The METAIL Economy with Joel Bines

July 21, 2022

(highlights from Episode #8 of the Gutsiest Brands podcast)

Check out the latest lessons from our Gutsiest Brands podcast as GutCheck’sCEO, Rob Wengel, sits down with Joel Bines, author of The METAIL Economy. They talk about supporting customers, why business books are all the same (and why his is different), and how to tell which side of the car your gas tank is on.

Joel jokes, “Any Mr. Bean movie that’s ever been made, that’s pretty much my life.” Joel started working at a young age and has held just about every type of job available. After falling into retail, Joel became curious about how everything worked and has used his expertise to bring customers to the forefront of retail business decisions, leading complex operational and organizational operations and strategies. Here’s what he told us 

Takeaway #1 Fill the Content Gap

“Hundreds of millions of people around the world make their job in the consumer economy in one way, shape, or form,” Joel says. “Whether it’s farmers growing food or manufacturers making products or people in the supply chain…it’s important to me that this industry continues to thrive.” This was the motivation behind Joel’s book. He describes it as a slap-on-the-forehead moment when he realized that what used to work for customers, wasn’t working anymore. “I listened to everybody tell me that it was all about eCommerce or it was all about personalization or digital marketing. And those all felt like tactics to me. They didn’t feel like anything really fundamental or strategic,” Joel says. Joel saw a gap in the available knowledge and filled it with his book. “I just had some stuff to say, and I wanted to put it out there. And it turns out that a lot of people find it resonates with them. So, that’s been a nice surprise.” 

Takeaway #2 Being Disruptive Is Not the Same as Being Revolutionary

“When you [look at] the advent of eCommerce or the superstore or going back to the Sears catalog, those were all things that disrupted the traditional ways of doing something,” Joel explains. “But they didn’t change anything fundamental about the relationship between the companies and the customers.” Instead of just disrupting the market, Joel says we should aim to revolutionize it, and this happens through happy customers. “About ten years ago, because of technology, consumers began to be able to access information in a way that they’d never been able to access before.” Joel points out that this has created true change. “This is a real revolution. This is not the way things used to be. This isn’t, let’s take what we used to use and do it online. We have to rethink how we capture customers.” Don’t settle for the same stuff with different methods. Aim for a revolution. 

Takeaway #3 Find the Demographic of One

“If you go back even fifteen years, consumers behaved largely in semi-reliable demographic cohorts,” Joel says. “You could create a business, identify your core customers, search for lookalikes, target that demographic, and pretty reliably have some success.” But, over time, those demographics have fractured into smaller and smaller groups. Joel gives us a great example. “Facebook has seventy-one different gender designations. [We] grew up in a market research world where there were only two. Leaving politics aside, you can see what we’re talking about here. That’s the fragmentation. So, everybody that learned how to target customers has to relearn it because there is no such thing as a demographic. There is only a demographic of one.” To find your customers, you must get specific and narrow it down to the individual needs, not the broad needs of a group. 

Takeaway #4 – Let Customers Be Your North Star

Joel loves Target. Not for the deals, but for the fact that they have done things differently than other retailers. “Just in the last ten years, it’s been one of the most successful retailers on a performance basis of any retailer in any recent memory.” In analyzing how this happened, the answer lies with their CEO, Brian Cornell. “His answer is ‘we asked our customers.’ That’s the difference between Brian and virtually every other retail CEO of that era he knew that [customers] were his north star. His customers were telling him what he needed, and he had the guts to stay with it.” Staying the course in the face of adversity or naysayers is one of the hallmarks of a gutsy brand. 

Takeaway #5 Follow the Six C’s

“The six C’s are ingredients,” Joel explains. “This is like the great retail baking show. All of us have the same basket and it has six ingredients in it. And each of us as business owners and business leaders can choose which to use and in what amounts.” These six C’s are cost, convenience, category expertise, curation, customization, and community. Here’s what Joel says about each.

“Cost means cost. Cost doesn’t mean value.”

“Convenience means convenient for your customer. It does not mean convenience for you.”

“Category expertise [isn’t knowing] the answer to every question, but you have to know how to find the answer to every question.”

“Customization doesn’t have to be bespoke. It just has to be N plus one.”

“Curation equals obsession. You cannot be a curator without being obsessed with every single part of your offering.”

“Communities ebb and flow, but they are extremely difficult to create and extremely easy to destroy.” 

Joel‘s Best Advice?

It’s simple: “Work with people who will tell you the truth. [There are] just too many sycophants in the world. And if you really need to be gutsy, even if you don’t want to hear it, it might be something you need to hear. Make sure you surround yourself with people who will tell you the truth. 

Keep Learning 

Catch up on Rob and Joel’s full interview by listening to the Gutsiest Brands podcast. If you are interested in how your brand can uncover the deep customer insights that can enable you to lead with empathy, pioneer new paths, stand behind bold ideas, and lean into ‘the power of AND’, we’d love to help. Drop us a note!

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