Navigating the Storm

Posted by Jess Thorpe | 10-Jun-2020 10:56:52

When society is shifting, how do you identify short-term consumer trends versus the lasting impacts? That’s the key question facing insight and product innovation teams navigating these turbulent times. Nimbus Ninety members leading CPG teams convened virtually, to explore how social data can yield answers.

Phil Norminton, Head of Insight, Black Swan Data kicked off the discussion on a positive note – digitisation will help organisations weather the storm of change, and many have made major leaps in this respect. Big data can strengthen disconnected innovation processes, by using millions of social conversations and taxonomies to classify data, understand what is trending, then cluster and build prediction into these trends.

COVID-19 continues to have a major impact. The disease has shifted contexts and therefore behaviour. Diving into the health and wellness industry for example, trends like men’s health are accelerating, yet others are dropping back quite markedly. Data science can drill into these, looking into accelerating or diminishing conversations rapidly and comparing with historical data to understand and communicate that shift in context. This can help build confidence into the insight process, which will aid recovery.

Lori Beck, VP Consumer Insights at Coty summed up the challenge. Never have brands had to be so forward-facing and demonstrate the ability to pivot quickly. Countries coming out of lockdown offer a guide to what the road to recovery looks like - some trends that have been forming for some time are certainly accelerating. 

Firstly, brands need to help customers. Partly by making use of influencers and experts but by understanding new behaviours driven by new conditions, for example, the lack of decompression between work and home that’s now widespread. Justifying price is also key. What are your hero product lines that are trusted by consumers?

Health and wellness has been an innovative category for some time, and this is accelerating and adapting - fragrances are more likely to include calming notes for example. And of course, the growing interest in hygiene extends beyond sanitiser or cleaning products, but through to production itself, packaging, point of sale. How do people try products and clothing in this altered consumer landscape?

Ben Sutherland, Chief Digital Officer at Diageo echoed Lori’s call to look globally. The ‘patchwork’ of how countries are emerging from lockdown offers huge insights. Spikes in sales from countries that are reopening offer a more hopeful picture for recovery. Brands must respond to some key shifts, such as preference for daytime socialising or how temperature checks, cleaning, and socially distanced queueing alter browsing habits. The global view and global data is essential, but local approaches and initiatives are key to supporting on-sales, as bars and restaurants face extraordinary upheaval. Campaigns to give something back to communities as socialising evolves are important, such as ‘From Me to We’ for Crown Royal, or hyper-localised solutions such as nominating a pub to save, or pre-paying for drinks. Opportunities for innovation exist, but they must be sensitively executed. 

Members broke into three groups to hone in on key areas: how you separate the short-term trends from lasting impacts, how you do that with AI, and what skills insights teams need to navigate this accelerated and uncertain terrain. Priorities were varied, yet speed was a recurring challenge.

Members are challenging their teams to move quickly, using AI to rapidly test hypotheses. But balancing AI-driven granularity with human insight is also key, and visualising where you want to get to in the future is critical to bring teams with you on the AI journey.

Insights teams are under pressure to provide fast answers at low cost, using agile techniques. Generating more first party data through direct to consumer propositions is an important part of the mix, as is seeking out new signals and data sources that you’ve not thought to track previously.

Agility is key, but what does that translate into? Recovery entails taking punts whilst managing the risks. And of course, not to forget the criticality of empathy and understanding the human dimension, where qualitative analysis can complement big data techniques.

Our expert panel had some final thoughts for insights teams trying to push brands forward at this challenging time:

  • Find evidence yes, but be courageous. Insights teams have a chance to lead, listen to consumers and drive home the essential nature of customer-centricity.
  • Give your teams a licence to learn. Today is about battling with budgets, but recovery and sustainable growth lies with marketing.
  • Re-evaluate static frameworks and keep looking for actions. 
  • A systematic approach to unearthing trends is essential to navigate the abundance of change.  


This event held was in partnership with Black Swan Data, a technology and data science company.

Topics: Event reports

Written by Jess Thorpe

Jess leads on the research and content for Nimbus Ninety, searching out the latest trends and disruptions affecting our dynamic community of disruptive leaders.

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