NEWS16 March 2021

Divide and conquer: balancing long and short-term insight

Covid-19 FMCG Healthcare Impact 2021 Media News Technology UK

UK – As a company that owns disinfectant brands such as Dettol and Lysol, Reckitt Benckiser found itself “at the heart of things” when the pandemic struck at the start of 2020, with its insights team forced to “divide and conquer” to address short and long-term business needs.

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“[During the pandemic], we’ve seen consumer insight, data and analytics at the forefront of everything, from advising senior stakeholder and leaders about what to do, through to executive committees about what to do in the country,” explained Elaine Rodrigo, chief insights and analytics officer at Reckitt Benckiser.

Rodrigo was speaking during ‘The long and short of it; from in-the-moment insights to long term strategy’, on the first day of the first virtual MRS Impact conference.

Chaired by Impact editor Katie McQuater, the panel comprised Rodrigo; Tim Warner, exec lead for insights, data, business intelligence & advanced analytics, PepsiCo; and Dr Parves Khan, global research and insight director at Pearson.

Asked how Covid-19 had impacted their various research functions, Khan explained that her team out of necessity ended up doing more tactical types of research than normal.

“The insight team had not had the headspace to stand back and reflect on the bigger questions and bring in strategic insight,” she said. “We were constantly talking with the strategy team about the stickiness of the pandemic, about how long it will last.

“I would like to see the team play a greater role in driving the business, of course, but the insights teams has be increasingly agile and at the moment has to support innovation.”

Likewise, for PepsiCo’s Warner, “the shape of work changed a lot”, enhancing the need for greater agility and “a degree of crisis management”, “responding to requests for information need across the business far quicker than before”.

“[Our newfound] agility has accelerated what we were already starting,” he said. “We needed to double down and ensure we’re got the best agency partners and tools to navigate the external environment that will change in the next five years… We’re moving towards not only keeping abreast of what’s happened externally but how we work with partners to create more predictive capabilities.”

For Reckitt Benckiser’s Rodrigo, “divide and conquer” formed the crux of her team’s strategy during the pandemic. 

“In the first half of 2020, it was about real-time – staying agile and staying on top,” she said. “The second half was about the new normal, and 2021 feels like an extension of 2020, coming into the next normal.”

“It was about setting up to manage now while not losing sight of the future. We decided early on to divide and conquer, it was almost like day-to-day crisis management. It was all-hands-on-deck at one stage, and a few of us took ourselves out of that, split into different teams, some working on short-term critical stage and others long-term.”

Ending the session, the panellists were asked what advice they would give agency partners. 

PepsiCo’s Warner – who admitted he has been very impressed with how agencies have accelerated their technology strategies in the past 12 months, “helping us create much more connected data and tools that were previously very disparate” – called for more of the same.

“Don’t take your foot off the gas,” he said. “My advice would be twofold. One, focus on what you can be world-class at, rather than try to be good at many things; and try to drive that digital accelerations and develop tools.”

Meanwhile, Pearson’s Khan said that she needs her partners to “become a trusted advisor, a right-hand person that knows what I need without having to write a research brief”.

Rodrigo suggested that different agency types learn from one another.

“There are two groups of vendors – some fast and agile, other slower, more strategic and good thinkers,” she said. “It would be good if they could meet.”

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