They face slow growth in their traditional markets, find that emerging markets are not the panacea they once seemed and battle new and established competitors at every turn. CPG companies need to find new ways to stand out, and one area that hasn’t been truly conquered yet is their understanding of their customers.
Consider a cereal brand. There was a time when it would have been enough for the company to pay attention only to the way its customers consumed cereal; its expertise was in breakfast, nutrition, and family buying habits. However, this is no longer enough. Engaging with today’s customers, who expect a personalized, seamless brand experience, requires a deeper level of interaction.
Nike’s customers, for example, are interacting with the brand in a number of ways, whether tracking their activity on a smartphone app or the fitness tracker, or making their own custom sneakers on the NIKEiD website. Nike is simultaneously solidifying its relationship with its customers and collecting mountains of data that tell the company exactly what its customers want.
How can other CPG marketers improve their games to keep up with the competition?
1. “I want what I want, when I want it”
A mantra for CPG marketers in viewing their customers should be, “I want what I want, when I want it.”
This is broken down in two parts. “I want what I want” asks companies to get to the heart of what they stand for. Nivea, for example, understands that when its customers buy sunscreen, what they are really looking for is protection for their families. To tap into this, in 2014 the brand launched its Sun Band campaign, featuring a pop-out bracelet in a magazine ad that, when connected to a smartphone app, worked as a child-tracking device. CPG marketers need to have a similarly clear understanding of what their product stands for in the minds of consumers.
“When I want it” involves a detailed understanding of exactly when and where customers are interacting with brands. This allows brands to aim their marketing efforts at customers during exactly the right moment. Target’s Cartwheel app, for example, sends customers personalized coupons to their phones to be scanned at the checkout.
2. Go native
In-store immersion — tailored visits to physical stores to better understand how consumers are shopping — can be a great way to get into the minds of customers and explore how they engage with brands.
Not only can this help businesses identify where customers are experiencing pain points when interacting with their products, but it can also reveal how other brands are getting ahead on the retail experience.
3. Get creative by reinventing the processes
Great ideas can come from anywhere and companies should be open to innovation no matter where it comes from within the business. This will help the ideas flow faster. Holding informal, process-light workshops where anyone is welcome to pitch encourages ideas to flow freely.
One of our clients, a food company, found that such a workshop led to a number of ideas being proposed by juniors that were taken on board and are now in the process of being rolled out. By leaving the clutter of process at the door, CPG companies can generate ideas from voices that may not have previously been heard.
4. Master the creepy vs. cool ratio
Data is core to understanding customers and personalizing the customer experience. Yes, it tells businesses exactly what their customers are buying, but it also provides insights into how those customers perceive the brand and are interacting with it.
Getting personalization right, however, depends on using this data in the right way. For instance, if a customer receives a coupon via mobile when shopping in a grocery store for the very product they are looking for, that could be seen as a “cool” experience, however anything considered too gimmicky or intrusive will come off as “creepy” and send potential customers in the opposite direction.
Personalization should always be weighed up in terms of “creepy vs. cool,” and brands must first gain their customers’ trust. Strong customer service can go a long way.
So what’s next?
Customer understanding has always been one of the foundations and keys to success for marketing campaigns. Today, with those customers expecting seamless and tailored experiences in every sphere of commercial activity, it is vital that brands gain a deeper and more sophisticated understanding of the consumer.
Many leading CPG marketers already understand this, stepping up to the plate and revitalizing their brands. It’s time for the rest of the industry to catch up.