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Roundtable

Roundtable: Figuring It Out on the Fly

Happy podiversary! As we hit our 1-year mark, Rob and Peter celebrate the moments and conversations in commerce that demonstrate the key trait of winners in this business: the ability to figure it out on the fly. The people and companies that inspired us over the last year and 72 episodes of Unpacking the Digital  Shelf. 

Sign up for the first session in our Digital-First Omnichannel Strategy Series with Chris Parsons here!

TRANSCRIPT

Peter:

Peter Crosby coming to you from the digital shelf institutes Cape Cod office. Rob is on from the Berkshires. Hey Rob.

Rob:

Hello there.

Peter:

So before I start, I do want to alert everyone that we are starting our new series of webinar conversations at the DSI. We are moving on from D2C and expanding our view to the digital first omni-channel strategies you'll need to grow. And I will actually kick it off on Thursday, October 29th at 1:00 PM. Eastern. We're going to talk with Chris Parsons. He's the president of the Americas for the Mayborn group. Chris is awesome. He's going to talk about the ways in which his organization is demolishing silos and reshaping itself for the new digital first consumer journey. Uh, Annie, we'll put the link in the show notes, but on with today's show. Rob, do you know what today is? Uh, what is today? Peter it's our podaversary! One year and 72 episodes in! 72!

Rob:

It's been fun. We've had some amazing guests on here.

Peter:

Oh my God. I remember. I just remember when we were starting, we were like, Oh, you think anyone will listen?

Rob:

I mean do you think anybody's listening now?

Peter:

I don't know. Maybe my fa- no, not them. Um, but really, I mean, so grateful, like so many great conversations about commerce. And to be honest, we thought about doing the usual highlights reel episode. But as we talk, the one theme that's really stood out in the past year was that nobody in this business knows what they're doing particularly this year. Like everyone is figuring it out on the fly, you know, the great ones once we've been able to talk to, they take some metrics and experience some inputs from sources and people they trust and they make a gut call and they see what happens. And then they move on from there. Right. Rob, I mean, figure it out on the fly.

Rob:

The whole realm of digital is that there's, there's no roadmap here. The world is changing underneath your feet. Every single plan you come up with should be treated as a temporary plan. What's the Mike Tyson quote? Everyone's, everyone's got a plan until they get punched in the mouth. I mean, it feels like that in digital. Like there's nothing that is stable. I don't, I don't know anybody who's figured out how to do a really super reliable demand forecast for Amazon. Just as an example, we're in this world where six Sigma practices of just really fine tune optimization, just do not work. And this, this whole idea of test and learn change on the fly is in the spirit of what we're doing. And, and, you know, when we started this podcast, we really, I mean, honestly we didn't know, we didn't know what we were doing. Hey, the whole thing was an experiment. Right? Can we talk about tests on the fly? We've changed so much about the interviews, the round tables, the production. I mean, every, every week we're learning something new. Um, so we figured we would do an ode to test and learn and the spirit of digital with, with some great examples from the, uh, from past episodes and from folks we know in the community, um, and just hat tip to them for their courage in moving forward.

Peter:

Amen. All right. So yeah, Rob, I mean, I think this figuring it out on the fly let's definitely dive in and I think both, both you and I, the minute we started talking about this, um, said to each other Old Bay hot sauce.

Rob:

Oh, the best.

Peter:

James Sydell, VP of digital commerce at McCormick, it was actually to be honest, this was a conversation, um, on the digital shelf Institute D to C series. But, um, I think it's, you know, it still applies and, um, and Rob, what's your takeaway from that experience and, you know, walk us through it. And, and, uh, and what's the headline.

Rob:

What I love about this is it has become, you know, almost sport to trash on direct to consumer strategies this year. Um, and in the midst of that McCormick launched old Bay hot sauce on mccormick.com direct to consumer McCormick does not have an appreciable direct to consumer business. This is, this is not, this is not a core strategy. The vast, vast majority of McCormick products are sold through retail or sold through food service distribution. And so this, this is an experiment. Part of the, part of the experiment is to see, will people buy this thing? Uh, is there sufficient demand for a new Old Bay product, Old Bay is an absolutely beloved brand, but are people going to buy a hot sauce? That's an Old Bay hot sauce. So they launched this thing live and it sells out in like 30 minutes. I mean, the way I was trying to order it during that time and the website basically didn't even work.

Rob:

It was one of those ridiculously hot product launches. It's like an iPhone launch. I can imagine that if this was done physically, people would have been lined up the night before and camping out outside of the McCormick offices. You know, it brought the website down. Couldn't order it. Um, and so what, what was great about that is McCormick then used that data and used the example to talk to grocers and say, this thing is hot. You know, no pun intended, you know, you, you should get your hands on this hot sauce and it's going to sell like hotcakes in your stores. And then, I mean, now it's got national distribution and tons and tons of grocery chains, right? I mean, you think about how hard it is on the physical shelf with the limited space to get a new product, to take up that shelf space. And they were able to do it almost instantaneously through this, through this test that they ran. So I just, I just loved this experiment,

Peter:

But it's funny when you talk to James about it, you know, he'll point out like, actually it was sort of, be careful what you wish for. You might get it because for him having, um, a billion impressions and having your website going down is a failure. Like it's the test and learn thing. Like they never expected that they would get that kind of thing. But as a marketer, the thought that there were now people who wanted his product, who couldn't get it, and not only couldn't get it for a while, there couldn't even get to the site like that made his Hartford. And so he needed to immediately figure out, cause another thing they got was they got 50,000 consumers sign up for notifications about it. So then he had to figure out how to build my trust and respect with them when the first thing I did was let them down. And so his thoughtful approach to that in the face of quote unquote failure, um, is really, I think one of the most impressive things about it.

Rob:

Yeah. I agree. It's an absolutely great story. Um, great experiment. And it reminds me of the next thing that we had up here is, so that was a direct to consumer experiment that ended up paying off. Well, you know, there were strong trials and tribulations with the website going down and everything on the way, but it ended up paying off for McCormick. There's lots of DTC experiments that fail. And that's, that's the nature of this game. You know, McCormick could try another 10 direct to consumer launches and get zero hits. And, and that doesn't mean that they should stop. It just means that the, the expected result of an experiment is not success. The whole, the whole point of it being an experiment is you don't know how it's going to turn out.

Peter:

Yes. And to have the courage to do that and go for it. And another part of the experiment, which isn't as well known was that it started out actually as a partnership between, uh, the DTC side as a feeder for the restaurant business, because this was sort of, this was just pre COVID. And so when they did it, they were doing it to kind of, um, seed interest in sending people to restaurants, to experience old Bay hot sauce. Um, and so they were doing it as a combined B2B B to C, D to C experiment. Um, and then once COVID happened in the restaurant business, when then they really had to shift to also making sure it was available across shelves, because normally the whole Bay was more of a kind of Maryland area love. And, and they weren't even sure how it was going to work nationally. And so, so many learnings from there. And now they have a relationship, a direct relationship with 50,000 consumers that they didn't have this yet. And it's what they're going to do with that in the future. One of the things James said is we're constantly in beta mode in this business.

Rob:

That's a great quote.

Speaker 4:

And you don't think of that with the brand manufacturers and they're, they want to be where McCormick and our brains can give a unique value proposition. So they're exploring more and more types of those initiatives. So you can continue to build that relationship. They have a business pillar called driven to innovate and they apply to approach it. McCormick that is called the smallest executable step. So don't think yet about being in the middle of multimillion dollar platforms that you want, just do something that you can test today. It can be small, but they can give you the learnings up to the multi-million dollar platform, the smallest extent executable step. Right.

Rob:

It's great. All right. So imagine running these experiments and them not working out. And so I want to actually celebrate and give a hat tip to the experiments that fail because.

Peter:

Here's to the losers,

Rob:

To the losers. Yeah. Um, Outdoor Voices exploded spectacularly this year. They were D2C startups selling at leisure. You know, there's a ton of those around, but they had raised a ton of money, and had a great brand. And I just, I want to say that to me, that's not a failure. That's just the expected outcome of trying an experiment and doing something bold. I mean, you know, we're, we're in the startup games ourselves, the vast majority startups do not make it. That's the nature of the game. They're all experiments. It doesn't mean that it was wrong to try, right. The boldness is in trying, uh, another one of them that went out this year, although there you're seeing a rebirth and in some way is Brandless. And I mean, that was a bold, direct to consumer move where they were basically saying, no, we're going to remove the brand tax, the brand isn't important. And I mean, everything that I know about manufacturing and about retail and about consumers and consumer psychology is the brand is extremely important. And so for them to basically say, no, everything you know about marketing is wrong. The brand isn't an important brand Brandless, that's a bold move. It was a good, I mean, seriously hat tip to portraying. Why not try that? The, I mean, the company, of course that fails the most spectacularly of all is Amazon Amazon's biggest failure was the fire phone, which was a multi-billion dollar failure. And when Bezos was asked about it, he said, if you're not failing, you're not trying hard enough. I can't wait to fail even bigger than this. I forget the exact quote, but it was basically exactly like that. I mean, this is, this is a company that lives by the notion that if you are not failing, you're not trying hard enough.

Peter:

He told the, he told the, um, executive that led that initiative. Don't you dare lose one in the night of sleep over, over how this ended up saying, yeah. He said, do you think this failure was bad? You wait until the,

Rob:

Yeah. It's, uh, it reminds me of, um, it Salesforce under Mark Benioff has a similar concept. Again, another tech Titan they're in there on the Dow. That's how big Salesforce is. If people don't don't know, don't know Salesforce, uh, they, they celebrate when somebody executes a project flawlessly and the result of the project is another utter failure. They'll they'll give somebody a promotion, you know, like famously there's a whole bunch of these stories within Salesforce, where look, you know, the thing that you tried, it turned out that was a dumb idea, but you man, you did it perfectly. And so they loved the execution. The result they understand is, is not under their control. A lot of the times when you're, when you're trying new things out, you just don't know if it's going to work. And so you got to celebrate the failures just as much as you celebrate the success.

Peter:

And every failure has a set of learnings. You know, like you said, the Amazon fire phone ultimately formed the backbone of Alexa. So that's that led to the multi-billion dollar business and a connection to consumers that, you know, the fire phone wasn't that wasn't part of the imagination of that. But the work done led somewhere else that has been,

Rob:

Yeah, it's been very effective. It also led to the Amazon fire line of tablets, which, I mean, I'm not a fan of them, but they sell a lot of them. Um, so let's, let's move on to another Amazon related story. But this story is not about Amazon. This story is about bravery within a fortune 100 CPG company, Proctor and gamble. This is an old story, goes back a few years, but, uh, it changed the way that P and G thinks about brands on Amazon. So, uh, bounce, the brand is branded ad by Procter and Gamble on television commercials and whatnot as fabric softener, right? That's what it is. It's bounce fabric softener. Now consumers don't really think about fabric softener as a category. They think of dryer sheets as the category and searches on Google, Amazon, wherever you're in a search bar, the searches tend to be made by what the consumer has in their mind about the problem they're trying to solve or the category or features that they would like as part of the problem solution for a category of problems.

Rob:

And so, for example, if you go to Amazon and you're looking for dryer sheets, you don't type fabric softener, you just don't do it. You type dryer sheets, but belts for a long time, their Amazon product titles were bounce, fabric, softener, sheets, things like that. And, you know, they just weren't getting the sales that they could have gotten as a leading brand with a well-known brand name and a trusted brand in the space. So the Amazon product team, the Amazon team that was running the bounce brand on, on, uh, uh, for Procter and gamble was sitting there saying, God, we have to rename these product titles. We got to call it bounce dryer sheets. That's the only way we're going to win. And the brand team for balance said, no, you can't rename this we're fabric softener. That's the whole, you guys don't understand branding. The whole point branding is you've got to repeat over and over and over again. And the Amazon team is like, yeah, but like, I hear you, but that's not how it works on Amazon. Can, you know, can we just do dryer sheets as an experiment? We can always go back to fabric softener. And the branding team is like, no, no, no, no, no. And so they went back and forth until ultimately the Amazon team said, you know what, screw it. I'm going rogue. I don't care if I'm going to get fired here. I know I'm right. And they changed the product titles to be bounced dryer sheets and sales skyrocketed like overnight skyrocketed on Amazon and then Proctor and gamble looked at that. And they said, you know, and, and really hat tip to Proctor and gamble for their flexibility here said, you know what?

Rob:

Digital is a little different. We're going to look across our entire product portfolio. And we're going to do analysis on what makes our products, uh, attractive to the consumer in the way that the consumer thinks about the categories. And we're going to change our words to be not words that we come up with, but words that consumers already understand. And, and they, you know, they really went across their whole product line to do this so that it started with one rogue, Amazon sales rep with deep in the bowels of Procter and gamble, betting their career, uh, against the brand team on a move and, and ending up changing the whole company. So, I mean, it's, I just loved the experiment. I love the boldness and I also really love Procter and Gamble's response to it. I mean, it's just, I mean, they're, they're not, they're not one of the very best of all time for a reason.

Peter:

Yeah. Yeah. And, uh, you know, as a brand marketer myself, you know, I, I feel the pain of the brand team where if you're trying to push differentiation that earns you margin some, one of the ways you do that is that you make your thing fancy. You, you give it that, Oh, it softens fabric because it's not just a sheet in the dryer and you want to invest in that as a way to remind consumers. Yeah. I want that thing, not this thing, but digital is different. That's all. What did I put in the search bar? And if I don't find you, if you're not number one or number two, or number three, then I'm going to pick whatever I need, whatever I find. Cause that's what I need. So it is finding that balance between brand and direct. And,

Rob:

Uh, so we've got the next story from one of my top 10 favorite episodes we've ever done. Uh, Mike Moumoutjis. And do you want to tell that story?

Peter:

Yeah, yeah. So Mike Moumoutjis is the general manager, um, at, uh, juvenile products company, good baby international and even flow. And, you know, the main sort of the headline from talking with Mike, uh, Is they made a decision when it, that they wanted to figure out how they could be number one in a subcategory that, um, cause it was tough, honestly, for their, for their products to be general consumer, uh, be number one in a very large market of like baby strollers and things like, so they use D to C as a way to, you know, they don't have a billion dollars to spend to figure out what is that, um, killer product. So they have to figure it out in a scrappy way. And they decided to use D to C as that experiment to make small bets, like what's going to resonate with the consumer who is the consumer that we can be number one with, and what does that tell us? So they set up a DTC brand called Evenflo gold, um, not sold to retail, it's only available through even flow.

Peter:

And they made it a premium experience that they knew that only a certain set of consumers that were willing to invest in that experience, um, would buy and, and they started selling it on, um, on, uh, on DTC and they became number one, uh, in with that consumer, with that strata of consumer through that experiment. And then those learnings of what the customers were engaging with on the D to C platform could then be taken and applied in their retail messaging with other lines. And so, that sort of let's do this over here to figure out how we win and then we can expand those winning learnings into our other branding. I thought it was super interesting.

Rob:

Yeah. It's a great, it's an absolutely great story. I mean, this is, um, this is, this is an idea of you don't know the way forward and you don't have billions of dollars to spend finding out the way forward. You need to, you need to find out what's the smallest executable step in the, in the words of, uh, game's over at McCormick, what's the smallest executable step that can shine light on the next 50 yards of the journey and this whole process of, of experimentation that, that Mike and get baby and we're doing with an even flow, uh, enabled them to find the next 50 yards.

Peter:

And what Mike pointed out about himself is that he is of the personality of that. He will just charge ahead and do something and not everyone at, at good baby or even flow was ready for that. And so he, he kind of discovered that it was doing these things in these smaller chunks and bringing the organization along, you know, from supply chain to product planning, to, to marketing and, and finance through these experiments and get people more comfortable. And then you can up the bat where you found where you found that has worked.

Rob:

Yeah. I mean, it's just, it's just, it's just a wonderful story. And they ended up with a number one product based on the learnings. I mean, just absolutely killer. Yeah.

Peter:

And there's, there's been another theme of this time, you know, small bets and making differences where you can. And, and I think one of the areas that has particularly come into the forefront these days is, is diversity and inclusion and all of us, uh, across the professional world and, and in our, in our personal lives, figuring out, um, what is the difference that individuals can make in, in having a more inclusive world. And that, that certainly applies to a conversation that I had with Annie John Baptist, from Google, who was sort of one person at Google that said, Hey, there are experiences here, the way we use our browser, how search marketing works, et cetera, that, that don't reflect every audience that Google is talking to. And so she just started having conversations, uh, with people about, you know, how can we do this better? And, and now a number of years later, she's just written a book about their whole process for driving product inclusivity in every stage from ideation, all the way through user testing and design all the way to, um, to marketing. And, and there are now 2000 people in that team that then spread that story out through every team at Google. And so, but her big story, her big takeaway is that, you know, Rob you and I talk about it, even for companies that we work in, there's no silver bullet in this, right?

Rob:

That is not a problem. If there was a, if there was a solution to the diversity inclusion, hiring, recruiting, promoting, um, equal pay and so forth problem, if there were just a roadmap in here duties for things, and you know, you're going to, you're going to solve the problem. Everyone would be doing it. The problem is that there's not an easy solution. We're talking about a very thorny, challenging issue that, um, everyone has to work on in good faith. So there's no way to solve it without actually doing tests and learn a little, little experiments here, right? There's no way to do it without tweaking aspects of your hiring process, tweaking aspects of your promotion process, um, tweaking how you, you audit your, your payroll for, to make sure that you're paying people for, um, fairly and justly and so on and so forth.

Rob:

And, you know, every single one of these steps is make it up as you go for a lot of folks that are doing this. And what I love about this Annie story is this one person in like a hundred thousand person company that has this idea. And the idea is, is a little counterintuitive, right? That most people, when they think about diversity inclusion, they think about their own employees. Her idea was thinking about the Google search bar. And so she says, what's a thing that I can, that I can change that will make the world more, more inclusive. And how do I, what's the first step that I take there. And so this is a journey of hers that started small. Yeah. It started in her 20%

Peter:

Time. And people started hearing about it and an engineer named Peter Sherman came up to her and said, Hey, I'm working on this, this, this product within Google. And, and I want to do something about this. I want to make sure that I build something that is inclusive. And so she, and she hadn't built out this whole big process with the 12, uh, you know, the 12 dimensions of diversity, et cetera, that she has today. She was like, well, let's just talk about what are some of the things we could do. And, and that's what, and that's what they did. And that's where it started. And one of the things she said that was surprising to her is that regardless of team makeup, you know, God knows tech certainly is so a white male dominated and that's going to take time to change. But what she said is that regardless of team makeup teams can build more inclusively if they're intentional about it.

Peter:

And of course over time, you want to work to teams that is, that is reflective of the world. But in the meantime, you can be really thoughtful about how you get inputs into your ideation and user design and testing and marketing. And that's whether it's a tech product or it's a box of cereal. And, and so I love that this doesn't need to be a HR run. We're all sending everyone to class every day or, or, you know, but it can start with people talking with each other and being intentional about it. I thought that was, yeah.

Rob:

I'm tempted to play Michael Jackson's man in the mirror right now, change the world by first changing yourself. But yeah, I'll, I'll sell spare people.

Peter:

No, I really would love to hear you saying Michael Jackson's man in the mirror, but we don't have time. So, um, Rob, what, what something else viral happened that, you know, is another example of, of, uh, unexpected experiments, uh, and people have probably seen it on their, their tick-tock the last time.

Rob:

Yeah. I mean, if you know the kids in their tiktoks, um, I'll say, I mean, ocean spray became the unwitting beneficiary. Well, I should say ocean spray and Fleetwood Mac of one of the most viral videos ever to come across tic-tac, we're talking billions of impressions, which is not something that the, the good folks at ocean spray would ever be able to really afford, um, in any, any type of intentional marketing campaign. And so ocean spray, current cranberries are selling like, and sound like hotcakes right now. Uh, and, and so now that the whole company, the digital leads and, and everybody are looking at this, um, they're working furiously as supply chains to deliver on the ex extra demand and all that type of stuff. And then they're thinking about like, wow, what does this mean about branding in the 21st century? What does this mean about going to the market?

Rob:

What does this mean about television? Like you not run a television commercial, you can not run a hundred television commercials that had the impact of this one little viral Tik TOK video. And, and so that lesson of all right, what do, what do we do with this information now? What, what do we, how do we take this and change the way that we market? How do we take this and change the way that we engage with our base, uh, is just a great moment that they're in the midst of, so we don't know how they're going to come out on the other end. All we know is that the team over there, Jamie, had all the folks thinking hard about the future of branding for ocean spray based on this, this really brief, beautiful little moment that they're in.

Peter:

Yeah. And we were on a zoom call with Jamie as part of the executive forum just the other day. And it was, Hey, he was, he was clearly one kind of stunned, but also at the same time, having a blast, like you could tell the adrenaline of in that moment when it's happening. Okay. What do we do right now to take advantage of this and be a part of the conversation? And then they're also spending this time to think, okay, now what do we learn from this? And because the minute you try to make viral things intentionally, it doesn't work. So you have to think about now, how do you start to engage that audience that has come to you in an authentic way, but hopefully as quickly as possible. So I give such credit to them for just rolling in the moment with all right, this happened now. Yeah,

Rob:

Absolutely. And I've got, I want to end today with a couple of quick hits just in this year of uncertainty that we've been in with COVID and supply chain, disruption and retail are bankruptcies and consumer spending and life behavior being absolutely flipped, flipped over overnight. Um, I want to just throw a couple hat tips to folks that have, that have really played from the balls of their feet and pivoted on the fly first and foremost, uh, uh, thank you and a hat tip to 3m for their absolutely aggressive and rapid supply chain transformation back in Q1 to deliver a extremely high volume of N 95 masks, much more than they had ever done previously to help our, our frontline workers. Um, they, that was changing the supply chain, increasing volume and maintaining quality is not easy at all. And I ended the company just put a tremendous amount of effort into it next, uh, on, on the home front, you know, people are resilient.

Rob:

I mean, I love this aspect of humanity is that when confronted with a challenge, a lot of people will figure out like, what action do I take to move forward here? You know, you don't just sit there and wallow in it. You think what, what do I do? And a lot of times it's the small things that make up the big things. And in Q2, we saw an absolute, huge rise in home baking and sourdough baking and home cooking, which I think makes the world a better place. You know, family, families, eating meals together, families cooking together, uh, cooking at home for health. It's all really, really a good trend in it. And it shows that you're empowered and you're going to take chances and risks in your own, in your own space, even if they're small and they're going to move forward regardless of what the world does. And so I just, I love that some of the stuff, yeah.

Peter:

I was talking to an executive yesterday who normally would be on the road, you know, over a hundred days a year. And, and that, that's just part of his job running, you know, running the Americas for, uh, uh, a baby wipes company. And he said that that's been the best part of the pandemic is that he has gotten to hang out with his kids, um, and still get his work done, which although that's a complicated thing, right. Being home with your kids all the time. Yeah, totally. Yeah. I mean, think of the parents that are figuring out how to do this hybrid schooling thing on the fly while still doing their jobs, uh, is, I mean, it's amazing to watch, you know, w just being on zooms all the time, you witness it, you witnessed it happening in the moment. And I have to say, I am not a parent.

Peter:

So when I'm on a zoom and, uh, and you know, I'm thinking intensely and, uh, and, and talk, and then a child walks in, it's so beautiful to me to see the child not sort of shushed or sent away, but brought in, and, and that you, the parent in that moment has to give them some time. And, and I'm so impressed with the ability to be able to do that and stay productive. And, and it must be a tremendous, uh, um, struggle. So I figuring out on the fly, my God, that's happening in every family and yeah,

Rob:

Yeah. Every family in the world. Yep. At every school district, every school, every, every aspect of this is a test and learn.

Peter:

So that's the thing, our, our pot of versary is all about figuring out on the fly and we ain't done it's, uh, because we're in commerce, let alone that we're in, COVID let alone that we're in a recession. So we're all figuring it out. And, uh, and the next year of the DSI is going to be just trying to keep bringing these conversations together, uh, to shine a light on, on some of the ways in which it's working. And then as Rob said, you know, some of the failures that tell us, uh, where to go next. So here's to another year of shitty first

Rob:

That's right. Absolutely. And the great words of Anne Lamott, um, thank you, everybody for who's ever been around for the whole year of journey. Um, thank you so much for those of you just joining us. I hope the next year is okay.

Peter:

Yeah. We're super excited for the year of testing, learning, and sharing to come thanks as always for being part of our community.