In times of transformation – SHIFT Summer 2021

Digitalization. Sustainability. Shifts in customer behavior. Not to mention all the planning difficulties accompanying the post-Covid era. Far-reaching changes are clearly on the way for global players and small-scale retailers alike. However, as the third SHIFT Conference of decision-makers and pioneering thinkers has clearly shown, any form of upheaval throws open the door to enormous opportunities.


Presenter Dr. Marc Schumacher opened the conference by introducing two speakers who started with a broad-brush outline of our current situation. Professor Dr. Manfred Kirchgeorg, Chair of Marketing Management and Sustainability at HHL Leipzig Graduate School of Management, forcefully spelt out the need for urgent action on climate protection: “Over the past 50 years we have seen a rise in average temperature far in excess of anything in the past 2000 years.”He pointed out the role of human impact in this development “without a shadow of a doubt,” but warned that politicians and consumers are often too slow to do enough for the environment in the time that is still available, so that impetus from the business sector is a significant factor.

Professor Kirchgeorg was followed by Charlotte Parnack, well-known journalist and Economics Editor at German broadsheet ‘Die Zeit.’ She addressed an issue that is taking on particular social importance in the weeks leading up to the German general election: the often out-of-control culture of debate. The extent and speed with which society is changing can be traced in the changing tasks that are facing journalists; Parnack called for “new forms of dialogue, more on equal terms.” She noted that journalists no longer played the role of the ultimate gatekeepers: “Who was it who made sure Donald Trump no longer had a say? It wasn’t journalists; it was Twitter.” So are journalists redundant? By no means! Parnack affirmed that the demand for good in-depth news had “grown exponentially” in a deeply divided society, and pointed out that the greater the number of voices heard, the more valuable the debate.

Plenty of food for thought and discussion at hartmann campus within view of Munich Cathedral, where the first evening of the conference concluded with a mini-Oktoberfest that captured the feel, and the delicious flavors, of the real thing. Although the real Oktoberfest could not take place––or perhaps for that very reason––the conference guests were visibly delighted to be experiencing a face-to-face event once more.

The Friday program of eight talks clearly demonstrated that many decision-makers are ready and willing to roll up their sleeves and embrace new ideas. And there are certainly pioneering thinkers around, offering plenty of inspiration. Robert Zitzmann and Carl Kuhn from specialist advertising agency Jung von Matt/SPORTS reported from the world of gaming and eSports, now emerging from its niche status. They described an industry that treats its target groups with greater respect than, say, the classic football sector, but stressed the importance of speaking the community’s language and being authentic––nothing fake, nothing feigned. A little later, a virtual talk by Mathias Keswani from Nerdindustries described, to much acclaim, how creative minds operating a “company for inventions” and reveling in “crazy ideas” (Keswani) are able to help even major players like adidas and Sennheiser to reinvent themselves. In Keswani’s view there are far too few people of his kind in the world; the need for nerds has never been greater, with a veritable “skills shortage” in evidence.

Friday’s events provided various first-hand examples of the paths these new routes might take. Annette Hamann reported from the “engine room” and described the task of digitalizing global company Beiersdorf in a way that would intermesh the “consumer journey” and the “company journey” as smoothly as possible. Karsten Mayer, Head of Marketing Communications Digitalization at Mercedes Benz, demonstrated what could be learned from the major players in the digital economy and applied to autonomous driving and the future of the automobile, particularly with respect to software user satisfaction. He warned of the need to clearly explain to customers that auto software and updates cannot be provided for free. Marcus Meyer from Lacoste outlined the balancing act facing his fashion company, explaining how heritage goes hand in hand with a duty to think of the future. He described Lacoste’s successful transformation, uniting transparency and a sustainable mindset with the company’s brand strategy. Carsten Keller from Zalando described the emergence of an initially surprising collaboration known as ‘connected retail’ which delivers a win-win situation for all stakeholders. The online retailer is now working intensively with bricks-and-mortar retailers in a relationship to which both sides contribute their primary strengths: Zalando has now increased its closeness to the customer, while its platform is helping to save inner-city stores from decline. Covid-19 may have curbed the pace of the idea, but has been unable to halt its progress.

The global players from The Future Laboratory and Salesforce presented further targeted forecasts, accompanied by in-depth analyses of the significance and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic for business. Representing the Future Laboratory, founder Christopher Sanderson gave a digital talk in which he stressed the urgent need to be ready for radical rethinking in this decade of economic upheaval, further exacerbated by the pandemic. He concluded by outlining the most effective starting-points for such new beginnings. Matt Marcotte, Global Head of Retail and Consumer Goods Strategy at Salesforce, joined the conference virtually from Boston. He focused on changes in consumer behavior and the new tasks facing bricks-and-mortar stores, and noted that consumers’ digital and physical worlds are now so closely intertwined that there is no longer any point in companies considering them as separate entities. Matt also described the latest developments in customer data analysis and the promising perspectives for marketplace business. Both speakers underlined the need for radical action, for approaching competitors and pulling together. “I’m delighted to be able to say that we are already a platform, we are a community,” announced event host Simone Hartmann at the end of the conference, summing up the proceedings. The next get-together for the SHIFT community is slated for May 5 and 6, 2022.