Similar to the way online advertisers measure and optimize their ads on-the-fly, CPG marketers can now measure and improve their retail and product performance with an unprecedented level of accuracy. This level of measurement was simply not possible just a few years ago without the widespread mobile and crowdsourcing technologies that exist today. In addition, shoppers have evolved into complex and informed decision makers, making it necessary for industry professionals to develop new skills and measurement capabilities to keep up. What follows are five “must-have” skills of the modern CPG insights professional:
Insights leaders today have greater quantity and better quality of data at their fingertips than their predecessors—everything from people’s detailed purchases to mobile browsing habits. But simply more data don’t equal automatic insights. A translator is needed. Synthesizing data into compelling insights is often found at the top of the requirements list for this line of work.
What does it mean that people are constantly purchasing my pet food brand with a seemingly unrelated product category, such as bleach? Why are millennials getting my product at the dollar store channel instead of the usual club channel? Behind these questions you can find real people’s stories that can be leveraged for business and product development purposes.
Great stories are the direct result of an inquisitive mind. If you work in research, you’re getting paid to be curious and look beyond the obvious. Hypothesis-based testing, gut-checking, and cross-checking facts are the standard set of analytical skills whether you’re on the shopper insights, consumer insights, retail insights, or general market research team. The magic lies in choosing the right questions to ask throughout the process in order to peel back the layers of data and move the story forward.
Historically, both vendors and CPG research teams were notoriously slow with their turnaround. But with the advent of new, real-time technologies, waiting several months (or even quarters) for a consultant’s report on the impact of an initiative is a thing of the past. Today, performance can be measured in a matter of days and weeks, often by the researcher herself through self-serve platforms. The impact of this agility often translates into immediate savings for the business. For example, identifying early on that a retailer failed to set up agreed-upon displays could mean avoiding an expensive mistake for a brand. For a retailer, identifying a lapsed shopper early on could translate to millions in savings if the retailer can identify the reasons for lapsing and prevent similar shopper groups from doing so.
A challenge that comes with agility is an increased propensity for ad hoc work, which often disrupts a carefully crafted learning plan. The best insights professionals recognize this and allow cushions for such work in their plans, and develop a keen sense of priority.. The best approach is to determine the immediate impact that such research would have on the business, which a solid understanding of the sales growth equation should provide. A balance of long-term and short-term learning goals is the foundation of a productive and successful insights organization.
5. Thinking Outside of the Box
It may sound like a cliché, but we sure need more of it in this industry. The modern corporate insights and research professional stays on top of innovative solutions and emerging technologies, and proactively looks to test and apply these to their business. The “old school” CPG industry often encouraged taking the so-called “safe bets” at the time of choosing data providers. The result was that everybody ended up with the same data, which was often flawed, and certainly not representative. These decisions, coupled with the vendor’s lack of incentive to innovate,left many brands in the dark.
Leading brands, on the other hand, have something in common: they achieve category captaincies by doing things differently than their market peers. Insights professionals at innovative companies like PepsiCo and P&G are asking questions that can finally be answered because someone within the organization decided to “think outside the box” and take a risk with new tools and vendors.
Creative thinking might be something fairly new to an industry not exactly known for innovation. Crafting a good story and asking the right questions throughout the process are skills that have been historically necessary for the practice of CPG research. This shortlist is the result of several thoughtful conversations with industry veterans, but the list is by no means exhaustive. Have your own suggestions? Feel free to post them in the comments below!