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Notes and comment from the Content Guy...

DALLAS - The first two general sessions of the FMI 2012 Show here offered an almost jarring comparison of styles and content. One guy was dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, and he punctuated his points about optimism and creating community with customers by flinging Frisbees into the audience. The other was a gray-suited consultant who punctuated his points about macroeconomic trends with detailed and often unreadable slides and charts.

That said, they both made good points around a common theme - that consumers are increasingly in control of the shopping experience and brand equity, and that marketers used to being in control will need to adjust to this new reality.

Let me see if I can boil down some of their comments...

• Bert Jacobs, CEO (chief executive optimist) at Life Is Good, spoke movingly about how his brother and he grew a t-shirt business from one that generated $87,000 the first year to more than $100 million annually today. But the emotion came not from the business growth, but from the way the company has invested both human and financial capital in charity work focused on helping children in peril. Life is Good does no traditional advertising, but rather uses charity-oriented events ranging from music festivals to pumpkin carving contests to create a theme for the company.

Here are the most important things that Jacobs said:

- “Consumers have taken over. We don't make brands. Consumers create brands.”

- “Consumers will build your brand with you if you will build community with them.”

- “Optimists will take you somewhere that is not yet there. Realists ask to see the data ... Optimism is the most important tool we have.”

Jacobs also said, by the way, that he is looking to build relationships in other industries - including the food business - that will allow him to extend the Life is Good brand in a way that will further its charitable work.

• Dan O’Connor, president/CEO of RetailNet Group, basically made the following points...

- Expect to see a retail revolution over the next eight years that will equal the tumult created by Walmart’s getting into the food business.

- Digital marketing allows small retailers and manufacturers to look big, and creates consumer expectations that relevant brands will be available everywhere that people want them to be.

- E-tailing is basically a deflationary influence because it creates transparency about prices that drives them down, reducing companies’ ability to generate profit, and hence requiring both retailers and manufacturers to redefine how they work together.

- “Personalization of price” is going to be one of the next great trends, because technology will make it possible for marketers to customize prices for best customers. Shelf price, he said, will become just “a point of reference.”

- He also said that “marketing down the middle” may be a thing of the past, as segmentation of the consumer population and cultural trends will demand that retailers, in their desire to be relevant and compete with the likes of Amazon, create more segmented shopping experiences.

In other related news...

• FMI announced that its 2014 show will return to Chicago after a number of years in Las vegas and this year in Dallas. The move to the Windy City will involve a date change - it will now take place from June 10-13, instead of in its traditional early May time slot.

The 2013 event - FMI’s every-other-year education-oriented Future Connect, which does not include a trade show - is slated to take place from April 30 - May 2 in Orlando, Florida.

• FMI announced a strategic business partnership with TopSource LLC, a sourcing company and wholly-owned subsidiary of Topco Associates LLC. This partnership, FMI says, “will provide FMI members the opportunity to support the foundations of their growing businesses with significant savings related to costs in not-for-resale areas ... FMI and TopSource will work together on program initiatives to help food retailers and wholesalers identify business opportunities and better serve the needs of their customers.  More details on the partnership will be announced in the coming months.”
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