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Why the Killer App IS the Trade Association

Why the Killer App IS the Trade Association

I am very pleased and honored to now be sharing my thoughts and insights on our food and supermarket industry along with the learnings from our consumer panel on these pages of Supermarket News.

Supermarket News was the must-read for my dad, who was a food manufacturer and later food broker. It was “the” food news publication, one of the only sources where retailers and manufacturers could read about the latest industry innovations. These pages spurred much discussion and learnings. Many decades before the Internet, emails and the RSS feeds could send alerts about the latest news, the newsprint pages of SN prompted phone calls within minutes of being delivered by the mailroom — and set in motion the dialogue and sometimes debate, between the industry's leadership which would lead them to the next innovation or retail concept.

Those days, the offices of most retailers and brands were open for at least a half day on Saturday; most of my Saturdays from age 9 till about 12, I spent in my Dad's office thumbing through this publication trying to imagine what it would feel like to be written about, or quoted, on its pages. I am very proud to now add my voice to this heritage.

The supermarket industry, and SN, have come a long way since I was 9. Technology has changed the dynamics and speed of information — as well as replacing much of that personal dialogue with emails and blogs. In my content partnership with SN, which begins with this column, I hope to reinvigorate the real-time, in person discussions and debates amongst us and also use the latest technologies to help steer our industry to understand and communicate with consumers.

And we start in Las Vegas.

Many of you are reading this column, either in print or on your laptop or mobile device, from the exhibit floor, educational sessions and hotel rooms or while traversing between these at FMI 2010. Just as technology has changed the way we receive our food news, so has it changed the rules for trade associations.

The old model of trade association success was to rent the largest convention hall imaginable, hire the biggest name authors or newscasters to kick off the keynote address, and the brands would throw money at the group to secure the best and largest exhibit space. The brands would then erect a larger than life showcase for their products, for just a few days, all designed to attract the top management and buyers of supermarkets. On a personal note: One of my most unforgettable moments at FMI was seeing and hearing Ray Charles on a raised platform at one booth! And that was the problem — we moved away from substance we needed to build and navigate our industry and moved towards sizzle. (Sorry Ray.)

The leaders and staff of trade associations, not just FMI but all of the associations, need to think like Steve Jobs.

Put yourself in the mind of the person using the association's products and services, and create the best, most insightful, high quality and WOW experience ever.

Retailers and brand managers don't need trade shows anymore in the old sense of the word — let's start from there. The brands bring new products to their offices months before they might showcase them at a trade event or send out a press release. Having meetings at trade shows is anything but confidential, comfortable or convenient. Sophisticated online or DVD-based educational tools are available for a fraction of the cost of travel, and are available on demand to fit in the hectic schedules of both the front line and executive ranks. Which is why everyone in our industry needs to buy an iPad.

Not just because it's cool (yes, I have one and am blown away with the technology and ease), but because it puts the owner in control of the information they want and need. The iPad, and the goal of trade associations, should be to actually help them lead their lives — both personal and business — more efficiently with better quality and be easy to use at the same time. The device actually brings to life the viewing of a video on YouTube, a string on Facebook and even a Tweet. Perhaps the secret to the iPad is that we actually touch it. Our fingers actually make contact with and communicate with the images and words, and it's much more primal (dare I say human?) than hitting keys on a keyboard.

It's time to think of our trade associations as the food retailing iPad — a very cool collection of the “apps” that we can pick and choose from (some for pay, some free) to help us run our lives and businesses better. That brings dialogue and debate into the 21st century, with the tap of a finger.

I look forward to continuing the discussion with you online, on the iPad, and of course face to face at FMI 2010.

Phil Lempert is contributing editor of Supermarket News and CEO of The Lempert Report and He is a well-known author, speaker and media personality focusing on topics such as consumer behavior, marketing trends and new products.

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