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.

  • VIEW ARTICLES
  • VIEW COMMENTS
  • Posted on: 10/18/2018

    Where are market research and analytics falling short?

    Stephen, thanks. As I said at the outset, I was being a bit deliberately provocative. I think we may share a common opinion that tools need to be appropriate to tasks.
  • Posted on: 10/18/2018

    Where are market research and analytics falling short?

    At the risk of setting off a war -- or perhaps because I think a war ought to be set off -- let me advance a provocative hypothesis: Maybe it's the case that market research, as we know it, is just no longer as relevant as it used to be. Why would I suggest that? Simply because lifestyles continue to change faster than the tools we have to measure them. We continue to use the same old, Industrial Age tools and force "the facts" into neat little 20th century intellectual boxes. By its very nature a good deal of market research is linear and historical, but the shopper of 2018 bears little resemblance to the consumer of say 1998. Let's take a concrete example. Many BrainTrusters burned many brain cells describing "Gen Y." Remember them? They were what we now call "Millennials." Why did we need a second label for a single cohort, besides the opportunity to take a second billable bite at the demographic apple? Because cohorts -- defined in 18 years increments -- aren't that useful a measuring tool anymore. If we were honest we would all concede that traditional market research tools like focus groups and Internet intercepts have outlived their usefulness, defined as an ability to yield "actionable" -- sorry, couldn't resist -- insights. Big Data? Great ... but not if the algorithms are filtering for old patterns, which explains why Amazon can never get my book recommendations right, among other more critical problems. Joel's first and third checklist items have to do with cost -- critical in the real world, but not the first consideration if you are seeing quality results. And then we have an additional checklist item referring to omnichannel -- great if you think consumer shopping behaviors are limited to mobile, physical and online, but not so good when you remember that mobile is just a way to access online, and that we have lots of new access points like voice activation, subscription, etc. And we also conveniently overlook the fact that we aren't even measuring shopping patterns at farmers markets, independent stores, Etsy, eBay, etc. No, the mistake market researchers make is trying to freeze a moving target and project the image forward in time. Now let the "thumbs downs" fly.
  • Posted on: 10/17/2018

    Should ‘best by’ dates expire?

    It all depends on what you are trying to say. "Use By" implies the food is not edible after the date specified. "Sell By" tells you when the retailer needs to move the product off the shelf, but not how long it is safe for consumers to eat. And "Best By" could mean the product is still safe, but loses some desired quality -- flavor, moistness, dryness, or whatever -- or is some other way degraded from its optimum condition. The bottom line: these phrases aren't really all that interchangeable. I suppose there are packaging technology solutions that might help here, but they would raise the cost of food. And no matter what verbiage the industry settles on, the only real fix for reducing food waste is to change consumer behavior. If we ate everything we bought within a day or two of purchasing it would be a different story. But we don't. We buy more than we can consume, store it and one day, when we are in a manic cleaning fit, we discover that the boxed macaroni dinner expired in 1957 and then toss it. Want to reduce food waste? Work on the problems at its source -- consumer education, or lack thereof.
  • Posted on: 10/16/2018

    ‘Frictionless’ is the annoying word of the year

    Hey Paula -- I don't disagree. I was just drawing a distinction between "friction" retailers create, i.e. systemic and institutional, versus those consumers take on themselves. You could really make a similar argument around selections, return terms and other things as well -- but again that's "friction" caused by a consumer's desire for more options and/or information.
  • Posted on: 10/16/2018

    ‘Frictionless’ is the annoying word of the year

    Frankly, I don't think consumers have a definition of frictionless -- they simply don't think in terms of the neologisms that marketers so delight in -- and if they did it would be something akin to a "no touch" way to shop. I want to respectfully disagree with Paula on one point. Pricing would be frictionless if you didn't check. The choice to check prices, compare, bargain shop, hunt for sales, whatever -- rests entirely with the consumer. Again, we are talking about eliminating friction, not designing a utopian shopping experience. SO, if you want the ultimate frictionless system -- and, like Paula, I have trouble dealing with this as though it were "a thing," -- it would look something like a subscription service and the products are delivered to my home when I have scheduled them and the bill is paid by an automatic debit. The only "friction" here is taking the stuff out of the box and putting it away. As to the last question, I think we need to declare a marketing truce, quit creating new labels for shopping and focus on tangible ways of improving conditions in which real people shop, giving them what they really want, how they really want it, at a price they are willing to pay.
  • Posted on: 10/15/2018

    Will J.C. Penney’s new private brand connect with Instagram-savvy moms?

    Jasmine -- you are most welcome!
  • Posted on: 10/15/2018

    Will J.C. Penney’s new private brand connect with Instagram-savvy moms?

    I think there is a prior question lurking here. Instagram has grown because moms, dads and grandparents discovered Facebook. Who wants to be on the same social media as their parents and grandparents? My bet? If lots of "moms" -- we'll set aside the fact that lots of "dads" are also out there raising children for a moment -- start getting their fashion inspiration from Instagram, their children will start migrating in droves to the next parent-free social media platform. There are a lot of effective influencers out there in social media land, I'm just not sure J.C. Penney and moms are at the head of the pack. The whole point of influencers is credibility, authenticity and suggestion -- not direct marketing one generation removed. Next there's the name, Peyton and Parker. Were Muffy and Archibald taken? Great if you are targeting upper class prep school kids, not so much if fashionistas are your target. As to the last question -- I want to see the research that says Millennials eat out more because of decor packages. Choose between restaurants? Maybe, but what single person or two income young couple thinks to themselves, "Oh, the decor options are SO limited, I'm/we're just going to eat at home?" If we want to know what drives social media behavior, and how social media in turn drives consumer behavior, maybe we should start looking at it through the users' eyes, not like marketers studying a newly discovered tribe living among us.
  • Posted on: 10/12/2018

    Cannabis-infused drink and food makers are high on grocery opportunities

    John — remember CBDs have no psychoactive properties. They literally can't get you high, or anywhere close to it. So, there shouldn't be any need for segregated shelving.
  • Posted on: 10/12/2018

    Is Amazon on the right path to improved product discovery with Scout?

    Doug — I actually disagree, at least over the long run. Written words, I'm sad to say, are being replaced. Look at voice activation of everything from your television remote and doorbell to your thermostat and car. Now, look at texting with its automatic suggestion for symbolic replacements for words. Type in birthday and you get a prompt to substitute a picture of a cake, etc., etc. And then there are those damn Emojis. So, technologists are training us to communicate more and more in non-alphabetic symbols — words, after all being symbols in their own right. So, while I am a huge fan of Tufte's work, and conceding he still may be right today, the day is coming soon when pure visuals — say a three dimensional "mini movie" that uploads images from your home and allows you to test out various chairs in digital situ may be preferred over words. We aren't there yet, and we won't be there tomorrow, but we will be there sooner than most of us are prepared to admit.
  • Posted on: 10/12/2018

    Cannabis-infused drink and food makers are high on grocery opportunities

    It is still a Schedule 1 drug, but Schedule 1 drugs can be used for medical purposes if they are approved by the FDA or in clinical trials.
  • Posted on: 10/12/2018

    Cannabis-infused drink and food makers are high on grocery opportunities

    Steve -- as you can see in my remarks below the Sprig issue is a separate case since it involves THC-infusion as opposed to say hemp-sourced CBDs. It is the psychoactive ingredients that seem to be an issue here -- although if the FDA follows the lead of the current (albeit probably only until after the midterms) Attorney General there may be a significant issue. Sessions hates "marijuana" in any form and is on record as opposing legalization. Obviously legalization could lead to large scale growing operations, reduced supply chain costs, open distribution and -- by extension -- accelerated interest on the part of CPGs.
  • Posted on: 10/12/2018

    Cannabis-infused drink and food makers are high on grocery opportunities

    Sorry to be a nudge, but if you look at the Sprig website you will see that they are marketing their product as THC-infused. There is a lot of difference in selling a product containing CBD and selling anything with THC in it, the latter being psychoactive and the former being non-psychoactive. In the U.S. the issue is really still at the federal level. In Detroit we have had major raids, (accompanied by a significant amount of property damage) of grow-ops that conform to Michigan law but are -- according to the DEA -- in violation of federal law anyway. I'd say that until that little wrinkle straightens up it's going to be a problematic market. Now, that said, federal policy could change tomorrow. As to other issues, some retailers -- and more than a few customers -- are likely to never move past the, "drugs are bad" position, so community standards will dictate who does and doesn't carry these items when and if all the legal restraints are removed.
  • Posted on: 10/12/2018

    Is Amazon on the right path to improved product discovery with Scout?

    I think the same criticism -- to some degree or another -- can be leveled at all of Amazon's ML functions, so I'm not sure if Scout is any more or less guilty. I have been an Amazon customer almost from Day One and they still don't get my book recommendations right. As Ken points out, there is a problem in not nuancing selection criteria and metadata. For example, on the traditional Amazon side, I bought a new book on William Burroughs. The algorithm read him as a gay author and so flooded my recommendations page with LGBT literature suggestions. At the top of the list? The Gay Science by Friedrich Nietzsche, which of course has nothing to do with being gay or William Burroughs for that matter. Now over the course of the years, I have purchased all kinds of books on and by the Beat Generation, but Amazon can't seem to figure out that that is where the Burroughs book should be classified. All that said, they are doing pretty well with failed instruments. Maybe I should read more Nietzsche after all.
  • Posted on: 10/11/2018

    Would biometric feedback shopping carts creep out Walmart’s customers?

    I don't know about the customers, but their lawyers would love it. This is perhaps the classic example of, "just because you can doesn't mean you should" technology. Yes it's creepy, but it is also ridiculous on its face. How many Walmart customers collapse on any given day? This is a fix for a problem that doesn't exist. I assume that at some point at least one customer has suffered a heart attack while shopping at Walmart. Does this mean that it is a good idea to strap portable EKG machines on everyone as they enter the store? Of course not. Biometrics will have a huge place in the future of retail, but this isn't even a good half step in the right direction. If it is a publicity stunt, as some here suggest, it's a dumb one. At least when Amazon does this kind of thing it appears that whatever they are flogging might have some consumer benefit.
  • Posted on: 10/10/2018

    Will Best Buy’s golden years strategy deliver long-term success?

    Ian, I totally agree, BUT I think they have to start somewhere. The real key to the program's long-term success will be how fast they migrate from the "old is enfeebled," model, which is perhaps more applicable to Boomers' parents than it is to Boomers, to the notion of concierge tech support. For years, well decades really, I have thought that retailers were missing an opportunity by not approaching aging populations in the same way that Sam Walton approached low-income shoppers -- figuring out what they needed that they weren't being offered and giving it to them with a level of respect they often didn't receive. We all get old, and generations age in different ways. In the 1950s, for example, most 70 year old men were ... well ... dead. Today they may be on their fourth wife, third family and seventh career. And the story is even more robust for women. In a society that revolves around an almost fetishized vision of female youth and beauty, older women need retailers who take them seriously as viable and complete human beings. And since women still outlive men, their viability as a target market is even greater than those of their male cohort peers. So I salute Best Buy for taking a first step, even if it is a clumsy stumble. And as I suggested in my comments above, they may be in a position to become the world's first serious experts on how aging impacts retail. Sure there will be a lot of missteps along the way -- but everyone ages, except for you and I of course.

Contact Ryan

  • Apply to be a BrainTrust Panelist

  • Please briefly describe your qualifications — specifically, your expertise and experience in the retail industry.
  • By submitting this form, I give you permission to forward my contact information to designated members of the RetailWire staff.

    See RetailWire's privacy policy for more information about what data we collect and how it is used.