You don’t need to look beyond the headlines to see that retail is undergoing a massive transformation. Powered by changing consumer tastes, cost pressures, and the growth of online channels, there’s certainly a lot of change underway.
Yet, while online innovation tends to get a lot of the press, top CPG brands are standing out from the crowd by thinking more broadly about how to build strategic relationships with consumers and retailers across all channels.
Many of these strategies are being driven by data. And of course a key disruptive force (and inspiration to many) continues to be Amazon, as they move into retail big-time with Whole Foods and look to continue to remake the retail experience with big and small data.
Meanwhile the use of data and analytics is also informing product design and packaging and even the way brands think about merchandising, as I began to study back in 2013 with this post.
Data at the Point of Sale (and Promotion)
As I talk to a ton of food and beverage and other consumer brands and market watchers in my current role at Repsly, it’s become clear that the key to getting attention and market share, and moving from being an emerging brand to breaking out and owning your category, is using small data to win in the field.
Brands can do this if they embrace 3 principles:
- Simplify how teams capture data in the field by making it part of their everyday activities and embracing intuitive, consumer-style apps for reps that feel more like Instagram than Salesforce.
- Standardize how managers and field staff apply this data to better target markets or specific accounts, schedule visits, optimize routes, run promotions, etc (this is where data-driven field execution comes into play).
- Socialize learnings so everyone is on the same page (and understands the purpose of the brand), and the business can embrace an agile marketing approach as part of its overall go to market and product strategy.
Consumer brands that have both this type of testing culture and use data to get closer to their customers span multiple CPG segments. They include lifestyle fitness brands such as Altra Running and Nike (who I’ve written about quite a bit in the early days of this blog), craft beer and wine producers like Heretic Brewing and my friends at Down the Road Beer Company in Boston, and emerging food and beverage brands who are looking to “change the rules” like Health-Ade Kombucha, KIND Snacks and even Red Bull.
Of course whatever product you produce, getting feedback is essential, especially in frothy, highly competitive market segments.
The brands that “do it for the data” almost always create an unfair advantage in these segments, especially when they apply insights daily to improve their products, adjust paths to market – and ultimately build a data-driven culture that revolves around getting close to customers and being on trend.
Read more of my thoughts on this topic in a recent piece I wrote for MyCustomer. And check out the Repsly blog for regular expert perspectives on best practices in field team management and how leading consumer brands are using data to grow their business.
In a thought provoking interview with CNET published this past week, Fitbit designer Gadi Amit explores the use of wearables in everyday applications – and introduces the notion of “wise” devices that provide just the right information, when and where we need it.
Beyond the fact that Amit’s firm is designing wearables for unique markets like babies (well I guess really for their parents) and pets (!), what struck me in this piece was Amit’s perspective – certainly shaped by his role as president and lead designer at design firm NewDealDesign – on the state of wearables, their future, and our relationship with them. Specifically, in response to a question about how wearables will be integrated into our daily lives, he states:
The interesting thing is when I say that, people immediately jump to the conclusion that we will be cyborgs. My goal with designing this is that we won’t be cyborgs. We actually will become more human and more free from the technology. What we have now in the design business is two camps: there is the camp that wants to create a lot of data and wants to analyse a lot of data; and there is the other camp which I belong to that tries to create devices that are not smart, they are actually wise. They are more than smart, they are wise enough to understand you, to filter and allow you to go on with your life with all their data processing in the background giving you hints of what is essential when it is essential.
Having data processing in the background and focusing on what information is essential is of course very much in line with the small data “aesthetic” we’ve been promoting here and in a number of venues over the past 2 years, so it’s cool to hear validation from another corner. As a former AI/machine learning guy, I also like the idea of “wise” devices that understand context and personal preferences, and can make a case that small data will in fact be the new “OS” for these devices (more in a future post).
But even more so, if we think of the cyborg comment as a challenge to all of us, I think we need to consider the element of “humanness” as we create new apps and digital experiences. And perhaps provide better opportunities and incentives to untether/unplug (partially?) from our digital devices, even as consumers clamor for faster, more personal, more portable, and ultimately more satisfying data-enriched experiences.
Designing Data-driven Apps
Speaking of the new data consumer, I’ve been spending more time with developers and those thinking about the future of customer facing apps, and recently created a talk on design principles that builds on some of the work you’ve read about on this very blog. As always I believe that data-driven design is an art and a science, so it’s been fun to brush up on the science/tech part for sure.
Of course our first job is still to think about the end-consumer, and how we can inform, connect, and motivate them to get involved or take action. As an aside, if you’ve paid attention to how I’ve presented this last point, I’ve always used Nike Fuelband as my example, so with news that Nike is getting out of the fitness hardware business (good analysis in this Gigaom piece), it’s been interesting to see Fitbit and even Samsung step up their efforts ahead of the likely fall iWatch debut.
On the business side, beyond understanding the value of data along the customer journey and focusing on “last mile” functionality, having a scalable foundation that can potentially support millions of users and large data sets from many sources (before it is transformed into useful small data) is essential as we look to bring powerful, yet human-scale, smart (wise) apps to the masses. So is a community to drive innovation – like the 3.5 million BIRT developers, or 600K+ Drupal users and coders.
Many of these ideas (and some examples) were covered in the talk I did with SD Times recently. There’s a link to the replay and a summary by my colleague Fred Sandsmark on the Actuate blog – which you can read here.
I also presented a longer version focused on bringing the power of advanced analytics to “everyday tasks” at the CAMP IT big data event this past week, (a well-produced event by the way) and plan to post those slides to my slideshare shortly.
Finally, I will be moderating a very cool expert panel on “building the next big app” at a special event Actuate is hosting in San Jose on the evening of July 10. Scheduled to join me on stage will be Eclipse Foundation Executive Director Mike Milinkovich, plus industry watcher and enterprise apps futurist Esteban Kolsky, along with 1-2 other special guests. We’ll explore how consumer experiences will (and are) be shaped by new devices and data, open source driven innovation, and next-generation design tools and practices.
Be sure to let me know if you’ll be in the area and want to join us, since I have a limited number of VIP passes to share.
Big Data is everywhere. Yet many companies lack a clear vision for rolling out big data in practical, measured steps. At the same time, with social networking, BYOD, and expectations from interactions with brands like Amazon, Apple, and Nike, most employees have seen the potential, yet many aren’t equipped to harness this power in their workplace. The small data movement — which I’ve been writing about for the past 6 months (and thinking about for many years) — aims to address these challenges and re-envision the “last mile” of big data via consumer-style, more responsive, more social apps that truly turn insight into action.
Not surprisingly, this idea is getting a LOT of attention. In fact, over the past 6 months there’s been as much published about small data as there was in the previous 3 years. Clearly small data has gone big time as a theme, concept, and set of tools.
So why is small data taking off?
- First, while understandably there’s a lot of excitement about big data, there’s a growing reality that doing it at scale and waiting for all the trickle down benefits can take a lot of time. Especially if you’re not in the C-suite.
- Second, (and here’s where I jump on my soapbox), the last mile of big data is really where the value is created, opinions are formed, insights are shared, and action are made. By non data scientists. Everyday.
- Third, there’s some great consumer examples of small data hitting the stage, most notably the much hyped but potentially game-changing Google Glass, which brings together small data and visualization with wearable computing, all in a semi-stylish package.
So who is fueling the small data movement? I wrote about 10 vendors who get the value of enabling simple, smart, responsive, socially aware tools and solutions in my last post. And a couple weeks back I wrote about 5 additional vendors and a new study I’m doing with Digital Clarity Group in a post on the DCG blog, which you can read here.
As small data takes off, I will continue to provide updates and thoughts both here and on the DCG blog. As always I’d love your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below. And if you’d like to arrange a briefing with me and my colleagues at DCG just email me at allen AT digitalclaritygroup DOT com.
Thanks for stopping by!