From asking to listening: How Danone is using social insight to stay relevant

Danone uses social listening to get a deeper of understanding of what really matters to people, which has become all the more important since the onset of the pandemic.

Danone is keeping on top of rapidly changing consumer attitudes towards food by using social media to “truly listen” to customers, which is helping it shape product innovation and marketing.

It is something the French company has been doing for a number of years, but CMO Valérie Hernando-Presse says gathering social insight has become even more crucial as the pandemic has dramatically shifted the consumer landscape.

“Embracing this shift of power to people [presents] an amazing opportunity, and for me, listening to people through this kind of approach – it’s a condition of being relevant [to them],” she tells Marketing Week.

“Through listening, you can get a deeper level of understanding of what really matters to people. You can then manifest [and build up] brands to greater heights.”

Danone has been gathering social insight since 2018, and one of the ways it does this is through its partnership with agency Futerra and tech startup Bloom on the annual ‘Food Revolution Barometer’, which tracks consumer attitudes to food.

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When it began in 2018 the report analysed 33 million messages across all major social platforms. This has more than tripled to 107 million in 2020/21, with the tool analysing over 225 million online conversations to date, as people increasingly talk about what they put in their bodies and the process to get it from farm to plate.

“We observe all the conversations around food and beverage consumption and the semantics change. It’s a massive social display. It’s a pulse on society’s wishes, and for us, it’s shifting the way we’re getting our data by moving from asking people to really listening to people,” says Hernando-Presse.

The pandemic has, of course, shaken our lives. It has also shaken up our relationship with food, and that led to a breakthrough in conversation from farm to fork to fight.

Valérie Hernando-Presse, Danone

“Deep social listening allows us to take a near-to-immediate pulse check on what people are discussing when they talk about these changes online.”

The big lessons Danone has taken from the latest report are ‘food as medicine’ – the pursuit of eating more organic and fresh food to prevent ailments; ‘planetary health’ – shifting to eating habits that aid in reducing carbon emissions; and ‘social progress’ – caring for people in the supply chain and enabling access to “good natural food” for all.

Danone on why it’s repositioning as a ‘manifesto brand’Social progress is the most dominant trend, notes Hernando-Presse, as now the public mood has shifted to more pressing and “important” ethical issues.

“The pandemic has, of course, shaken our lives. It has also shaken up our relationship with food, and that led to a breakthrough in conversation from farm to fork to fight,” says Hernando-Presse.

What has also changed during the pandemic, is people realising the best way to take care of their own health is to change what they eat, she says.

Hernando-Presse points to the massive surge in people talking about food on social media as a clear sign the pandemic has fanned the flames on the topic of food and health, not surprising as health is top of mind given the crisis.

These changes in consumer attitudes has driven Danone to reassess its approach to marketing.

“[The insight] has shifted our marketing into two big dimensions. First, it has helped us drive strategies, especially after we realised how people are now pursuing planetary diets by eating with purpose, eating for health and eating locally,” says Hernando-Presse.

“All the insights we get around… the interest of people behind the flexitarian lifestyle, for example, it reinforces us in our plant-based food marketing strategies.”

Not only is the data a “call to action” for Danone to be champions of sustainability and social progress, but it also presents itself as a “gold mine” for innovative ideas.

Going pear shaped

The insight it has gathered from social listening pushed Danone to innovate around its baby food brand Blédina. In 2019, it developed a range using Williams pears, a fruit native to France that people had started to fall out of love with.

Hernando-Presse notes the strategy tapped into people’s desire for sourcing locally and health.

“The pear is very tasty,” she assures, but it was proving to be unpopular with consumers at the time, which pushed local farmers to reduce their production of it and meant it was under threat of fading out in France within the next two years.

As well as creating the new range, Danone committed long-term contracts with Williams pear farmers over the next 15 years, instead of the usual one, to boost farmer partner remuneration by 20% and assist in replanting pear trees.

The ‘Sauvez (Save) Williamscampaign has achieved its long-term goal of planting 40,000 pear trees. The activation also achieved a reach of 20 million on social media, traditional media and through advertising, and an engagement rate of 5%.

Brand obsession

Hernando-Presse says it’s important to use tools such as social listening as they enable Danone to go deeper to truly understand consumers. She says “people are not obsessed with our brand” in the same way they are with brands such as Apple and Tesla, which have garnered cult followings.

By using social insight, she says Danone is able to stay at the forefront of what is important to consumers, which is crucial for long-term growth.

“Everyone today can become or is becoming a food revolutionary. It’s bizarre. Because of social media people are no longer waiting for an NGO to act, they are asking for a call to action themselves.

“People have different causes, of course, be it for farmers or social inequality, etc. But by talking and collaborating they are now talking to each other, and they are amplifying a demand,” says Hernando-Presse.

“So it’s really something new this new activism. If I don’t look at what matters to people in their conversations, how will I stay relevant [as a brand]?



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