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To Build a Futureproof Brand, Build Your Global Expert Network

A few years ago, my ad agency was acquired by Maddock Douglas, an innovation agency based in Chicago. For a year, I worked with the team at MD, honing a green innovation process for their clients.

I learned a number of incredibly useful things from my friends at MD, but one has served me particularly well in the business of building futureproof brands: the power of a global expert network.

A global expert network is, as the name implies, a network of smart, specialized idea people you can call upon to guide your thinking. In my case, they’re C-suite level, generally entrepreneurial, with strong brand experience.

I tap them in the insight phase of futureproof brand building, telling them about the brand I’m trying to shape, and asking for thoughts from their own area of expertise. The results are always inspiring.

It was, however, in my latest brand-building effort (for a new concept supermarket slated to launch in January 2014) that I was truly blown away.

In this instance, I posed the question, ‘What’s the future of grocery?’ to two gentlemen with deep experience in very un-grocery sectors. The first was Bob Taylor, founder of Taylor Guitars, a man who has redefined both the way guitars are built and the way they can be built more sustainably. The second was John Marshall Roberts, an expert in worldview thinking — the science of understanding the personal context that shapes an individual’s perception of the world around them.

Normally, I would never divulge information gathered in the service of a client. But because their answers were so remarkable, I stuck my neck out and asked my client, Bob and John if I could make an exception and share their responses with my readers. Happily, all agreed.

Although I have edited their responses for flow, the information is all theirs. Enjoy.

Bob Taylor on the Future of Grocery

“What’s missing? Organic food. Meat that doesn’t come from factory farms. And real vegan cheeses and spreads. I don’t mean glop made from palm oil and tapioca, but real cream cheese from cashews and cultures. Real aged cheese from nuts. (That’s tricky but it exists).

“Homemade food.

“A vegan chef to head up a deli/pre-made food/hot case food section. One who can make vegan dishes that are more than a salad, dishes that are a little hard to prepare but taste delicious.

“You need a chef. Then all you need is people to follow the recipe. Teach people how to cook with less meat. Or no meat. Or proper meat.

“’Free range’ and ‘cage free’ mean little to nothing these days. Study it and know for yourself what they get away with when they print that. Offer something better. Way better. It would be great to sell eggs and roasters where those label words actually meant something.

“If one were to sell organic produce in a northern climate they’d have to import it much of the year. So a good strategy for that would be great, and it should be communicated. Do a good job communicating.

“Tell the truth about food. Put real information up in your store, make the decorations informative. Show consumers what they get for this price vs. that price. Tell them what they’re buying into when they buy this vs. that. Help them afford better food by figuring out recipes that only use a portion of the really expensive stuff. People will, and do, spend money on food.

“Let them know that raising meat makes way more global warming gases than the entire transportation sector worldwide.

“Just tell them the real truth of it. They’ll still buy meat but if they decide they’d prefer not to, offer them quality delicious vegan or vegetarian options. Teach them what they don’t know.

“Nobody wants to eat their vegetables because their mom cooked them sooo bad! Let your company’s chef teach them that it doesn’t have to be that way.

“Lead the way. Get in for more, rather than get out for less.

“Have a bookstore. Rent documentaries of how food is raised these days and let them go home and watch them. Then sell them the correct version in your store. Narrow the selection and survive on less choices, but every choice vetted well. People eat the same fifteen things over and over for their whole life. Help them get the best version of those fifteen things.

“Okay I’ll stop. You’re probably sorry that you asked.

“Sell seeds. Let them grow a tomato. You’ll still sell tomatoes because they won’t grow them, or grow enough of them, but you’ll be inviting them to learn where good comes from once again, and how we undervalue it, and how your food is a good deal.

“Okay I’ll really stop now.

“Let your chef perfect your store’s brand recipes and share them, and let them buy them already prepared so that they can see how good it is.

“Show them how to make cheese at home. The simplest cheese. It’s fun. It’s easy. And the ingredients cost more than cheese, so you win either way they decide to buy. Makes cheese look cheap, or you sell ingredients. Win/win.

“If your gonna sell groceries then you need your customers to be cooks, right? Put cooking back into their lives. Then sell the groceries and the utensils. Hold cooking classes. And have a New Year’s Eve party with all the food made from the incredible ingredients from your store.

“People want to eat well, they have just forgotten how, and once they remember they can only buy a bunch of crap at their current store, they give up. Change that. Make them feel lucky to live next to your store.

“Okay I’m really gonna stop now.”

John Marshall Roberts on the Future of Grocery

“If supermarkets had a deeper understanding of the universal processes that drive perception they’d be able to thrive with minimum investment in traditional market research.

“My advice is to develop a better understanding of social media – why do certain campaigns go viral while others fizzle? Our research suggests that the non-linear dynamics of social media are animated by the experience of inspiration that comes with natural resonance. Any leader or brand attuned to the resonance between the products, product displays they use and the target markets they serve can attract loyal customers and advocates by activating the 99% of their minds that remain unconscious.

“The big mistake is always to think that human decision-making is rational. For example, I once led research for a package redesign of a retail organic food product. The product cost a dollar more than the competition but had a very loyal following. But leaders wanted to expand market share among mainstream consumers. After studying buying behaviors in a retail setting we saw how the themes of innocence, simplicity and purity resonated so deeply that price considerations didn’t matter with consumers from this normally price-conscious group. We recommended a label that embodied these themes fully, stripping away anything that didn’t serve this. Sales naturally began to climb and the client was able to stop losing margins by doing extensive incentives (coupons, etc.) to attract uninitiated people to their high-quality brand. This is just one example of the power of resonance.

“The secret is understanding the worldview structure of target audiences. People are not behaviorally driven by demographics. They are driven by resonant values, metaphors and the emotions these bring. Worldviews show us exactly what these deeper triggers are for a person or group. Without this sort of understanding, we are left using left-brain logic that may or may not resonate at a heart level.

Logic is always a losing battle — even when it wins — because genuine understanding and relationship loyalty cannot be created through logic alone. Leaders who overemphasize logic before attaining a genuine understanding cannot even properly diagnose their successes when they do succeed – much less when they do not.

“As for families: I believe they are increasingly looking to purchase products from brands who care — about them, about their impact on the world, about something — anything — other than simply the bottom line. For companies that care, people will pay extra. Companies that pretend to care – well, that’s another story. People are smart. They can tell the difference.

“As the economy continues it’s strange ways in the 21st century, people are increasingly valuing experience over materialism. Money is important, but money isn’t everything. It’s a tool for living life fully and enjoying one’s experience as much as possible. An extra dollar spent on a brand that resonates at that deeper level can often bring people a sense of peace, comfort and hope with value that far exceeds a dollar.

“Just look at Apple. Their products are good, but functionally they aren’t all that different than many of the competitors who offer similar products for less than half the price. Is this price difference completely justifiable on quality grounds alone? No. Apple is simple, resonant and deeply aligned with the principle of creativity. People who aspire to create choose Apple because it’s part of their identity. Apple helps them remember who they are and who they aspire to become.

“People are looking for products that offer them a sense of something beyond the ordinary, grounded in authenticity and quality. This is true for everything from computers to cabbage leaves. These principles are driving capitalism into a grand new stage in which value and money are deeply connected. In fits and starts of course. But the companies who refuse to stand for anything other than the bottom line are having a terribly hard time producing anything that resonates with the everyday Joe and Jane. No moral imperatives or ideological beliefs needed to see the new pragmatism of commerce.

“Be yourself and thrive. Play the old game and barely survive. I believe that this is the new pragmatism of the creative economy.”


If you’re like me, your first response to these answers was probably “wow.” Then “wow” again.

This is the power of global experts. People who can take your simple question to a place you’d never imagine.

That’s something you want to build.


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