NEWS14 March 2017

Go broad and go deep to futureproof brands

FMCG Impact 2017 Innovations Media Mobile News Trends UK Youth

UK – Brands need to understand their consumers’ needs far more broadly and more deeply if they are to ‘futureproof’ their relationships with them, two of the world’s best-known brands told Impact 2017.

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In a panel session featuring the BBC and PepsiCo, speakers emphasised the importance of looking first at what consumers needed, both now and in future, rather than starting with what a business was good at producing. This was both exciting and a huge cultural challenge within a large organisation.

Russell Parsons, editor of Marketing Week, said there was a sense of foreboding in many businesses about what the future threatened to bring; the now-constant state of disruption, coupled with rising consumer expectations of corporations, could be traumatic. But in fact, he said, the need to futureproof was just as it had always been.

“At the core of it is good, sensible business,” Parsons said. “You can never altogether futureproof against all risk and all competitors but you can do a hell of a lot to make sure you’re in a good position to face the future.”

BBC head of youth audiences Patrick Collins described the organisation’s sense of anxiety about young people’s changing media consumption habits and their drift away from television and radio. While the BBC still reached more young UK people than any other media, including YouTube, there was pressure to innovate and futureproof the BBC’s relationship with these young consumers.

A research project with Crowd DNA set about uncovering not just how young people use media but also what their key needs are at different times as they grow up – and how that’s evolving. This included an ethnographic study of more than 50 people aged two to 24, and their parents, over a six-month period across the UK.

What emerged was an understanding of four key drivers of young people and how they vary by age: ability, independence, social connections and mood management. The BBC could then look at where it was helping young people achieve these things, and where the gaps were. Mood management – using content to relax, have a laugh or wind down – was especially important among older teens. 

Collins said it led to a new understanding of consumer psychology that went beyond traditional views about content and genre; while it was challenging for the organisation, it was also a creative springboard and a tool for thinking about what kind of content the BBC should look to produce. “It’s not just about sticking a ‘digital’ on the end of it.”

At PepsiCo’s Global Nutrition Group, global general manager Patrick Kalotis said concerns about sugar consumption, the commoditisation of orange juice and the advance of small, nimble juice brands were causing immediate headaches for the makers of Tropicana and Naked.

“It felt we were being a little bit short term in our approach, dealing with the next quarter’s growth figures rather than having … something that acts as a guiding light,” he said.

Pepsico worked with Big Green Door to look at what the company should be doing long term to futureproof sales. They started by examining behaviour within the juice category and then realised they needed to look more broadly at nutrition and health if they were to provide a framework for future investment.

“People can’t tell you about the future,” said Sarah Palmer, founder of Big Green Door. “So you have to get beneath and beyond what people can tell us.” Research brought together insights from the blogosphere, macro trends, semiotics and cultural analysis, and was then developed by a ‘Create’ group inside Pepsico that helped seed fresh ideas throughout the business.

While the company was initially in denial about its declining role in people’s perceptions of healthy living, it gradually realised the potential of making a strategic shift.

In the short term, PepsiCo could help consumers with small changes like altering packaging to make it easier to make healthy choices; longer term, the ideas generated could inform new product development and ingredient sourcing.

“We’ve become much more consumer-centric,” Kalotis said. “We’re driving something much bigger than just next quarter’s results. It’s recognising that you’re not going to eat the elephant in one go.”

Kalotis and Palmer offered six key learnings for futureproofing brands:

  • There’s no right time to act. Do it now.
  • With research, go deep and go wide.
  • Think big but start small.
  • Thinking is only half the job. Cultural change is tough.
  • Reconcile the business world with the real world. Heart work, not hard work.
  • There’s no finish line. Keep taking small steps.