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: 05/12/2017

    Will Unilever’s investment in an organic meal kit maker pay off?

    Meal kits can serve a niche, but I don't see that niche being large enough to support all the players that keep entering the market. In fact, once the novelty wears off I think the niche will actually decline in size over time. As to the Unilever investment, $9.2 million sounds like the annual tea budget for the London office. Never hurts to place a variety of small bets just in case the market actually grows. Besides, they'll probably get more than $9 million worth of consumer information and insight out of the investment.
  • Posted on: 05/12/2017

    Will Amazon dominate the online furniture market?

    Let's unbundle the question a bit. Will Amazon disrupt a segment of the furniture business? Yes. Will the size of that segment grow over time? Of course, the online share of every category will grow overtime. Could Amazon become a major force in furniture? I suppose so, if they choose to. So what's to stop them? Well, it's easier to ship a book than it is to truck around a fully assembled bookcase. You can leave a package with a CD by the door, but what do you do about a couch? How happy will third-party carriers be with hauling around large freight? And what about those nice bells and whistles like assembly, placement and -- takeaway of old furniture such as bedding or appliances? So the answer is yes, they could take a bigger piece of the furniture market if they wanted. But the better question is, do they really want it?
  • Posted on: 05/12/2017

    Do customer reviews suffer from a herd mentality?

    The process of consumer reviews is inherently biased, subjective and easily manipulated -- positively or negatively. Reviewers take the time to review because they have some vested -- economic, emotional, ideological or whatever -- interest in making a statement about a product or service. And when you balance out the most likely motivations they tend toward the "positive" review side of the ledger. As for what retailers should do about negative reviews, I say nothing unless they are libelous or contain gross inaccuracies. Censorship is never a good way to make your case.
  • Posted on: 05/11/2017

    Is marketing research suffering from an identity crisis?

    I think it's way past time for a marketing revolution. It's a new age and we have new tools and yet -- for reasons largely unknown even to ourselves -- we seem to feel compelled to fight old battles over and over again.Tools aren't strategy. How can shopper marketing teams best leverage intelligence? By using the best, most appropriate tools on the problem at hand, not worrying about whether or not one size really does fit all. Is the clash between data science and predictive analytics and others using other tools "natural?" No, it's artificial and contrived.
  • Posted on: 05/11/2017

    What’s the ‘STORY’ with’s grocery store?

    First of all, a minor confession. I am a huge fan of STORY. It's one of my "go to" examples anytime I hear people talking about how boring brick-and-mortar retail is getting. That said, the question is an interesting one. The pop-up may help spread the story among New York hipsters and may even make a few of them think a bit differently about Walmart. It's bound to get some good, free publicity -- just look at this discussion. As to whether or not the pop-up will be followed by more permanent physical stores, I think this is getting to be a tired question. Successful retailers will balance a broad palate of tools to engage customers on their own terms. Some will be digital. Some will be physical. Some will be highly personalized. Others will be driven by AI. We need to get over our obsession that retailing is some kind of binary forced choice. If is smart it will continue to find innovative ways to meet its customers wherever they are and however they want to be met.
  • Posted on: 05/10/2017

    Is facial recognition a viable solution for reducing shoplifting?

    Effective isn't the same thing as good policy. Yes, facial recognition can reduce shoplifting. And, yes, transparency is critical. But take it one step further. Look at all the problems shrink control policies create today in terms of real or alleged racial profiling, etc. If you are profiling one type of customer and you catch them and they submit to a facial recognition system do you run the risk of amassing a visual record of discrimination? I think so. Also turning a system designed to catch bag guys and girls into a marketing tool will raise howls of protests from consumer advocates and civil libertarians. And ... what happens when those fail recognition files get hacked? As they say, careful what you ask for, you just might get it.
  • Posted on: 05/10/2017

    Has Fabletics bridged the digital/physical divide with its omnicart tech?

    This sounds -- and I clearly don't know enough about it -- like a technology looking for a problem. The whole system seems convoluted and frankly, expensive from the retailer's perspective. Will AR/VR/AI and the rest of the alphabet soup of digital capabilities impact how people buy clothes? Of course! But, the interface needs to be a tad more seamless.
  • Posted on: 05/10/2017

    Are pricing bots a boon or bane for consumers?

    Pricing bots are just the digital equivalent of your neighbors telling you who has the best sales this week. People love to think they are getting the best deal, whether or not that's actually true and whether or not that actually influences their final purchase decision. I think there will always be some form of pricing bots, but I don't think that -- beyond the lowest income shoppers -- price will be the greatest determining factor in most pricing decisions. A factor? Yes. An important factor? Sure. But the single driver? I doubt it.
  • Posted on: 05/09/2017

    Will online grocers redefine hotel room service?

    I guess so ... but not at scale. Of course, I can't begin to tell you how many times I've been frustrated while out of town on a business trip because I couldn't bake a torte in my room after a hard day. So, again, if you build a theme around the offer, or if you tie it in with another program like cooking classes and if you are dealing with families or extended stay vacationers ... well maybe this could have legs. But for now, I'll stick to room service.
  • Posted on: 05/09/2017

    Should more brands offer rewards linked to store purchases?

    Look, success is defined by what behavior you want to incentivize. As a long term frequent flyer with a billion miles, I'm amused every time I get on an airplane to see all the Platinum card holders back in coach because their upgrades were taken by people who charge their entire lives on their airline credit cards, but only actually fly twice a year. If Delta -- my favorite victim since I live in Detroit -- is in the business of promoting financial instruments, then it's doing a fine job. If they want to make flyers happy, well, not so much.Does Starbucks want to get people to go to Kroger's more often and drink coffee at home? If so, this is a great approach. If they want people in their stores, again, not so much. So, before a brand extends its loyalty program, it really ought to think about what it wants its most loyal customers to do.
  • Posted on: 05/09/2017

    Will next day delivery make Target an omnichannel force?

    So, leaders lead and followers? Well, followers end up trying to play very expensive catch-up by somebody else's rules. Of course, they are trying to address market conditions -- and that's the problem. Instead of getting ahead of the market they are falling further and further behind. As to the second part of the question, there are other areas, but they all tie back to a single problem. Rather than designing the future of retail, Target is busy trying to compete in a future designed by others. Longterm, that's almost always a losing strategy. Target needs to take a deep breath, go off on a retreat and figure out how it gets itself back into position leading the parade instead of continuing to chase it.
  • Posted on: 05/08/2017

    Will personalized meal plans increase Peapod’s order sizes?

    I think there is a portion of the market that will love it and a good deal of the market that won't ever opt in. As for Peapod, I think it will increase their business, but not exponentially.
  • Posted on: 05/08/2017

    Can Walmart dash past Amazon with its own product replenishment system?

    There is a huge POTENTIAL opportunity in merging their IoT and home replenishment but it is totally dependent on whether or not consumers find value -- to themselves -- in the service. Nobody really wants to think about buying toothpaste or laundry soap or paper towels or dozens and dozens of other products, so -- if a replenishment system really worked -- it might be welcomed. However if I move my toothbrush several times a day when I wipe down my bathroom and Walmart ends up sending me dozens of toothbrushes a month as a result, I'm not sure it's going to work out so well. As to concerns, the temptation is to say privacy but, remember, consumers who are concerned about privacy aren't going to opt into such a system in the first place, so it's sort of a moot point.
  • Posted on: 05/08/2017

    Do consumers want experiential rewards?

    Let's not forget "real" people -- you know, those guys with fixed incomes who like discounts. And let's not forget that not every manufacturer is in a position to reward every customer in a unique way -- unless said customer spends a good deal of money. In the case of Coke for example, that kind of customization is possible because it's relatively cheap and acts as ever-cheaper advertising and is a fizz in the bucket of lifetime consumption costs. So yes, there is some room for experiential marketing but it's not a magic wand.
  • Posted on: 03/17/2017

    Will Uniqlo beat Zara with speed and customer focus?

    Zara clearly has prime mover advantage and Uniglo has already made some serious missteps so I guess I'd have to give the nod to Zara. But, that said, they are pitching toward very different markets so there is no reason to believe that -- if Uniqlo can actually course correct -- there isn't room for both of them.

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