2021 & Beyond

Mar 02, 2021

State of Insights from a former P&G Executive

Before starting my own business in 2018, I spent 17 years at P&G in Brand Management. Across multiple roles in those years, I collaborated daily with my CMK (Analytics & Insights) cross functional teammates to make sure that I had the most accurate ‘finger on the pulse’ data – what consumers were thinking and feeling about our brands and categories, as well as understanding their barriers to trial, motivations, etc. Whether in a more upstream role as a Brand Manager on Pampers, where the goal was defining what the future masterplan of new initiatives; or a more downstream role on a retail customer team, assessing barriers to purchase for P&G brands, the objective was always the same: capture the most salient, actionable insights by getting at “the truth”.

More than the quantity of those truths was the quality. Getting at the truth did not mean 20 insights (or even 10). Rather, we sought out the handful of powerful, concrete insights that could convert to clear action steps to build competitive advantage.

And of course, the consumer landscape shifted dramatically from 2001 to 2017 with the explosion of social media and eCommerce where consumers centered more and more of their lives online. And with that came an acceleration of data – over 2.5 quantillion bytes of data that are created every single day. It’s hard to wrap one's head around what that actually means – it’s so overwhelming.

Where we’ve been: Traditional Research Methodologies are too limited to generate timely and actionable insights:

Typically, for those of us who have “been around,” we know what traditional methods of insights gathering meant. It meant days of travel to participate in focus groups, in-homes, or ethnographic research. These were a process – a process of “getting the consumer into our bloodstream,” as we used to say. In that case, it meant building solely intuitive understanding of what the consumer wanted. And when we had other questions that required a more quantitative read, we would go to the large base-size quantitative surveys, be they simple surveys, or Habits & Practices or just plain old Brand Health Tracking.

We all know that pre-pandemic, where and how we gathered insights was already shifting to the digital world. Increasingly brands were recognizing the power of social listening – focusing on topics discussed online, the sentiment behind them, etc. My frustration with social listening when I was at P&G was the lack of actionability or clarity in that data – there was no way to close the loop from a problem to a solution. We would get read outs of our sentiment; it would be more positive or more negative one month over the next, but I had no idea what to do with that information. It was pushed to the side, not thought of again until the next month’s report. Ultimately, the data was 1) slow to collect 2) expensive to produce and 3) often still too scant from which to cull true, actionable insights.

Where we are now: Pandemic accelerated a shift in the amount of data, but also the pain points in current solutions.

Though already growing, the pandemic has accelerated the move to digital and the proliferation of user generated content (UGC). That’s in part because people have been sheltered in place – consumers are posting more online about brands in social channels and on review sites. Pre-pandemic, this was already a brand’s largest data set – thousands of data points vs a traditional survey that had a base size of 1000 at the largest (more likely 300-500) – but during the pandemic this became even more abundant.

Already ignited, the quantity of UGC has exploded over the past year. And with that, content the tools to capture insights have also burst onto the market. Many of the tools that exist provide data stream upon data stream of unstructured information, but what results is often intimidating. The temptation to amass data for the sake of data is easy to succumb to, but this isn’t always helpful. For many, these overly-exhaustive dashboards lead to a “deer in the headlights” paralysis for brands.

Many of these solutions can make your head spin – requiring training just to understand the data dump that comes with them. Brand Managers, Insights teams and others are busy. While the amount of data provided by dashboards may be cool and what you can do with you may be amazing, the reality is that most personnel don’t have hours, days, or weeks to dedicate to interpreting that data. It leads to analysis paralysis.

Where we needs to go: Capabilities that simplify data gathering & analytics and make it more actionable

The need going forward is clear: the right data, to the right people, at the right time. This is important for myriad reasons. The right data means the ability to capture the most relevant data – wherever that is. In 2019 it was Snapchat; in 2020 it was TikTok; it will be somewhere else in 2025 or 2030. In truth, where it is will matter less than feeling secure that you can capture it when you need it – at the moment when you can/should make a decision based on it. The only way to understand that right time is when the data tells you something different than your ‘base plan’ assumptions. A brand’s experience or competitor is not matching previous assumptions and so action is needed.

The right data means more than just capturing these unstructured data streams. Equally important, it means that the insights culled from the data are curated and synthesized in a meaningful, succinct way -- even before brands see it, thereby freeing up time to make faster and more accurate decisions.

It also means delivering that data to the right people at the right time. For example, a Vice President or CEO does not need as much detail as a Brand Manager. And these roles may want to understand the data at distinct times. After a new initiative launches, for instance, everyone at a company is hungry for data on how it’s going: what’s the consumer perception, consumer experience, trial, etc., whereas a brand manager will be just as interested in the consumer experience even after that initial launch period closely although maybe just not daily.

Besides the right data to the right people at the right time, what also needs to be true is that any ‘dashboards’ that capture the data must be simplified – a simple solution to curate and synthesize the data into easy-to-understand actionable chunks. Sometimes less is more and that is definitely the case with data – less clutter, more action.

We’re living in a world of a plethora of information and data – and that is only accelerating. The brands that will win are those that can cull that data down to its essence, extract the most salient insights and act on the handful of tangible outcomes to drive growth. Ultimately, that comes down to focus: getting the right data to the right people at the right time, and delivering it in a easily digestible way. That’s the winning formula that will be evergreen going forward.