Who Knew...Discovering Your Competitor's 'Palm Oil Vulnerability'​, by Mark Jeffreys.

Earlier this week, the Washington Post reported that three major candy companies were being criticized for not cutting ties with cocoa farms that use child labor. This has resulted in a fair amount of buzz in social media. It is just one of many examples of how consumers are increasingly demanding ethical corporate responsibility in sourcing, be that ending child labor practices in West Africa or pushing for the end of palm oil as an ingredient in consumer packaged goods, which has been linked to deforestation in Southeast Asia and other vulnerable regions.

Many consumers are not aware of this issue impacting their every day brand choice unless they dig into it. For some brands, though, the backlash on ingredients used or corporate practices are in social media and reviews. But quantifying the impact of that backlash on a brand can be tough.

This became obvious recently when we at Mobile Agent Now decided to mine reviews of one of the natural peanut butter brands - Peanut Butter & Co's Smooth Operator Peanut Butter - a top search result on Amazon in a "natural peanut butter" search. Why did we do this? As a part of a study, "Getting Dollar Shave Clubbed," we uncovered that 90% of organic search results across 21 categories were won by non-national brands. We selected one of the 21 categories to mine some of the reviews of an emerging brand. We weren't out to prove or disprove anything, but rather learn more about these brands that are winning search on the largest eCommerce platform in the country.

What did we find?

We uncovered that while many consumers love Peanut Butter & Co’s Smooth Operator Peanut Butter (with a 4.3 star rating), >1/3 of their negative reviews, mention Palm Oilas a major concern. In other words, the largest driver of their negative reviews is palm oil and the perception that the company is partaking in unethical ingredient sourcing. Whether they have Palm Oil or not, or whether they’re using sustainable practices to harvest the oil or not is almost irrelevant; the company is not correcting the record by engaging with their reviews. 

Why should national brands care?

First, competitive vulnerabilities are "there in public" in reviews and social comments - do something about it! That data just needs to be mined to identify insights like the above, which is one of many waiting to be uncovered. It's one of those "you don't know what you don't know" until you seek to discover it via mining that unstructured data with machine learning and natural language processing.

Second, these insights can be leveraged for competitive advantage. Take the above vulnerability as an example. One could imagine a national brand that does not use palm oil could leverage this fact among influencers and in social media spaces, and/or put it on pack/in eCommerce content. Depending on how aggressive a brand wants to be, they might even ask the question "is your brand palm oil free?" in marketing. This insight is ripe for building a competitive advantage for brands like Smuckers Natural Peanut Butter, which only uses peanuts and salt.

Third, as the below review highlights, "natural" brands have a high bar to hit, so don't disappoint. In the "naturals" and "organic" categories, consumers are very engaged and vocal. Ingredients and ethical corporate practices are important. Being aware and engaging with consumers on their concerns is imperative. Overall, 65% of consumers expect responses to their reviews; that percentage is no doubt higher among highly involved consumer groups in the "naturals" space.

So the time to harness data in reviews and social media is now. It's why our Insights Miner capability was developed by brand management veterans who have been in the shoes of today's Brand Managers/General Managers. Harnessing this consumer data one of the best ways for national brands to compete and the receipe for uncovering the equivalent "palm oil" vulnerability of your competitors.

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