone actually does it? The company can't beef about all the free ink.
  • Posted on: 07/08/2016

    Walmart in no hurry to add other mobile payment options

    This may be a case where your existing customers all like your approach but your approach may -- in the long term -- alienate potential new customers. Walmart shoppers are loyal and trust the brand, so they probably see Walmart Pay as a good thing, but I'm not so sure that the majority of all customers like any system that limits their convenient payment.Ever been to a Nordstrom when a customer is told they can't charge their purchases on their Visa or MasterCard? It isn't pretty.
  • Posted on: 07/08/2016

    Will new gen grocery stores cut waste down to zero?

    These are baby steps in the right direction. The idea of eliminating waste is great, but utopian. My supermarket encourages people to bring their own bags, discounts the purchase if you do and the vast majority of shoppers still ask for plastic bags for their orders.True waste-free food chains wouldn't have any packaging beyond what was needed to ship the product and ensure its safety, but I don't see gravity-fed cereal bins replacing branded product anytime soon.The key is for retailers to keep trying and not get frustrated when customers opt for convenience over the environment.
  • Posted on: 07/08/2016

    Are in-store personalization tactics becoming less creepy?

    I think this is sort of the wrong question. It isn't the personalization technologies per se (although some are really creepy) as much as it is the application.So if I have purchased Coke and my cash register tape offers a discount on Pepsi, the implication is a. I made the wrong choice, or b. I value 50 cents more than taste, or c. you think I'm a sheep.Let's look at the "suggested sell" in the dressing room. Standing half undressed in a room with a technology that seems to recognize you is creepy on its face. Why not a customized follow-up email a day or so later?And on and on and on. People don't like their privacy invaded or their intelligence demeaned or their choice nullified.Again, it isn't so much the tool, it's how we apply it.
  • Posted on: 07/07/2016

    Is Nordstrom smart to bring Trunk Club’s fulfillment in-house?

    In the digital space consolidating operations is always good, assuming you aren't sacrificing efficiency or customer satisfaction. But cost savings isn't the answer here.True, this move will take some of the pressure off of the balance sheet, but the real issue here is why the digital strategy is producing sub-optimized results in the first place.Clearly there is something wrong with the omnichannel strategy -- whether that's on the operational or marketing side -- and it needs to be fixed. Band-Aids don't stop hemorrhages.
  • Posted on: 07/07/2016

    Yes! McD’s McGriddles all-day, every day

    Smart animals adapt.It's no secret that for years McDonald's has wrestled with a day part problem, i.e., they sold a lot of breakfasts and, after breakfast, they sold a lot of Happy Meals.Why? Well, the cynic in me says it's because their entrees taste like cardboard, but that's a different discussion for a different day, although maybe it isn't.The secret in foodservice -- whether white tablecloth or QSR -- is to first serve food that tastes good. Obviously, McDonald's patrons prefer the taste of breakfast over the chain's more traditional dinner entrees, hence the popularity of the new program and the overall boost in sales.You don't have to be the sharpest knife in the drawer to figure out what they should do next -- either focus on becoming a breakfast-centric chain or develop an entree program that features edible food.
  • Posted on: 07/07/2016

    Do retail marketers have an appetite for data science?

    I'm not so sure in certain retail channels -- supermarketing for example -- that you can make the case that data analytics have helped all that much in the first place. True, supermarketers have leveraged data to do a more efficient job of managing a dwindling share of market, but was that really the goal?So I think we should start by drawing a distinction between customer-focused analytics and organizational-facing analytics.Stop! I don't want to hear the argument that all analytics in the end benefit the customer. They do, in a semi-abstract way, but often not in ways the customer notices.As to whether the data should be contracted or done in-house, it's easy to say that contracting gives no competitive advantage and therefore homegrown systems are better. To that argument I can only say, "Can you spell Kmart?"We live in a world of increasingly open-sourced analytics and one where the pace of technological disruption challenges the notion that DIY analytics are best.That said, I see no reason why the internal analytics teams shouldn't be as good -- or even better -- than the teams they contract with.So, bottom line, the answer doesn't seem to be either/or as much as "and."
  • Posted on: 07/06/2016

    Dollar stores — they have the meats

    Depends on what kind of meat we are talking about here and which dollar store operators.If it is packaged meat I can see the dollar channel's share increasing gradually over time. If we are talking about fresh meat -- forget it, unless you are talking about a food desert where customers lack mobility.The same is true about operators. Could best-in-class operators sell fresh perishables? Sure, it happened in convenience stores. Could the average independent strip mall dollar store safely handle meat? Probably not given that some of them are challenged when it comes to handling helium balloons.Bottom line -- I wouldn't lose sleep over this if I were a butcher or a supermarket operator.
  • Posted on: 07/06/2016

    Should retailers outsource delivery logistics?

    The upside would be if they outsourced to a company that was more efficient than they were. Customers would be happier and internal resources could be deployed more effectively.On the downside, if an outsourced service proved popular, the retailer, or retailers, could find themselves at the mercy of a "partner" suddenly anxious to raise rates and, as a result, lower margins.As they say -- a supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
  • Posted on: 07/06/2016

    Will getting rid of list prices help or hurt Amazon?

    I'm sure fear of potential future litigation and a desire to strengthen margins are at the heart of the decision -- assuming, in fact, the decision has actually been made to eliminate list prices.The problem is, if you are a discounter, how do you demonstrate the degree of discount without referencing a list price? Also, whenever any retailer -- digital or otherwise -- makes a dramatic public change in pricing policies, most consumers think the worst.It will be interesting to see if the rumors are true and, if they are, how consumers will react.
  • Posted on: 06/21/2016

    ModCloth backs anti-Photoshop legislation

    This is a debate over the nuances of sin, not a referendum on sin itself.Advertising? Deceptive! Who would have thought such a thing?Do retouched images constitute the largest part of the deception? Probably not.Is advertising misleading? That's kind of the point.Pass a rule that you can't retouch photos and ads will suddenly be full of computer generated images and other non-photographic graphics. It could cause a resurgence in the popularity of line drawing. Who knows?If anyone out there believes what they see in an advertisement, based solely on a retouched picture, no legislation will protect them. Insist on pure "truth in advertising" and you'll need a new platform to fund media and a new basis for sales and marketing campaigns.Caveat emptor! Today's consumer is better informed than any other consumer in human history. They are also responsible for exercising an appropriate level of skepticism.I'm more worried about the truth of the claims than I am about how they are illustrated. If you want to protect the consumer I'd start with the words, not the images.

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