Reckitt: The role of insight is more difficult than ever

A combination of complex consumers, zero-based budgeting and stretched teams is making the role of consumer and marketing insights more challenging, says Reckitt’s George Papadopoulos.

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The role of consumer and marketing insights has become more difficult, complex and demanding over time, according to Reckitt Health UK insights and analytics lead, George Papadopoulos.

He explains the pandemic hit the business hard, disrupting trends around how people eat, drink and behave. Couple with that the soaring cost of living and consumers are becoming more “complex and dynamic”.

“A few years ago, it was OK to just know quantitative and qualitative research. Now you need to understand digital, ecommerce, omnichannel, social insights, audience. There’s all these things now that make it very difficult,” he noted, speaking today (24 March) at the Festival of Marketing: Transform.

“At the same time there’s not more of us, teams are not getting bigger. The whole financial pressure is also inflating. There is an effect on how you manage budgets. Many companies at the moment have a zero-based budgeting approach on how they spend, so need to be very frugal on how you’re spending. So, a difficult, complex consumer, fewer of us, a more difficult job and more frugality in terms of the money spent.”

Heineken consumer and shopper insights manager, Caroline Cookson, agreed insights professionals are finding themselves “incredibly stretched” as the number of consumer touchpoints rapidly increases.

There’s always going to be circumstances where our stakeholders are putting that pressure on us to deliver answers really quickly, but it’s up to us to push back.

Caroline Cookson, Heineken

“That’s primarily driven by digitisation. We’ve seen on the one hand it’s been hard to collect consumer feedback, because it’s harder to get people to participate. I’m speaking particularly around younger consumers, they have busier lives, but also you’ve got the rise of GDPR, which makes people a bit more cautious about what their data is being used for,” Cookson noted.

The market research community is, however, rising to the challenge she argued, adopting creative approaches such as app-based data collection and virtual focus groups.

The pandemic shone a light on the need for agility, as Heineken sought to deal with rapidly changing priorities on a daily basis. Structurally, the drinks giant brought agility into the marketing function by creating a dedicated resource to work on agile projects. This freed up time for the rest of the team to work on the business as usual projects.

Cookson defines agile in a research sense as making choices and prioritising the hypothesises you want to explore, then working through it in an iterative process. While speed is important, she argued a pure focus on pace can risk losing an element of expertise.

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“There’s always going to be circumstances where our stakeholders are putting that pressure on us to deliver answers really quickly, but it’s up to us to push back and say we need that breathing space to be able to synthesise all of those different data points we can access and bring them together to what that bigger picture looks like,” she said.

Papadopoulos agreed agile tech can quickly fire up the research dashboard, but it is important the business does not become accustomed to “binary” insights.

“Even though all of these tools are incredibly useful right now, you still need human capital. You still need the human brain to come in and look beyond the data. Help you connect the data and make sense of the data, and help you take a story and make an informed decision,” he added.

The role for agility

When introducing agile insight processes, it’s important to get the whole organisation on board.

At the end of 2020 Reckitt ran an internal satisfaction survey which showed peers across the UK business felt disconnected from consumers. The consumer and marketing insights function decided to create a cross-functional taskforce to devise different workflows to bring the consumer closer.

However, Papadopoulos found one of biggest issues in getting this kind of project right is that traditional training often doesn’t work.

“You can run as much training as you want. You can put together as much technology as you want and give access to people, circulate materials – people just don’t have the time. You need to be able to get through that barrier,” he pointed out.

To address this issue, Reckitt set up ‘learning cafes’, positioned as casual, TED-style presentations where people could drop by with their coffee to learn more about the insight tech.

This was crucial when the FMCG giant rolled out its proprietary 3,000 consumer community panel. Everyone in the business has access to the panel, alongside the methodology, enabling them to self-serve insights and inform their own strategic decisions.

Heineken has included agile testing as part of its comms planning processes for several years, allowing the team to bring testing into the development process earlier. This was the case with the launch last week of Strongbow Ultra Dark Fruit, a lower calorie fruit cider.

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The team went into the development process with two different possible creative executions and used agile testing to decide which approach to go with.

“We had one route that was a lot more product-focused, very much backed by consumer insight. Then we had this other route that was a lot more creative in terms of its execution. It had a lot of internal love behind it, but there was this preconception internally that you can’t really test creativity. That almost testing is a bit of a blocker to that,” Cookson explained.

“That was a myth we really wanted to overcome. Through testing we were able to do that, because we found this more creative work performed a lot better, it met all the KPIs we wanted it to and drove the equities we were looking for on the brand.”

The research enabled the team to influence the marketing investment, pushing the decision to shift plans in favour of the creative route, and make “tangible optimisations” ahead of launch.

Looking ahead, Cookson explains Heineken wants to become more predictive, moving from insight to foresight by weaving data science into its marketing. A shift in this direction was behind the decision to bring the company’s market mix modelling capabilities in house.

She also expects the focus within the business to ramp up on navigating the challenges of customer experience in a cookie-less world. The key, says Cookson, will be for Heineken to join the dots between its different insight frameworks.