Making Big Data Real:
How CPG Manufacturers
can Turn the Promise of Big Data
into a Powerful Competitive Advantage
Kirk W. Wheeler
Executive Vice President/GM, Global CPG Practice, Manthan
It’s the CEO shot heard ‘round the enterprise. No doubt you have heard a
similar question from a senior executive. He or she reads an article or
attends a conference on big data and then grills the team on the
company’s big data strategy (or lack thereof).
So, what exactly are YOU doing in big data?
What are
we doing in
Big Data?
Making Big Data Real: How CPG Manufacturers Can Turn the
Promise of Big Data into a Powerful Competitive Advantage
If your company is like many in the CPG
industry (and this is equally true for other
business sectors worldwide), it’s probably struggling right now to figure out
what to do with the historic phenomenon known as big data. There’s no
question that big data is the business
trend du jour – or even “du century.” Big
data is ubiquitous and inescapable
(which partly explains why your CEO is
all of a sudden obsessed with it). The
amount of ink, pixels and code
expended on the big data question
boggles the mind, and there is no end in
sight. We’re not even close to
approaching “peak big data” yet, which
is both a little scary and exciting, too.
But, even as this megatrend seizes the
business world’s fascination (and
increasingly its resources), one has to
ask if we are even asking the right question about big data.
I would argue that instead of focusing on
“what” your company is doing in big
data, the more important question is to
ask “why?” Indeed the first critical question in business almost always revolves
around “why” we need to do something,
and “why” it matters to our customers,
other key stakeholders and the broader
When you start to delve into the “why” of
a major undertaking like big data, you
quickly realize that clearly understanding
your goals is absolutely essential,
followed closely by having a coherent
business strategy.
In other words, when it comes to something as big, complicated and potentially
consequential as big data, “ready, fire,
aim” just won’t cut it.
To get real value out of big data – and that
means turning it into a powerful competitive advantage and growth engine for your
company – you need to start with a carefully formulated big data strategy. That
seems so self evident, but I am constantly
surprised at how many companies lack a
well thought out strategy before embarking on major business and technology
initiatives like big data. Of course, an
effective strategy starts with clearly
defined goals (the “why” that I mentioned
earlier). For today’s CPG industry, I believe
“growth” is at the top of the list of goals for
a major new big data effort. As you know
better than me, in recent years CPG
manufacturers have been severely challenged on the growth front.
It Takes a
Strategy to
Drive Real
Making Big Data Real: How CPG Manufacturers Can Turn the
Promise of Big Data into a Powerful Competitive Advantage
There are many reasons for this – lagging
economic recovery, changing shopper
tastes and behaviors, a lack of product
innovation – but the reality is that growth is
probably the #1 goal for CPG companies
around the world. If you don’t grow, you
eventually die.
So if identifying incremental growth
opportunities is a major goal for your
company and brands, then your big data
strategy should be built around that
objective. Big data is, in fact, a major
enabler for analyzing mountains of data to
create actionable insights that help
activate the shopper. And that leads to
The point here is that big data is about
driving value for your company. And that
should translate into growth. What big
data is not about is technology. Yet, the
discussions around big data too often
begin at the IT level. The reality is that big
data initiatives should start with a clear
business strategy grounded on how to
strategically use data. The essence of big
data is about how massive new data sets
(e.g., unstructured social media data) can
be analyzed and harnessed in real-time
to make better business decisions,
faster. Again, the real goal here is to grow
the business and win in the marketplace.
Having a well defined big data strategy
will help CPG manufacturers (and their
retail partners) get there.
It might surprise you how few CPG manufacturers have effectively leveraged big
data. In fact, a leading technology analyst
firm recently found that less than 10% of
the consumer goods companies they
surveyed had leveraged big data at all.
Partly because of how loosely it has been
defined, there is a lot of confusion about
what big data actually is and how you can
actually use it. More than anything, today’s
big data opportunity is being driven by two
major trends:
companies to innovate, engage and win
in today’s fiercely competitive consumer
goods marketplace.
The explosive growth of new types of
data, especially “unstructured data”
(e.g., social media data)
Today, the new data streams are moving
markets in real-time as consumers comment on your brands (good and bad),
compare (and cherry-pick) prices and
offers, and share all with their friends and
the world. This high velocity business
environment requires a new definition for
data and a new strategy for leveraging it.
Big data was made for that.
The velocity of data – and business
Big Data
Making Big Data Real: How CPG Manufacturers Can Turn the
Promise of Big Data into a Powerful Competitive Advantage
The rapid emergence of new kinds of data
is both a serious challenge and a massive
opportunity for CPG companies. This is
especially true of so-called “unstructured”
data, which are very different from the old
POS, internal and distributor datasets that
CPG companies relied upon for so long.
The data “exhaust” that now emanates
from social media alone is probably the
biggest reason for having a clearly defined
big data strategy. Why, because your
shoppers are now hooked on social
media and the insights that can be mined
from their tweets, posts, likes and shares
are invaluable for your business. The
essence of big data is effectively harnessing all kinds of data (like social) and quickly
deriving insights that enable CPG
Just as important as the rise of new
kinds of data, is the velocity with which
that information and resulting insights
must be used to have any real value for
CPG companies and their brands. Previously, there was a predictable cadence
of how and when to use the old structured datasets.
Defining your big data strategy is not
about “boiling the ocean.” It is about
clearly understanding what your business requirements are for using data
(structured and unstructured), and then
developing a single “point of truth” about
today’s demanding and tech-savvy
shopper. Having such a deep and even
real-time understanding of the shopper’s
behaviors and preferences is the prerequisite to activating her buying journey.
Ultimately, that drives incremental
revenue growth and increases profits.
Framing Up
a Big Data
That Fits Your
Making Big Data Real: How CPG Manufacturers Can Turn the
Promise of Big Data into a Powerful Competitive Advantage
As you work your way through the
process of defining your goals and strategy for big data, it’s important to do so in
the context of your real business needs
and opportunities. As I noted earlier, you
don’t need to “boil the ocean” in defining
your big data strategy. In defining your
strategy keep in mind that one size does
not fit all in big data. The problem is that a
lot of CPG companies don’t know where
to start in defining their big data strategy,
or they end up starting in the wrong place.
What are some potential big data “use
cases” that really matter to our company and will drive the business
Figuring out a big data strategy that will
actually drive real results for your company requires a real reckoning of your true
needs and resources. What you don’t
want to do is let consultants or analysts
define your big data strategy for you. No
one knows your company’s needs better
than you do. You also want to avoid
getting sucked into the prevailing big data
“spin vortex,” whose main purpose is to
get you to buy solutions that you may not
actually need or that are not right for your
All of that said, here are some key questions that CPG manufacturers can ask
when framing up a big data strategy:
What are the particular success metrics for our big data initiative?
As you develop your company’s big data
strategy, it’s also important to undertake
an honest assessment of the willingness
of your organization to change and take
action based on the big data driven
insights that will be produced. Just one
real world example: You might discover
that your brand is getting hammered on
Facebook, which could translate into
serious sales issues in certain markets.
The question then becomes, will you be
willing to do what is required to act upon
this big data-driven intelligence? (Sticking
your corporate “head in the sand” is no
longer a viable strategy in today’s social
media influenced world.)
How do we define big data in the
context of our particular CPG business?
What are the problems we are trying
to solve, and opportunities we seek to
capitalize on?
What is our roadmap for implementing
a big data strategy?
What kind of internal and external
resources and budget can we leverage in driving a successful big data
Succeeding in this rapidly shifting landscape is not about having big data tell you
what you want to hear. It is about being
willing to be open and candid about what
the data tells you and then acting upon
those insights in ways that protect and
nurture your brand and move the business
To paraphrase one of the most famous
lines in modern cinema (Jack Nicholson
from “A Few Good Men”): If “you can’t
handle the truth,” then you are going to
find it especially difficult to make your big
data strategy a winner.
The great news is that big data is not just
for global players like P&G, Unilever and
Nestle. We’ve seen how big data is helping to level the playing field for smaller and
mid-market CPG manufacturers.
For the first time in history, any CPG organization can leverage mobile and social
platforms powered by big data-driven
analytics to listen directly to the voice of
the shopper (including tech savvy Millennial consumers) and strengthen brand
loyalty among their target segments. Big
data is a powerful, accessible tool that
any sized CPG organization can use right
now to win the battle for brand preference, growth and loyalty.
Millennial Shoppers Survey:
Predictive Analytics, Data Integration and Retailer
Collaboration Are Key Issues for CPG Companies
Recently, Manthan joined with Consumer Goods Technology Magazine to cosponsor a national survey on how CPG manufacturers are approaching the Millennial Generation (typically defined as 18-34 year olds). The survey looked at how
CPG companies of all sizes and types are leveraging data and analytics technology to better engage and serve the 90-million-strong Millennial cohort. The following are key findings from CGT Magazine’s survey report:
Making Big Data Real: How CPG Manufacturers Can Turn the
Promise of Big Data into a Powerful Competitive Advantage
Three-quarters of survey respondents
feel they understand Millennials
reasonably well (61 percent) or very
well (14 percent), but the majority
admit they still have work to do. Ironically, 100% of the companies in the
“very well” category are small to midsized businesses (SMB), which
sounds similar to the dawn of social
media when smaller more agile companies moved into the space quicker.
There is consensus at 64 percent,
however, that it takes more than just
delivering on the brand promise, and
that issues, like sustainability and
social causes, are equally important.
Success for some is tied to social
media initiatives, where 44 percent
feel they lack strong engagement in
social channels favored by Millennials.
Yet, surprisingly, 42 percent feel they
lack the right product or value proposition for Millennial shoppers.
Analytics and the ability to mine data
for insights about these shoppers has
become a major focus, as 64 percent
of respondents are starting to mine
their knowledge base for predictive
analytics and proactive planning.
Still, many are running into challenges
collaborating with retailers around
data or integrating the various
sources of data. Retailer collaboration
is a potential stumbling block, as 69
percent of those trying to partner with
retailers for Millennial shopper data
analytics report that they have limited
access and that it is hard to take
The biggest discrepancy in the results
regarding company size involves
analytics capabilities. Integration of
data is a struggle for companies with
less than $1 billion in annual revenue.
Sixty-nine percent of them have POS
and limited social data but none of it is
integrated, compared to the 67
percent of Tier-1 companies that are
working on integration.
Not surprisingly, more than half the
companies that cite a need for bigger
budgets or more resources to help
raise the level of shopper analytics
have less than $500 million in
Click here for the full Millennial Shoppers Survey report from Manthan and CGT Magazine.
Making Big Data Real: How CPG Manufacturers Can Turn the
Promise of Big Data into a Powerful Competitive Advantage
After framing a “why” strategy tailor made
for your company’s requirements,
resources and cultural constraints
(because culture matters in terms of
effecting data-driven change), it’s time to
consider “how” big data can and should
work to drive real results for your company. Big data is by its nature “big,” complicated and hard to implement. Today,
there is a myriad of technology solutions
that are promoted as the “silver bullet” for
helping CPG organizations (and other
companies) to maximize the big data
opportunity. The truth is, there is no technology “silver bullet” for big data. (Again,
before you even begin an IT discussion,
you need to first develop your big data
business strategy and possible use
Building a Big
Data ‘Platform’
That Drives
Real Impact,
Right Now
Making Big Data Real: How CPG Manufacturers Can Turn the
Promise of Big Data into a Powerful Competitive Advantage
What is possible right now is for CPG
manufacturers to adopt an analyticsdriven solution called Demand Signal
Management (DSM), which helps turn big
data theories into business-building initiatives that produce growing results.
What exactly is DSM? It is a cloud-based,
fully integrated analytics system that
creates a single “point of truth” driving
real-time actionable insights across a
wide range of business functions. DSM
accomplishes this by synthesizing
multiple, disparate data sources – including information from retail customers and
distributors, market research, internal
data, social media and, crucially, shopper
data. DSM gives CPG marketers,
category managers and supply chain
executives a whole new level of clarity on
demand signals and brand perception,
while also helping to optimize inventory
and eliminate waste.
A world-class DSM solution focuses on
shopper insights and activation, providing
CPG front-line executives with true
demand analysis of the numerous datasets that are now a fact of life in the digital
age. Importantly, the best DSM solutions
offer speed to value and ROI, and are
easy to use. In today’s high velocity, “do or
die” global consumer goods market, CPG
companies need to start benefitting from
an analytics-driven solution like DSM
within weeks, not months or even years.
And, the solution must be easy to use for
even average business users and accessible from any web connected device. If
your big data solution takes forever to
implement and requires data scientist
“white coats” to operate it, then it won’t
be much use.
Cloud-based DSM solutions like I’ve
described above are both enablers and
accelerators of big data strategies. DSM
empowers you to start capitalizing on big
data quickly, it is remarkably easy to use
and fast to implement, and scales to
whatever level your company needs.
Ultimately, DSM is a “platform” that CPG
companies can use right now in implementing a big data solution that generates
material results (e.g., strong growth).
The leading technology analyst firm Gartner developed the Hype Cycle, which illustrates how
new technologies emerge and gain adoption and widespread application – or not. At this point,
big data is probably in Phase 2 of the Hype Cycle, which is outlined below:
The Big Data
Inflection Point:
Seizing Your
Making Big Data Real: How CPG Manufacturers Can Turn the
Promise of Big Data into a Powerful Competitive Advantage
A potential technology breakthrough kicks things off.
Early proof-of-concept stories and media interest trigger
significant publicity. Often no usable products exist and
commercial viability is unproven.
Peak of Inflated
Early publicity produces a number of success storiesoften accompanied by scores of failures. Some companies take action; many do not.
Trough of
Interest wanes as experiments and implementations fail
to deliver. Producers of the technology shake out or fail.
Investments continue only if the surviving providers
improve their products to the satisfaction of early adopters.
Slope of
More instances of how the technology can benefit the
enterprise start to crystallize and become more widely
understood. Second- and third-generation products
appear from technology providers. More enterprises
fund pilots; conservative companies remain cautious.
Plateau of
Mainstream adoption starts to take off. Criteria for
assessing provider viability are more clearly defined. The
technology’s broad market applicability and relevance
are clearly paying off.
(Source: Wikipedia)
Certainly there have been some success
stories in big data so far. More realistically,
there are probably many more instances
where companies rushed to adopt some
aspect of big data but had nothing
substantial to show for their efforts and
investment. I don’t think it’s hard to see
how big data overall is now headed for
Phase 3, where a lot of disillusionment
sets in amongst companies (CPG manufacturers among them) that have not yet
seen much value in big data.
That might sound like big data is doomed,
but I believe an exact opposite narrative
will eventually emerge. Indeed, if done
right (which means thoughtfully and strategically), your big data experience can jump
several phases of the Gartner cycle to
where the technology is strategically
founded and make a bottom-line impact
on business results. And, given the availability of a proven big data operating
platform like DSM, and other enabling
technologies such as advanced predictive
analytics and Hadoop (the open-source
software framework that is critical to big
data), the time is definitely right for CPG
companies to develop and implement a
big data strategy.
Making Big Data Real: How CPG Manufacturers Can Turn the
Promise of Big Data into a Powerful Competitive Advantage
All of these new technologies have made
big data more affordable, accessible and
practical for CPG manufacturers, which
have helped to bring us to a big data
inflection point. The result is an immediate
opportunity for CPG organizations to
drive a competitive point of difference
around how they use and deploy new
forms of data, and the velocity with which
they do so. Yes, these are exciting times
for our industry.
Make no mistake, however, that this big
data inflection point won’t last forever.
The sooner you develop and launch a
strategy that makes big data real across
your organization, you can begin driving a
clear competitive advantage that will help
vault your company to new levels of
growth, leadership and profitability.
The question now is: What are
you waiting for?
About the Author
Kirk W. Wheeler manages Manthan’s CPG related business on a global basis. He is responsible
for leading the sales, marketing, business development and customer success activities to build
and expand Manthan’s global CPG presence. A veteran CPG industry executive with extensive
experience in global brands, sales & marketing and big data management, Kirk’s job is to orchestrate Manthan’s global technology, services and human resources to create solutions that help
CPG manufacturers grow and win. Prior to joining Manthan, Kirk held senior management positions at global consumer products and technology companies, including the Coca-Cola Company, P&G, Cabela’s and, most recently, IRI.
Manthan serves as the Chief Analytics Officer for global consumer industries. Manthan’s comprehensive portfolio of
analytics products and services enable CPG manufacturers and their retail partners to understand and activate the
shopper’s journey. Architected with deep industry expertise, Manthan’s solutions combine advanced predictive analytics, actionable insights and unmatched shopper knowledge to help customers identify and drive incremental growth
opportunities. Manthan has provided its business-building analytics solutions to over 170 retail and CPG organizations
across 21 countries. Visit www.manthan.com
Making Big Data Real: How CPG Manufacturers Can Turn the
Promise of Big Data into a Powerful Competitive Advantage