Friday, August 1, 2014

Whenever I tell people that I live in Atlanta, at least two-thirds reply quickly and say, “I’m sorry to hear that.”

After a number of years of hearing this, I have stopped asking the question “why.” Instead, I ask them if they know anyone who lives in the city of Atlanta.

And they quickly respond that they do and that all they hear is that the traffic is horrific.

When I then ask where do the folks live in the city, they will rattle off places like Alpharetta, Roswell, Lawrenceville and Kennesaw.

For those of you reading this that do not know much about Atlanta, those are cities that are close to 20 miles out from the city line.

Sure, the interstates the run through the city itself will become land-locked in rush hour, but in all honesty, not as much as the roadways outside the perimeter.

And the roadways in the city rarely get blocked.

Living in Atlanta is more like living in a small town than the picture many paint of the city life.

I always find it amusing how people form viewpoints with little-to-no exploratory beyond the surface level see the world around them.

Reading this morning’s Wall Street Journal was not a happy experience.

Whether it was the story about Coke and its global declines or Target and the hiring of a new CEO to bring it out of its coma or Samsung’s mobile chief feeling the heat or the European automotive brands hitting a pothole… the story line was almost the same.

Brand management is scratching their heads to figure out where to go next.

As I am writing this, Wall Street has dropped more than 200 points. This might be more of a correction because of expectations of coming out of the Fed’s last meeting.

My prediction is that we are going to see the economy hit another stalling point.

I share the story of Atlanta perceptions because that story is really not too different from the stories being shared in the boardrooms by the executive leadership that has no idea of where to turn next.

If you’re a really loyal reader of this blog, you probably know where this text is going.

Technology has invaded into the headset of management.

Systematic has over taken innovation. Creativity is claimed and touted, but there are vast limitations that temper the scope of application.

Much of management today focuses inward. They hire firms to talk with their management teams. Some even bring in the shrinks… I am not kidding!

The article about Target in today’s Wall Street Journal is perhaps the most interesting… and telling.

The CEO comes from Pepsico with past roles working with WalMart, Sam’s Club and Michael’s.

The Wall Street Journal labeled him as a stabilizer of brands by helping to anchor them with the brand’s core market base.

I hope… and really hope that he sees more in the target brand than the fact that it can be labeled as a “discount retailer”… but I would not be too surprised if he doesn’t quickly transfer over his expertise of reaching out to the mass market.

Few of top management take the time to get out of their corporate cultures, slip on a pair of Levi’s and get out and dwell with “folks in the ‘hood.

I went into a Target yesterday to shop. If you really want to see the brand through my set of glasses, you have to pronounce the brand name correctly… “Tar-jay.”

With all their hype about changing, my Target experience yesterday was really not too different from any in the past 10–15 years.

Perhaps the biggest change is the new and expanded food aisles that occupy space where once stood broader selection of products for the garden, car and home shop.

In fact, Target right now is wrapping its hands around capitalizing on the bank-to-school last-minute shopping surge.

There are displays of notebooks, pens, Crayons, and backpacks. But there are also end-aisle overstocked displays of cheap home goods, desk lights and bath accessories.

The fact that there is now a downward decline in households with school age kids does not seem to get even a whimper of notice in Target’s merchandising effort.

Back-to-School will always be around as a key promotional effort to tap.

Yeah… and Boomers will always be out there to relive their “Peace, Love, Harmony” days of the 1960s.

I also got a kick out of seeing all the cheap “dorm-room” fillers crammed into the Target aisles. Futon sofas, bean-bag chairs, sleek desk lamps and geometric patterned shower curtains.

What Target is up against is the proverbial Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious or as I term it the BGO.

The vast majority of the Millennials are long past their high school and college days.

Instead of shopping Target for the “hip and cool” furniture for their new cool $1,800 per month apartment or even their first-time home-owner pad, they are driving over to IKEA, HomeGoods, Haverty’s (yes… Haverty’s) and Pier 1 Imports store.

The BGO is simple.

The Millennials have gotten older and passed on to another life-stage.

Oh, I know the reply from the internal Target team.

Well we know the Millennials. We have a Facebook page. We Tweet and post pics on Pinterest.

We know all about that mobile generation.

Yeah. When’s the last time you got up from your desk or iPad and ventured out into where those folks live, work, dine, shop and hang with their friends in the real world?

The Millennials are driving the market right now whether they decide to wear the label or not.

What’s chic and hip is now up against what’s affordable and fits into their check book balance — or debit card balance.

My bet is that Target’s new CEO will be the driver of moving Target into more direct competitive alignment with WalMart.

There will be limited change in its product line… except more price specials.

The brand will reach out to be more “mass-appeal.”

There will be a lot… a whole lot… of internal operational changes. They can’t afford to have another credit card record leak like they had last year leading into the Holidays.

My friend, the psychiatrist told me that crazy people seldom become sane… and because of it, he will always have a job.

My advice to the brands featured in today’s Wall Street Journal is simple.

Get Out.

Get out from behind those corporate walls and boardrooms and go dwell with your customers in their day-to-day world.

And if the thought of doing so creates a panic-attack…

Call me.

And in addition to my going out and doing it for you, I will pass over the phone number of the doc who can help you manage the panic-attacks.

CEO & Discovery Chief at EXPERIENCE Insight Group, Inc. In the business to discover and craft brand experiences that humans seek out and engage in.