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: 08/19/2019

    Will a new grocery private label spur more Target runs?

    The first Super Target I saw featured a halved head of cabbage, drastically displayed and -- as almost anyone but apparently Target could guess -- rusting and rotting before my very eyes. Needless to say, Target has come a long way since then. But that said, progress has obviously not been what the management teams wrestling with the grocery problem had hoped for. The problem is, I think, less with the way Target handles food and more that it has not earned the right in the mind of consumers to be a viable alternative to wherever it is they currently buy their food. What gave Target an edge in non-foods was uniqueness, style, merchandising, and affordability. You couldn't buy (the same) designer fashions or housewares anywhere but Target, but you can buy knock-off Honey Nut Cheerios everywhere. Inventory isn't going to solve Target's "food problem," storytelling is. Target executives would be well served to go back and study how Dave Nichol went about building the President's Choice brand at Loblaw. It's a good story about the power of telling a good story.
  • Posted on: 08/14/2019

    Will Kohl’s shoppers like the ‘emerging brands’ chosen by Facebook users?

    So ... let me think ... curation based on Facebook posts ... what could go wrong? Well, first there's that whole Facebook is so easily manipulated issue. Then there is the fact that Facebook's demographics lean older and, while Instagram's users may be younger now, grandma and grandpa won't be far behind. So I guess it MIGHT be a good idea depending on who the audience is. If Kohl's is trying to entice Boomers -- good move ... assuming Boomers want to follow niche trends. If it is chasing Gen Z, I'm not so sure. Also the problem with offering au currant curation is that ... well ... you have to be au currant. The social media world is chaotically dynamic compared to traditional retail order cycles. What is in today, may be totally out tomorrow. Just think about Starbucks' pumpkin spice lattes which looked to be on a never ending growth curve until the Food Babe spiked them. I just don't think many folks look at Facebook as a trusted data partner given all of its failed attempts to reform. It is simply too easily gamed, possibly by design. Like so many other retail "breakthroughs" the devil here is in the details and the execution. Stay tuned.
  • Posted on: 08/02/2019

    Will its ‘best of’ designer sale trigger a massive run on Target?

    The devil -- as always -- is in the execution. This could be a great promotion, or an epic fail. We'll soon see. As to question number two, in most cases marketing trumps merchandise -- think pet rocks. Target's collaborations with designers has helped build their brand identity and caused buzz for two decades and I'm sure it has impacted other retailers. But so many of its competitors have stumbled over the past 20 years, so the lesson doesn't seem universal.
  • Posted on: 08/02/2019

    Amazon kills its Dash button – what comes next?

    Amazon has taken the "fail fast and often" doctrine to heart. New technology? They'll try it. If it doesn't work, they move on with our spending a small fortune explaining their decision. So they learned voice activation is a better interface than Dash ... and now they are moving along to the next innovation. As to the second question, intuitively the answer appear to be yes, but intuition isn't the best benchmark. We'll all know the answer when Amazon expands the range of items with reordering technology or phases it out.
  • Posted on: 08/02/2019

    Gen Z gets creative online

    First of all, every generation believes it is the most creative generation evolution has managed to produce. It's called generational hubris. What has changed with Gen Z are the tools, although in all fairness I bet there are plenty of Millennials, Gen Xers, and even some Boomers that use Photoshop (invented before the first Gen Zer was born, after all) with the same flair. (For scary examples supporting this hypothesis see all the grandparents on Facebook that used that creepy Russian aging app.) So the real difference is that Gen Z has been raised in an era when altering/interacting with digital brand content is as The Monkees once sang, "more or less a given thing." I'm not so sure marketers have an "opportunity and challenge" here as much as an obligation. If you want to talk to consumers you have to contact them where they live and employ words, images, and messages that resonate with them. Again, not really a new idea. Oh, one more thought: my best is that the Alphas, or whatever marketers decide to make a fortune labeling and explaining the generation that comes after Gen Z is called, will think they are the most creative generation in history. It's easy for folks to confuse the sophistication of the tools with the skills of the toolmakers.
  • Posted on: 08/01/2019

    Should Simon Property Group bail out (invest in) more retail tenants?

    Depends on the terms, the retailer, and the market. Investing in failing businesses so that you can keep your rental properties full may be a good bridge strategy, but it doesn't seem like a long term solution for the woes of mall retail or for Simon.
  • Posted on: 08/01/2019

    CPG companies spending more to use less packaging

    Sustainability is, of course, the major trend. As to cost, there are lots of other elements driving the price increase from R&D on material strength, efficacy, and other properties to design costs, and marketing and advertising spend. And then there are added regulatory compliance costs as well. As to what companies should be investing in, the answer is always the same; what the consumer marker demands. It's not a question of ROI. It's the cost of doing business with the new consumer.
  • Posted on: 08/01/2019

    Has dynamic pricing hit a rut?

    All of my research indicates that consumers in brick and mortar stores want fair and honest pricing, so much so in fact that they prefer it -- at least as a construct -- to lowest price. Dynamic pricing works online because it is what shoppers "grew up" with and see as a norm -- if in fact they are aware of it at all. But I agree with Paula on this one, no consumer is going to be happy watching a price change in front of them, even if it is going down. They are smart enough to figure out that if prices can go down they can also go up.
  • Posted on: 07/31/2019

    Are store robots cute, creepy – or nearly useless?

    That depends on what their, "primetime performances," are. If they are to create buzz, amuse kids, and perform a few tasks, then yes. Will they grow in terms of "skills" and effectiveness? I think so. A decade from now is really fairly unpredictable, but we can easily assume some form of companion function, inventory management, wayfinding, suggested selling, maybe even onsite recipe printing. Who knows? One thing is for sure, they aren't going away.
  • Posted on: 07/31/2019

    Kroger to make customers pay for cash-back debit card payments

    In a word, no! This may be one of the least consumer-sensitive ideas I've ever heard of. Whether or not customers are willing to go along with it in the short run is immaterial, it's just a bad policy. But ... as long as we are thinking along these lines why not charge customers for parking? After all those pesky lots need maintenance. And how about bags? Instead of rewarding shoppers for bringing their own bags, why not charge a nickel for every bag you bring and a dime for every bag the store supplies? And what about initiating surcharges for water used in misting produce and extra electricity on frozen foods? You get the point. It's hard enough to attract shoppers these days without creating ways to upset them.
  • Posted on: 07/31/2019

    Who will seize the opportunity to turn stores into fulfillment centers?

    It depends on the endgame strategy. Why not just downsize the physical store, renegotiate the leases with the landlord and not incur added systems costs? Well, that would work if your endgame is to get "lean and mean" and try to outrun the competition. If however you believe brick-and-mortar retail will continue to lose share to online competition -- a fairly conservative bet -- turning yourself into a warehouse to facilitate the competition may make sense. All that said, if you think you are going to significantly build loyalty by bringing customers to your store, I think you may be mistaken. It strikes me that while the distribution center approach makes sense in the short term, it is a ploy to stop sales attrition in the short term. Somehow I think a long term strategy has to have a more active value proposition for the consumer. If that isn't true, than advantage goes to the prime movers. For almost everyone else, it's already gone over.
  • Posted on: 07/17/2019

    Alexa – Are Americans ready to shop by voice?

    For transparency, I attached my reply to one of Bob's posts above in error. And, I concur with you that nobody is saying that AI will rule the world; that there will be no analog functionality left in the universe after ... oh ... say ... October 27, 2021; or that nobody will ever go into physical store in the future.
  • Posted on: 07/17/2019

    Alexa – Are Americans ready to shop by voice?

    Ken, I, on the other hand, actually did look at the survey. Among other nuggets, it suggests, "97 percent of consumers agree there is a need to go into a physical store to purchase items." So ... since the questions were worded in that way, i.e., phrased to give physical retailers the best possible chances, since its hard to imagine doing ALL one's shopping online -- at least today -- it's safe to assume the results were going to be pretty predictable. As to the question in question (as it were), it appears to have lumped chatbots and robots together as one entity, so there is no (apparent) way to see if they were objecting to robotic interfaces, or voice-activated devices, or both.
  • Posted on: 07/17/2019

    Alexa – Are Americans ready to shop by voice?

    Kind of sounds like marketing to me. [Please note the tongue firmly placed in cheek]
  • Posted on: 07/17/2019

    Alexa – Are Americans ready to shop by voice?

    Fair point. Sorry, I forgot.

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