This past Friday I had one of the most enjoyable meetings of my professional life.  I had initially been worried about this particular meeting.  After spending 3 nights in Switzerland, I travelled back to the UK, spent 2.5 hours at Heathrow and then caught a flight to Finland, arriving well after midnight.  Knowing that I would only have a few hours’ sleep in Helsinki before heading 100 km north to Lahti for the meeting, I was concerned that travel and tiredness might take their toll.

I needn’t have worried.  Several participants had enjoyed a late night at Lahti’s famous summer retreat, and they were pleased I had made the extra effort to join them.  As we drove up to the log cabin in the woods, I was reminded of my 4-H camping days back in West Virginia.  Though I had spent childhood summers barefoot, I was surprised when asked to remove my shoes for a business meeting.  But, when in Finland… So we added our shoes to the 9 or 10 pairs already by the front door and joined the others in a family-style sitting room.

After introductions, we arranged ourselves on comfy sofas and began the meeting.  My presentation drifted to the background on the cabin’s TV, as we began to engage each other in conversation.  The meeting was a deep dive into how brands derive and leverage customer insights for competitive strategy in the age of the consumer.  For two hours, we shared ideas and reviewed best practices from around the globe. We discussed a US brand which is maintaining its tradition of customer relationships by linking local stores with social media communities, as well as a British retailer which credits a thoughtful animated snowman with 44% growth during the 2013 Christmas season. 

As our stories began to flow, we shared our personal experiences with brands – good and bad – covering everything from operational efficiency to digital marketing.  We reviewed how the consumerization of customer analytics poses multiple challenges to brands, and I learned about Finland’s regulatory requirements, which are stricter than the rest of Europe and vastly different to North America.  We considered innovative approaches to analytics, such as building internal labs based on technology acquisitions.  And we explored maturity models which access a brand’s capabilities and readiness to raise the bar with analytics.

The subject matter, group dynamics and unique setting all ensured a lively and worthwhile discussion which generated several ideas for follow-up.  Perhaps we should kick our shoes off and engage each other in real conversation more often.