We recently attended the CMA | SIMA Annual Conference in Dallas, TX and came back with valuable insights into the world of Category Management and Shopper Insights. Over three days, experts delved into diverse topics, from consumer behavior to retail experiences and effective storytelling.

Among the sessions we attended, we’ve singled out our top four favorites that resonated with us the most.

Economic Outlook 2024

How Taylor Swift's concerts boosted restaurant revenue; Source: Michelle Meyer's presentation

Michelle Meyer (Chief Economist, Mastercard) spoke about the Economic Outlook for 2024, and we found it very interesting. Instead of using regular slides, she used an interactive dashboard-of-sorts to dive into all kinds of numbers – from inflation to GDP, and consumer spending to jobs. She even talked about how big events, like Taylor Swift concerts, affect local economies.

Key takeaways: The big takeaway for me was that even though US inflation today (CPI) is at ~3%, consumers are still in control due to stronger wage growth (~5%) driven by a tight labor market. This has created an “empowered consumer” that is deciding where to cut back (discretionary purchases) and where to splurge (e.g., on Taylor Swift concerts and experiences).

For CPGs and business leaders, what this means is…We’re entering a new “new normal”. As we make business decisions, e.g., around pricing, promotions, new packtypes, we need to ditch our old playbooks, and take into account new realities. Also, while big-picture data is useful, it’s essential to recognize that trends differ across regions, income levels, and other factors. This presents an opportunity to delve into the nuances and create strategies specific to your unique shopper or consumer.

WHAT IF? Two Simple Words That Have the Power to Change Everything!

Russ Onish and Andy McKeon delivered an inspiring session urging us to adopt a “What If” mindset. Their central idea was why not reimagine new avenues of value creation rather than solely relying on historical data for incremental changes.

“What if” in action…Andy and Russ recently paired up to rethink the Mexican food aisle shopping experience in mainstream supermarkets. Andy had asked, what if Mexican food shopping could be reimagined…could the navigation be similar to how we order food at Chipotle? They have come up with a prototype that’s currently being tested.

Takeaway for CPGs and business leaders: Real progress comes from bold innovation. Yes, reinvention carries risks. But, the lessons gained are usually worth it. While we typically advise on optimal assortment and best POG principles, sometimes we must step out of our comfort zone to pursue bigger ideas that move the needle for shoppers, for customers.

Just Tell Me What I Need to Know: Real-Life Examples of Death by PowerPoint

Death by PowerPoint example, source: Benjamin James

Benjamin James (Shopper Insights @ Nestle Purina) delivered a funny session on how (in his previous life obviously) he engaged in “death by PowerPoint” by inundating his audiences with too much data and too less insights.

Key takeaways: While Category Management relies heavily on data, our role as strategists isn’t merely to present data but to extract meaningful insights. Decision-makers crave concise, actionable information rather than drowning in raw data.

For CPG leaders influencing retail customers, Ben’s message was essentially, “we need to tell them what they need to know”, without making it too complicated.

The Bonfire Effect: How to Create Stores That Survive & Thrive in a Digitally Dominant Era

One of Kevin's many retail transformations; source: Shook Kelley

Lastly, a highlight was Kevin Ervin Kelley, AIA captivating keynote.

Kevin, an exceptional architect, has a profound understanding of creating “happy places”. By blending human psychology with architecture, he crafts immersive retail experiences that shoppers love.

Kevin showcased how he injected soul into retail spaces like Freson Bros. and Northgate Market. He prompted owners to dig deep to define their purpose and express it through design, resulting in truly unique and enjoyable shopping environments.

Key takeaways: Humans are “an experience-seeking species”. If shopping feels draining, it suggests the space isn’t designed optimally. As we innovate with merchandising vehicles and aisle-to-store transformations, incorporating insights from human psychology and good design can greatly enhance the shopping experience. Happy place = happier and more profitable shoppers.

In closing

So, there you have it—our top sessions from the conference. Reflecting on these experiences, I realize that they all revolved around a central theme: the importance of understanding the consumer and shopper in everything we do as CPG professionals.

With this principle in mind, let’s push boundaries—whether by innovating new experiences or daring to challenge the status quo. (without killing anyone with PPT in the process :))

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