Big data – Big Headache!

Everywhere we turn at the moment, the massive explosion in “big data” affects us. In the consumer goods industry, data that was simply inaccessible a few years ago appears to be coming out of the woodwork. I wonder if managers can keep up.  In the last year I’ve heard marketing and sales managers complain frequently of their team’s inability to manage, work with and use the consumer and shopper insight they have available – Big data is causing a big headache!


Of course not all companies are struggling – P&G recently introduced data walls in 40 conference rooms around the world. Managers working in these conference rooms can see real-time dashboards that allow them to rapidly visualize their performance and run what-if scenarios. Samsung have recently invested in an online marketing team for Asia. Based in Samsung’s offices in Singapore this team receives and responds to updates on social and e-commerce feeds and constantly updates and adjusts the marketing messages sent to potential consumer segments.  Unilever in Brazil worked with the POP Company to integrate all the data merchandisers gather from the field into a dashboard.  Trade marketers and key accounts managers can use this to monitor and respond to changes in the stores rapidly.

The trouble is P&G, Samsung and Unilever are three of the world’s top 10 biggest consumer goods companies. Most manufacturers having nothing like their resources to invest in data management.  In many companies I meet, the insight ‘team’ is one overstretched market research manager with a recently changed title.

As more and more data become available to companies, it is ‘teams’ like these who will be most challenged to cope and respond.

3 things your team can do to cope with Big Data

“Cut the crap” – there is a lot of useless data filling the hard drives and filing cabinets of consumer goods companies. The first step has to be to be a really good audit of the data that is actually available and figure out what is really likely to be useful. Useful data, in my opinion, helps identify business opportunities, it facilitates gap analysis and helps quantify potential gains. Further useful data helps track performance against strategic goals. In our experience this useful data is often a small fraction of the total data that has been purchased. Much of the ‘other data’ is nice-to-know narrative that is rarely applied in decision making. Cutting out this less-valuable stuff, cleans hard drives and cuts costs in the long-term.

“Get focused” – define the key strategic goals of the business and the data needed to measure the achievement against those goals. Broadly speaking a consumer goods company should be measuring how consumption is changing in target consumer groups and how purchase behavior is changing in target shopper groups. To understand what is affecting these behaviors, the organization should set and track KPIs that are based on an understanding of what drives this behavior. It is tracking these KPI’s that creates the ‘big data headache’ so you should make sure that the KPIs you track really support business improvement. Ironically, many businesses may need to conduct initial research to make sure they know what they should be measuring.

“Put strategy ahead of systems” – anyone who has been through the nightmare of a major software implementation will be aware that systems investments do not solve business problems. Following the installation of SAP, one of our clients spent several years trying to fit the system’s view of retail channels to the real-world situation with little success. With literally hundreds of vendors producing and selling sophisticated analytics systems, CIO’s are increasingly overloaded with sales pitches, many of which are extremely tempting. However, when it comes to consumer goods businesses, systems investments must support commercial strategy. Leaders of the marketing and sales organizations should be driving this, thinking expansively about how to tap growth opportunities and the data they will need to ensure these are measured and monitored.

Make no mistake, advanced analytics and the data that support this will be indispensable in the medium term and this will put major stresses on the traditional organization structure of consumer goods businesses. Sales and marketing leaders must embrace this now and take considered steps to capitalize on the possibility. Contact engage to learn more about what data is most valuable to you, and what you might be missing.


2 thoughts on “Big data – Big Headache!

  1. Nice article! I’m currently working on several databases and the Big data is indeed causing me big headache from time to time. What I try and do in these cases is take a step back and do the following:

    1. Rephrase/Define my questions better
    2. Formulate an approach to solve them
    3. Identify what data will be required for the approach

    Only after I have followed these steps I then get back to the actual databases.

    • HI Amit – many thanks for sharing and really sound advice. I think its particularly important to define questions well and I advocate constructing hypotheses that if proved, would create real and realizable business value.

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