At the recent SXSW event, I attended a panel discussion about the challenges that big brands face in using consumer insights to become truly customer centric. Panelists Michele Gansley, (Wrigley) and Tim Warner (Pepsico) shared with the audience some of the innovative ways that they are changing their Consumer Insights departments. Here are my thoughts and takeaways from the session.

Why Brands Need Better Insights

Big businesses no longer run the world: consumers do. Consumers have the digital tools and platforms to inform themselves about products and services, and to compare prices, ratings and reviews.

Technology has changed consumers’ expectations of brands should deliver in terms of speed, innovation, transparency, authenticity, and consistency: you are competing in a world where 77 percent of customers read online reviews before making a purchase, 93 percent of purchases made by online shoppers are influenced by social media and 75 percent of customers say they are more likely to buy from a company that recognizes them by name and recommends products based on their purchase history.

At the same time, the payback on meeting expectations has diminished; Tim Warner said that, in his experience, “a product innovation can go from being a “wow” to being old news, too slow, frustrating, or low-end in a matter of months”. Industry disruption is always round the corner. Research by Accenture shows that 68 percent of C-level executives expect their industry to be significantly disrupted by new technology-led innovations in the next three years.

In addition, attention spans are falling. Brands used to rely on one-way communication with consumers, but this approach won’t cut it any more. There is no choice but to stop paying lip service to consumer centricity and make it an organizational reality. Companies that can get close to customers and react quickly are winning.

Those that can’t are failing. We can see evidence of this in the rise of micro-brands in many industries: the biggest 25 food-and-beverage companies generated 45% of sales in the category in America but drove only 3% of the total growth – a long tail of 20,000 small brands produced half of all growth.  However, it can feel there’s immediate pressure for customer centricity coming from the C-suite without any real sense of how to make it happen.

You will likely have friction to overcome in your customer-centricity journey: established processes, agency relationships, legacy supply-chain mechanisms and structural silos. Michele Gansley said that “as a big company, our ability to react quickly is limited. Consumers, especially the younger generation, expect they should be able to buy whatever they want, whenever they want it and have it delivered in 24 hours or less. We have to figure out how to work differently to just meet consumers expectations – and even this will only make them satisfied, not delighted.”

There are dozens of market research technology solutions, agencies and other vendors claiming to solve these problems. You can tell by the proliferation of buzzwords: AI, Machine Learning, Big Data, Always On, etc…  What unites them is a promise to make consumer insights cheaper, faster and better.

But you don’t solve customer centricity with buzzwords. Just applying new frameworks to broken processes won’t work. Watch our recording of the talk below to learn more.

Ken Yanhs

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Ken Yanhs

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