This week, I'm reporting back from the field of Alt Summit in Utah where I attended a four-day conference for bloggers and creative business owners. On the first day, I sat front row during the keynote speeches of some really really smart women. Give an entrepreneur time to prepare, a clicker, and a microphone and you get insights worthy of Ted Talks.
Here's a recap of the points that struck home for me. You don't have to be a blogger or a social media influencer to find these nuggets interesting. The Internet is everywhere, my friends, and it has changed everything.
In Business, Changing Course is Essential
Mariam Naficy (above), CEO of Minted, the online design marketplace, launched her company with two competing ideas. One arm of the business consisted of paper goods from established brands. At the same time, she sponsored open call design contests and produced the most popular products as decided by the Minted community. This was the model that took off. She had tapped into crowd-sourcing, a powerful predictor for marketers who can harness it. She quickly folded up the first half of her business, pivoted into the crowd-sourced designs, and landed on the right side of retail history.
The Fight for the Eye
Pinterest is now the second largest driver of traffic. (Facebook is first.) According to Ms. Naficy, this means that the internet is all about the 'fight for the eye'. We have something like 1.3 seconds to convey an idea. In order to effectively communicate, our photos must quickly telegraph what we stand for. Which means... drum roll please... artists, photographers, stylists, designers, illustrators, animators, are more critical than ever!
The Way We Shop Has Dramatically Changed
Ms. Naficy mapped out the retail landscape of the past forty years. Remember the 1980s when brands and retailers carved out archetypal niches? Think Banana Republic, Benetton, The Gap. And how about the 1990s unromantic big box retailers -- so convenient but with the ambience of a basement. We currently value small, artisanal, local, and handmade, which she believes correlates with the rise of the millennial coupled with the recession.
The Future of Retail?
Ms. Naficy believes that we are entering the era of the storyteller seller. To which I say, "C'mon in! The water's great!" Here's my opinion: as the internet expands and online options abound, shoppers will seek out the personal, the intimate, the familiar. Perhaps we are returning to the model of the corner store, where choice is limited but the conversation is good. As online customers, we can pop in for a spell, shop a bit, chit chat with the owner, and if we don't find everything we need, it's okay.
Creative Weirdness Resonates
In an era of internet conformity, people crave twists on old standards. Jihan Zencirli (above) parlayed a giant balloon she gave as a last-minute gift into a creative business called Geronimo. Her helium-filled, tassel-tailed, confection-colored spheres serve as design elements for the likes of Kanye West, Chanel, and many others around the world.
Of her business, she says that balloons were nothing special until she made them something special. She took something ubiquitous and predictable and reinvented it as something weirdly creative.
It's Never Too Late
When Ms. Zencirli was a child, she went through a difficult period that culminated with an episode of bullying another child. Her mother told her, "Jihan, you need to reinvent yourself." Fast forward to now, and Jihan continues to learn this lesson of reinvention from her mother. A former school teacher, Jihan's mom is currently researching what it takes to open a felafel shop.
When Ms. Zencirli says that it's never too late, she means that we humans live in a "plastic state" and that change is always possible. (My regular readers will remember the vintage book I love about "the plastic state.")
Every bit of Ms. Zencirli's keynote warmed my fifty-year-old heart. If you want to know more about this genius woman, you can watch a darling video here. You can shop her fabulous dress with giant sequined evil eyes here. You can read more about the "plastic state" here and shop the collection here.
Thanks for joining me today for a recap. I'll write one more post about Alt Summit on Monday and then it's back to fun and games with old stuff.
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