I’ve always loved the Wizard of Oz. A story with witches, magic, flying monkeys and taking lions. What’s not to like? Seriously. The other day I spent a lazy Sunday afternoon watching this classic movie when it suddenly struck me that the entire story was written as a fantastic retail metaphor. Really (but to be fair I was drinking Irish coffee at the time and might have gone heavy on the whiskey?)
Let’s start at the beginning. Dorothy and Toto step out after the cyclone. The world we know gets turned upside down. We step out into this new unknown retail landscape. Welcome to the disruption that is omni-channel. More demanding shoppers, more flexible and adaptive competitors, business models being turned upside down. Amazon Fresh, Uber Everything, the Dollar Shave Club. Retail disruption is everywhere, with no business protected. The storm isn’t coming, it’s already here.
Of course everyone wants the answer. We all want to hear what the ‘wizard’ has to say. What will millennial and Gen Z shoppers really want? How will our digital and physical store network truly deliver synergy? What do we need to do to adapt and survive? How can we avoid being squashed like the wicked witch of the East? Well, it turns out that the answer is in the movie.
Let’s start with the Tin Man. He doesn’t have a heart. And neither do many businesses. To survive today we have to go beyond building brand equity but build brand love and experiential equity (see previous blog post). As the consumer and shopper becomes the primary source of trust and recommendation for other consumers through peer-to-peer conversations, having a heart is critical.
Today’s consumer wants to identify with the brand ‘story’. It is why mass market products are dead and shoppers today seek personalized and boutique offerings. Having a heart goes beyond sponsorships and charity contributions. It is about building a brand whose ethos and story consumers want to connect with. Too many brands are wandering around as ‘Tin Men’ and this new generation of shoppers are going to let them rust. We need a heart.
Or is your business the Scarecrow? It has all the right parts in the right place. Head, arms, body, legs. So it ‘looks’ stable but it turns out it is just made of straw. With no brain. Some retail businesses I work with are scarecrows. They have elements of a strategy – stores, digital presence, and social media accounts. But no universal strategy in place defining how it is all to work together, to a common purpose. There is no brain, each element optimized independently of the others, the whole thing held together with string. We need a brain. We need to be less ‘floppy’ like the scarecrow. Less uncertain about how and what we will stand for in the future. No one likes to admit they are a scarecrow, but the fields of retail, no matter the industry, are scattered with them. We need a brain.
And what about the Lion? A fierce looking creature. King of the Jungle. But in this story a timid creature lacking the courage of his convictions. Nothing behind his roar but uncertainty and fear. Successful businesses take risks. They invest in new approaches, they challenge business models, and they challenge the status quo. Many businesses think they take risks. Think they are innovation focused. But if you ask the employees if that is true, you often get a different answer. Genuinely taking risks means investing in them. With people and dollars. We live today in a challenging retail environment and those businesses willing to take risks will become the front runners. Stay where you are and you might just find yourself lost in Oz forever. We need more courage to be the business we want and need to be. Don’t be the timid Lion.
Or perhaps you are a Dorothy? A girl thrown into this uncertain world who quickly formulated a plan. Followed it rigidly and was kind and giving to all those she met on her path. Formulating a strategy and having the heart, brain and courage to get to the finish is not easy. She was also someone who saw through the illusion of the Wizard of Oz. She walked around the curtain to find a small grey haired man at the controls.
Sometimes our competitors can seem like this Wizard. All powerful. Too strong for us to argue with. But look behind the curtain and you might find they are no different to you. They just have better smoke and mirrors. Never be daunted by the ‘Wizards’. Your business is just as solid. Believe in it and challenge even the mightiest competitor. Pull back the curtain and expose their weakness. Do the basics better. Innovate beyond their reach. And watch them fall.
The Solution Lies Inside
But what was the overall message of this story? Was it all a dream? Well for some today’s challenges are more of a nightmare! But only if you don’t have a solid strategy. The real message was that inside every one there is the solution. Whatever you are looking for is already within you. There are no ‘wizards’ that can give you what you need. You need to find it yourself. And so it is with business.
You can bring in consultants and strategy advisors, but eventually you have to do it yourself. Take the risks. Push for innovation. Have certain direction and build brand love. There are no easy routes to overnight success.
But Dorothy had her sparkly red shoes all along. All she had to do was click her heels. Maybe that’s worth a try at the next board meeting? Close your eyes, click your heels and say “there’s no place like home”. I doubt a future proofing strategy will appear magically, but it’ll certainly give the other directors something to talk about over lunch, particularly if you braid your hair and wear the gingham dress!
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