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July 26, 2012

In transit through Singapore's Changi Airport, Henry Mason snapped a picture of an example of what the consumer voyeur network he heads calls "Brand Butlers".

"It has never been more important to turn your brand into a service," wrote of the idea in April 2010.

In July 2012, Mason, the outfit's global head of research, came across self-service kiosks run by the national postal service that allow flyers to post objects they have forgotten to put in their checked luggage and can't get through security.

"That's marketing but it's also a service," he says. "They're putting themselves in a place where the customers really need the service."

Mason says chief executives should not just watch their competitors but also monitor innovation like this outside their own industry.

"As a retailer, what can you learn from that?" he asks. "Could being in an unconventional place be of benefit to your consumers?"

The CEO needs to stay on top of trends but Mason reckons staff lower down the organisational chain could provide just as much insight from their experiences as consumers.

"Giving each of your divisions time to spend an hour a month discussing things that perhaps don't lie in their normal frame of reference, I think could throw up some interesting ideas," he says. "If you start with that question of 'How can we use this to ultimately improve things for our customers'."

Looking outside your industry also plays into Mason's wish to smash the crystal ball stereotype. "A lot of people think trend watching is about future forecasting, 10 to 15 years out," he says. "There's a place for that but ultimately we're focused on what we call short-term futures. What can you do in the next three to six, or 12 months? And often the best source of that is what's happening elsewhere already."

Mason will return to Australia in August for a one-day seminar in Sydney.

Jessica Gardner


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