Don’t Be the Next Toys R Us: 7 Ways to Embrace Business Innovation

Posted on: Jul 18, 2018

Categories: Leadership, Marketing, Stay Current

Giving my Keynote at conferences all over the nation means that I get an inside look at business innovation across industries. News flash: change is the new normal, and in order to survive, every company will need to innovate across all departments.

There’s one thing that all the companies I work with ask me to speak about.

It’s happening in Wine & Spirits, Media, Higher Education and Category Management. I can guarantee it’s happening in your industry, too. It’s the one thing that we’re all dealing with—and the one thing we must embrace in order to survive: Change.

There is no brand, no way business, and no delivery system that you can’t be willing to change in order to keep up with the rapid pace of innovation. If you or your people are having trouble navigating change in your industry now, you better buckle up. The world is changing faster than ever before, but with strategy and an open mind, you can create business innovation that keeps your company alive far into the future.

1. Embrace automation.

Machines have been making processes more efficient for hundreds of years, but now, Artificial Intelligence can replace human logic and intuition like never before.

One of the coolest things I saw at the Category Management Association conference was an inventory robot. It’s like the Roomba, but instead of vacuuming floors, it counts inventory. It’s about five feet tall, and it runs automatically (without running into carts and patrons.) As it works, it scans every single item so that when the Pop Tarts are about to run out, it tells a master computer to order a new shipment. Ten years ago, this would have seemed totally impossible. Now it’s not only possible—it’s a reality! Walmart is putting them in over 50 stores.

How many employees would it take to hire to do that kind of inventory four times a day? Once you crunch the numbers, it’s not affordable. With this robot, you make a one-time purchase, and it works for you day and night, making sure that stores and brands don’t miss sales due to miscalculations. And keep in mind: this robot doesn’t need health insurance. He doesn’t take sick days, and he doesn’t sleep—he just rolls himself to his charging station when he’s running low.

I also couldn’t help but think what this robot could mean for cross-marketing. If it wore a Reese’s logo, it doubles as a walking—er—rolling advertisement!

Is there a robot that could do your grunt work and allow your employees to spend more time on customers and innovation? What processes do you not have time for that could be automated and generate income while you sleep?

2. Use cutting-edge media to tell your story.

As Gary Vaynerchuk says, in 2018, every company is a media company. With so much saturation in social media and advertising, using cutting-edge media before everyone else does will tell your brand’s story in a way that captures your customer’s attention.

Coming to a galaxy near you. (AKA, your living room,) Virtual Reality isn’t science fiction anymore. At the CMA conference, there was a VR company called In Context who had created a virtual shopping experience that allows category managers to see the potential arrangement of products without moving around 2-liters in real time and space.

In watching this, I couldn’t help but think about the power of Virtual Reality to change the face of shopping. Let’s say your 17-year-old son has a VR headset that he uses for a fully-immersive gaming experience. Someday soon, your spouse will kick him off the VR headset so that they can use it to shop at Kroger and point to what they want with the joysticks. A half-hour later, a driverless car will arrive with your groceries.

This isn’t fantasy land. In five years, this will be normal life.

I don’t care what product you sell—whether it’s cars, cruises or homes—virtual reality will soon touch every corner of the marketplace. Websites will be expected to have immersive, 360° experiences that allow you to virtually test drive your next car or tour the cruise ship before you buy tickets.

When I saw another incredible invention at the CMA conference,  I thought I had walked onto the Starship Enterprise. It was a 3D holograph of a spinning Coca-Cola bottle. (Click here to check out what it looks like in action!)

How does this change the future of shopping? When you walk into the liquor section of a grocery store, a holographic bottle of Bacardi could be floating above you. In the chips aisle, you’d see a bag of floating Doritos. This innovation will allow brands to be more eye-catching than any other products in the aisle. And the possibilities extend far beyond the marketplace: Imagine your doctor explaining what he needs to operate on by showing you a 3D view of your spleen.

How can you advertise your products or services with cutting-edge media before anyone else does?

3. Use your space.

As cool and effective as it can be, don’t just resort to virtual reality and digital experiences.

The rise of online commerce means that consumers’ choice to buy online could shut down your storefronts—unless you make your physical space an experience worth driving for.

Toys R Us never needed to go out of business: They just needed to make their brick-and-mortar necessary by offering experiences for kids that Amazon never could. If they had put on events to take our kids to and made us feel the wonder of childhood again, their doors could have stayed open.

Disney World is an incredible example of this. I don’t think any of their theme parks will ever file for bankruptcy, even in the face of an increasingly virtual world. Why? Because they know that the magic happens in live experiences.

In a world that is loud with digital experiences, it’s surprisingly effective to go the quietest place. Do a physical mailing. Host a live event. Interact with your customers face-to-face. There’s never been a better time to handwrite a personal note.

How can you make the experience of coming into your store, restaurant or business worth more to your customers than the convenience of ordering online?

4. Get Gen Z on board.

I realize that building loyalty with millennials and Generation Zs (people born after 1995) is the object of many consumer-facing companies—and that it’s easier said than done. With that said, the single most effective way to ensure that your company will experience future success is to market to the adults of the future.

My best advice for this? Talk to kids. Ask your daughter who she watches on YouTube, notice what brands your nephew is crazy about and then follow the marketing strategies of those people and brands. Even if your brand is currently the last thing that your kids would consider cool, you can make the pivot.

Case in point: When I was a kid, Old Spice was your grandpa’s bottle of cologne that had been sitting in his garage for 20 years. Today, because of Old Spice’s advertising campaigns (which my kids love, by the way), they’ve secured brand loyalty from millennials and the following generations for the next 60 years.

5. Forge brilliant partnerships.

Innovation isn’t always groundbreaking technology: Sometimes, it’s just a pairing of two existing businesses. For example, pizza isn’t your only delivery option anymore. Because of services like UberEats or Doordash, every single restaurant has delivery now.  McDonald’s, the largest chain restaurant in the world is embracing these partnerships, and by 2020, all restaurants will have delivery.

When you’re at a conference, really think about the brilliant partnerships you can forge with other companies to give consumers a convenient or meaningful experience.

6. Consider the ramifications of technologies outside your industry.

Even if you’re not in logistics or car manufacturing, the rise of self-driving vehicles will affect everything. An estimated $7 trillion will go into self-driving vehicles by 2050!

Think about it: Other than your house, what one thing do you spend the most money on? Your car. With self-driving cars, you won’t have to own one anymore. You’ll just have an app that allows you to order a car to pick you up. What will everyone do with the money they’ve saved by not having a car payment, insurance, gasoline, parking fees, tolls or maintenance? Will they buy more of your product?

If these self-driving cars and trucks really can prevent accidents like they promise to, imagine how that will affect the healthcare industry—especially trauma centers. The EMTs and doctors who care for the victims of car accidents will have almost no patients.

If you sell equipment to hospitals, how would your business need to pivot to stay alive? If you sell car insurance, what do you start selling when it becomes obsolete? If you own parking lots in major cities, how will you use that real-estate for something other than cars? There is not a single industry that wouldn’t have to change and pivot when self-driving cars and trucks become the norm.

Don’t let these major changes incite panic—let them foster creativity. When I spoke at Savannah College of Art and Design, I learned about an incredible way that their students thought ahead and turned an Atlanta parking garage into a residential community. Check it out here!

7. Accept that change is the new normal.

As large brands make cutting-edge technology mainstream, I promise it will change everything when it comes to your current processes. The way people find your brands, the way they’re delivered to people’s homes and the amount of time consumers will spend driving to get whatever you sell is already shifting in major ways. The more you blur lines between your departments and realize that in this marketplace, every company is also a tech and media company, the more competitive your brand will be.

From this point on, the definition of leadership will be managing change.

If you can embrace change yourself, help others to accept it and pivot your company to fulfill the demands of the changing marketplace, you will be employed far into the future. Maybe you’ll even make your morning commute in a self-driving car!