PepsiCo, Mars Among CPGs Driving An Insights Revolution

"Profound changes in society and tech mean that consumers have more choice, significantly higher expectations and more control than ever before. Therefore, organizations that can detect, intimately understand and respond to consumer change better and faster will have a significant source of competitive advantage.”

"People haven’t changed; technology has changed people’s expectations of what they can and should get from brands… Just as technology has changed the way humans live, it is also changing how the industry captures insights and creates value for businesses.” 

Those two quotes pithily sum up why CPG companies are making consumer insights a core — even the core — strategic priority not just in marketing, but for their organizations as a whole.

The first observation is from PepsiCo’s Tim Warner, vice president, insights and analytics, Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa and global digitization; the second from Mars Wrigley’s Michelle Gansle, director, global gum and mints. The statements were made in a panel during last month’s SXSW 2019, moderated by Ryan Barry, chief revenue officer at an automated consumer insights platform Zappi.

In that and other forums, Warner and Gansle have articulated the compelling need to overhaul the traditional consumer insights function and its structure, and how its results are shared.

“Insight — and I mean that in the broadest sense... the capabilities, the process, the talent, the organization, everything – needs to be reinvented,” Warner elaborated later last month, during an event held in London by the Market Research Society and Kantar, reported Marketing Week. “In many industries, many organizations, there’s a growing realization that consumer-centricity and marketplace responsiveness — whatever you want to call it — is arguably the most important source of competitive advantage and hence has been elevated to the C-suite. It’s no longer a conversation that just sits in marketing; it’s a C-suite conversation.”

At SXSW, Warner and Gansle each stressed that small competitors are eating away at large CPGs (with new brands showing average growth of 6%, and large legacy brands’ growth at -2%) not only because technology has democratized consumer interaction and data gathering, but because smaller companies are moving much more nimbly to put insights into action to drive product innovation and “building intimacy” with consumers.

Warner has reported that PepsiCo, which considers insights a strategic investment, is “co-creating, with key strategic partners, a new digital insights platform and suite of tools to fuel, guide and amplify brand building, innovation, creative content and go-to-market activation across the enterprise." 

The company’s “systemic approach” to insights looks to enable faster speed-to-market through use of “tech-first, science-led” tools; developing more effective, insight-led strategies that “elevate consumer empathy”; and achieving better return from investments, he said in London.

Similarly, Mars is “embracing technology to capture true human behavior, while also working to increase speed and agility to meet the changing needs of our consumers and customers,” Gansle reported at SWSX.

But both stressed that unleashing the power of better, faster insights also requires new approaches to hiring and deploying talent, linking siloed consumer data pools, and creating a more open culture that allows for sharing across the organization — and even across other companies.

Mars is letting the whole company access the insights team’s work, and investing in platforms and training that allow people within and outside of marketing to access such data, according to Gansle. The insights team provides the context that gives the data value and enables various teams to try to apply insights in enhancing their own work, she explained.

PepsiCo’s new tools include an about-to-be-launched insights and content communication suite designed to help employees across the organization share problems and solutions.

Both companies are also actively working on talking with and finding ways to share data, resources and approaches to insights application with other CPG makers — again, with the goal of solving shared problems more quickly. 

Although these companies and others are pushing hard, no one expects the complex revolution in consumer insights to happen overnight.

And as with nearly all business revolutions, the speed and success of these efforts will depend to a large extent on how genuinely committed CEOs and other top executives prove to dedicating the needed human and operational resources and, most important, making it clear that the sharing and deployment of insights is a top priority enterprise-wide.

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