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: 12/02/2016

    A small retailer makes a bold move against big chains

    I agree with Max. As our most recent election demonstrates, almost to a fault, we are increasingly becoming a nation where people seek approval on the basis of the fact that they are not the other. In the election it was, "vote for me because I am not him/her," rather than, "vote for me because I have the following plan." I really do get what Atlas is saying, but they presumably aren't competing against Petco or Panera. What would they think if Panera started advertising that you should eat there because they don't co-locate on blocks with liquor stores?Sure, all true city lovers despair at the sameness of certain urban and suburban commercial landscapes. Part of the charm has gone out of neighborhoods that used to be wholly defined by small and/or ethnic entrepreneurs. But if you are going to "name names," you ought to address authentic and meaningful consumer issues, otherwise its a form of capitalist McCarthyism. So if Atlas wants to call out other companies, why not start by telling people why they should shop for their wine and spirits with them rather than Joe's Liquor? Being an old, successful family firm is a honorable and great accomplishment, but -- by itself -- it's not a compelling argument in today's intensely competitive market.It isn't about what you did for me in 1928 that brings customers in, it's what you are going to do for them today and tomorrow. Better to talk about the qualities that have allowed you to last that long than to attack the fact that sandwiches are sold by chains rather than a corner diner with a blue plate special.
  • Posted on: 12/01/2016

    Could digital advertising be replaced by a subscription model?

    Peter's idea of getting people to pay for the absence of content is an interesting one in theory, but might cause a revolution in practice. Sooner or later consumers are going to wake up to the fact that they are paying significant costs to access and block content. While no individual charge -- satellite radio, or cable or online subscriptions -- will break the bank, the aggregate media cost for participating households is getting formidable. Will people add to those costs by giving Facebook an extra $75 a year to not see content? Maybe, maybe not. What happens if Instagram, LinkedIn, etc., also begin to charge? If you assume that an average user belongs to between two to five social networks, we could be talking an additional $375 a year to not see content tacked on to the thousands a year, (assuming cable with premium service, satellite radio, etc.) people are already paying to see, hear, stream and access content. Somebody needs to look at the average disposable incomes in "flyover" America. If they do, I think they'd see that the extra $75 or $150 a year might be a higher hurdle than it seems.
  • Posted on: 12/01/2016

    The RetailWire Christmas Commercial Challenge Global Edition – Week 1

    I found it interesting that the Sainsbury’s spot stressed what a hassle in-store holiday shopping is. It probably correctly enumerated all the frustrations associated with the holiday period and, of course, ends with a positive -- if oddly egocentric -- message. The Marks & Spencer spot on the other hand was entertaining, poked fun at paternalism and was clever in subtle ways -- like Ms. Claus reading "Fifty Shades of Red." So while they both worked -- and worked better than many U.S. spots -- I'd go with Marks & Spencer.
  • Posted on: 11/30/2016

    What convinces retailers to innovate?

    It all starts with culture. Historically, retailers have demonstrated a shared culture that is risk-averse, favors proprietary solutions, uses retail industry benchmarking as a primary metric for success and has shown a disdain for people who haven't grown up in the business themselves. This is a losing culture for anyone interested in getting serious about innovation. Retailers also need to understand the difference between "new" and "new to us." Much of what retail accepts as leading edge technology is a decade or two old if you go back to beta forms.So how do you fix this? Start by making certain strategic hires outside the industry -- from areas like high technology, anthropology, design thinking, etc. Next give them a full voice at the table. There's no point in hiring somebody for show and then not listening to them. Then you want to develop a true customer-centric culture, thinking through the business on the basis of customer desire, need and expectation rather than force-feeding everything through a logistics and efficiency model. And finally retailers should benchmark other industries, not just their own, in order to understand what the real state-of-the-art is.
  • Posted on: 11/29/2016

    The RetailWire Christmas Commercial Challenge: vs.

    I love the Amazon spot. Jet's spot is ... well ... just a sort of price-oriented spot. I get what they were trying to say, but it was just ham-handed. I think Amazon's spot speaks to values which I believe are ever increasingly more important to people -- as people, not faceless "consumers." Choosing to communicate a message of respect, peace, understanding, diversity and friendship speaks volumes in an era characterized by divisiveness, hatred, racial, ethnic and religious animus. If the Amazon spot isn't an open invitation to new customers, regardless of what demographic group they happen to belong to, I don't know what is. Given the current political climate, it was a bold move.
  • Posted on: 11/23/2016

    Has Best Buy solved the Amazon riddle?

    I'm with Paula Rosenbaum -- it's the salespeople that make the difference. You never feel, or at least I never feel, like I'm getting hurried, hassled or upsold at Best Buy. The sales staff are knowledgable and, better still, when they don't know an answer they actually go find someone who does. As technology grows more complex, it's nice to interact with a human who can lead you through the maze.
  • Posted on: 11/23/2016

    Ten tips to a stress-free, enjoyable and productive holiday

    I see Prozac didn't make the list. Hmmm ... well ... given the way shoppers behave during the holidays, if you can't be tranquilized I'd recommend listening to Ben Ball and thinking of the screaming, ill tempered masses as members of your family ... assuming you all voted the same way this month.
  • Posted on: 11/23/2016

    What will Trump’s TPP rejection mean for retail?

    In the short term none, since this would be measuring a non-change. But, what happens over time remains to be seen. America can't have a vibrant economy without global trade, and -- election promises aside -- no country is going to sign on to punitive trade deals. The notion that manufacturing jobs will come back is a tragic illusion. If they did, they'd be done by robots, not people. So, the immediate impact will be on manufacturers who will lose access to lucrative markets which, over time, should set in motion a general downturn in the economy which will obviously not be good for retailers.But given the President-Elect's shall we say rather unusual grasp of policy, consistency and the limits of the Executive Office, it's almost impossible to say what the next Administration will actually do. Hillary isn't going to jail. The Wall probably won't be built, and in any event, Mexico is clearly not paying for it. And, my guess is the Affordable Care Act may be modified -- which would have happened in any administration -- but it isn't going anywhere either. So, as to trade, we'll just have to wait and see.
  • Posted on: 11/22/2016

    Patagonia to donate all Black Friday profits to green groups

    Wrong question. It isn't an "investment" in the classic sense, it is an exercise in brand building, free advertising and solid marketing. These are -- as many have already noted -- troubled times, especially for those concerned with the environment and climate change. By making a statement Patagonia and REI are striking a blow for common sense at a time when it seems like the latest endangered species. Both companies understand that at crisis points in history customers buy on the basis of values as much, or more, than on the basis of value. Smart marketing.
  • Posted on: 11/22/2016

    How important is convenience to motivating online holiday shoppers?

    One of these days people are going to wake up and realize that shoppers, well ... they shop. They don't think in terms of channels, they think about options. As long as online pricing is so low it's hard to understand why it wouldn't continue to rank at the top of the decision tree. Too bad Adobe's taxonomy isn't a tad more refined. Shoppers opt for shopping where and how it is most appropriate -- to their budgets, location, lifestyles and schedules. It really isn't much more complicated than that. We keep studying the trees and missing the forest.
  • Posted on: 11/22/2016

    The RetailWire Christmas Commercial Challenge: J.C. Penney vs. Kohl’s

    Put me in the "less than impressed with both" camp. If J.C. Penney is targeting its core customer this should be a big hit with the nursing home set. The awkward grab at the end of the Kohl's spot sort of creeped me out. I suppose the underlying messages -- don't forget the elderly and go out of your way to be kind -- are strong, but they are also generic. Not a fan.
  • Posted on: 11/21/2016

    Here’s one way retailers can measure cross-channel influence

    There may or may not be, but it will really take some serious study. Stores close for a variety of reasons, one of which is cross-channel sales. But to link a particular closing to cross-channel activity or to gin up projected estimates will take a lot more rigorous analysis.
  • Posted on: 11/21/2016

    Will table service be a difference-maker for McDonald’s?

    Will it improve the experience? Maybe, maybe not. Does that have anything to do with McDonald's real problem? I don't think so. The issues for McDonald's are, and always have been, taste and nutrition. If the food doesn't taste as good as similarly-priced options, they'll continue to see sales erode. I guess improved service will make some people feel better about eating at McDonald's, but they are adding added labor and technology costs. Not sure if the math works on this one.
  • Posted on: 11/21/2016

    Will Alexa-exclusive deals bring holiday cheer to Amazon?

    If we are talking about this year, probably not. But in years to come, I certainly think so. As the voice interface technologies continue to improve, shopping just gets easier and easier. I believe that voice recognition will quickly (measured in years, not months) take over many, many functions. Once the line is crossed with that first voice-activated purchase and customers begin to feel more comfortable with the notion of ordering through the Echo or similar technologies I believe the retail floodgates will open. Next step, reminders to repurchase replenishment items and unprompted suggestions. And that will be the next big hurdle for the Amazons of the world. It's one thing to tell Alexa to order a television and quite another to have her suggest you buy one.
  • Posted on: 11/01/2016

    Will integrating plus-size clothing boost Meijer’s apparel sales?

    First, a question, if retailers have historically charged more for plus-sizes, why haven't they charged less for petite and XS sizes?Just wondering.At any rate, hats off to Meijer to put customers' feelings ahead of a modest margin bump. The idea of treating all customers with respect may be novel, but I think it might just catch on. And if customers feel respected in the apparel aisles, odds are they will be spending more across all departments. Meijer does it again!

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