The 2019 Category Management and Shopper Insights Conference Recap

by Dave Hanson

The 2019 Category Management and Shopper Insights Conference was a whirlwind of information, networking, entertainment and fun. The theme of this year’s show was “Integrating Insights and Analytics to Drive Growth with the Connected Shopper”, and there was a definite focus on using data to thrive in an evolving marketplace.

This year was also the inaugural conference for the Shopper Insights Management Association. The energy and enthusiasm for the new dimension to the conference was palpable. According to SIMA President Leslie Warshaw, “The conference provided a first look at shopper insights training and ideas about how to continue to expand professional development in the field. There were many opportunities to network and share best practices. The attendees and solution providers brought many ideas on new ways to move our industry forward through innovation and collaboration.”

The conference officially kicked off Monday morning with training and workshops from the CMA, SIMA and Trend Hunter (read about our new partnership here). The groups in both sessions were highly engaged with lots of interesting conversations spawning among the breakout groups during the discussion portion of Trend Hunter’s Retail Disruption Workshop.

Late in the morning, as training and workshops concluded, CMA & SIMA announced a new partnership with the Category Management Knowledge Group to provide CMKG’s industry-leading training as a benefit of CMA/SIMA membership. In addition to their Monday morning sessions, the groups set aside a new dedicated area at the conference called the Learning Lab, where they would conduct free training throughout the show.

After lunch, our 2019 Master of Ceremonies Tom McDonald gave his opening remarks and introduced our first keynote speaker, Retail Prophet Doug Stephens. Doug talked about several hot-button issues along with some emerging technologies and trends that will shape the future of retail. One part of his talk I found particularly compelling was his take on evolving augmented reality technology as a shopping mechanism. Stephens painted a picture of a future where you could see your new coffee table or sofa in your home before you bought it through augmented reality and complete the purchase right there with a simple click. It was certainly very interesting to see how some of Amazon’s competitors are investing heavily in this type of technology in hopes of gaining an edge.

The next keynote was from dunnhumby North America President Jose Gomes, who walked the audience through several insights from dunnhumby’s latest Retailer Preference Index and a number of key takeaways. The audience seemed really engaged and came out of the session raring to go for the rest of the show.

The latter portion of the afternoon was filled with breakout sessions. For the first session, I sat in on Nielsen’s breakout with Reckitt Benckiser, “The Secret to Effective Revenue Management, Make Every Dollar Work for You”, which posed a lot of interesting questions, including: if you only had $1 left in your budget, what would you do with it? It was a great look at some best practices for pinpointing the top drivers of ROI for your promotional dollar.

The breakout sessions were spread over two floors with refreshment stands outside of each set of rooms. Between sessions, attendees gathered in small clusters of four or five around each table between sessions, catching up with old friends, chatting with the speakers or continuing the conversation about the topic from the last session.

After another round of breakout sessions, the Solutions Hall opened and the real fun began. The atmosphere inside the Solutions Hall was vibrant and fun with lots of lively conversations going everywhere you looked. After a few rotations, hors d’oeuvres were served and keynote speaker Doug Stephens autographed copies of his latest book, Reengineering Retail: The Future of Selling in a Post-Digital World. It was the end of a long day, and from there, people broke off into smaller groups for dinner or drinks and a good night’s rest.

Tuesday morning kicked off with a bang. After Tom McDonald’s opening address, the first keynote came from magician and motivational speaker Jon Petz. Jon had us all laughing and fully engaged as he talked about what it takes to deliver a memorable performance. He then capped it off with a heartwarming story about delivering a last wish to a sick child. You could tell the story really drove the point home for the crowd and everybody was talking about the “7 of Hearts” story in the app afterwards.

Next up was the keynote from Kurt Unkelbach, who shared his unique perspective on what retailers are looking for as someone who has worked on both sides of the desk – first at S.C. Johnson and now at Family Dollar. I thought it was interesting just how critical timing was in responding to retailers – a good response now is better than a slightly-more-perfect answer tomorrow, in many cases.

The last keynote of the morning came from General Mills’ Sara Reeves, the “Almost” Wonder Woman of Category Management. She wrapped up the Tuesday morning keynotes by reminding us of some key ways to connect with our customers, build credibility with our presentations, and how to assemble and maintain a best-in-class category management team. I found her take on presentations to be very interesting, with a strong opposition to any filtering of information through rose-colored glasses. Just keeping it to the facts builds your credibility.

The rest of the morning was filled with more breakout sessions followed by a networking lunch and book signing with keynote speaker Jon Petz. Many people also took the time to explore the Solutions Hall, take meetings with other attendees at the Pepsi Connections Cafe or get their professional headshots taken before the afternoon demos began. The line for the headshots was especially long, and we extended both the afternoon and evening headshot times by an hour just to make sure we got everybody in!

After 3 more rounds of solution provider demos, most of the attendees headed into more breakout sessions for the afternoon while others headed to the new Learning Lab for live training sessions. I sat in on the university breakout session, “How to Successfully Recruit Millennials and Gen Z on College Campuses” and heard some interesting takes from the panel participants on how their companies are structuring benefits and building more flexible work schedules in order to keep attracting top talent. I found their takes on flexible hours and working remotely to be very interesting. These kinds of perks are starting to become “table stakes” for getting top recruits in the door these days.

The Tuesday sessions ended with a keynote from musician and motivational speaker Mike Rayburn, who gave an inspiring and entertaining presentation called, “Succeed Anyway: Develop Your Transformation Mindset.” Rayburn spoke about how he used a transformation mindset to form his original act in an unconventional way – basically remixing song requests from drunken bar patrons on the fly to comedic effect– and entertained us while putting a new twist on every song he played – from a country western Beyoncé tune to a classical guitar version of Bohemian Rhapsody.

The day ended back in the Solutions Hall with cocktails, appetizers and the big raffle drawing! Prizes ranged from Echo Dots and Air Pods to a huge Grand Prize trip to the Caribbean. The was a ton of energy and excitement, and we want to extend a big thank you to everyone who participated for visiting our vendor booths and collecting tickets, making this raffle a huge success for all.

At 8:30 PM, the groups began to reassemble in the Heart of Omnia ultra-lounge for the Late Night Party, where there was open bar from 8:30-11:00. The crowd was rowdy and ready to party, in spite of the long day. The DJ in the lounge was excellent, and most of the attendees were out on the floor dancing, while others orbited around tables or near the bar chatting it up.

Around 11:00 PM, most of the attendees headed into the main club at Omnia, where NGHTMRE was DJing for the evening. The dance floor was absolutely packed to the gills. A giant, multimillion-dollar chandelier hung above the middle of the dance floor which would occasionally descend from the ceiling with lights and animatronic effects. It was quite the sight to behold.

Wednesday morning kicked off with optional live training sessions in the Learning Lab and a networking breakfast before the Super Session panels. Attendees got their choice of panel discussions, with three sessions starting at 9:00 AM and three more starting at 10:00 AM.

After the Super Sessions, we closed out the show with a final panel from the folks at PepsiCo and 84.51° called “Delivering on the Promise of Personalization.” The panel shared multiple perspectives on their ambitious 3-year long project to communicate with shoppers on the most granular level. It was interesting hearing two sides of the story – from both PepsiCo and 84.51°, as it gave you a great feel for how things came into action.

As the last keynote came to a close, we got one more appearance from Tom McDonald for a final thank you and a reminder to Save-the-Date for the 2020 Category Management and Shopper Insights Conference (February 23-26th 2020) in Dallas, Texas.

We heard a lot of positive feedback throughout the conference from attendees and our sponsors, and we really appreciated it. If you attended the conference, please be sure and fill out your survey and send it back. We really do take your feedback to heart.

We want to extend one final big “Thank you” to all of our sponsors and attendees. Without you this conference would not be possible. We hope that you were all able to make some meaningful connections for your business going forward. We hope to see you all again next year!