Unlike most industries, Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) manufacturing exists in an unusual business-to-business-to-consumer world where we buy their branded products -- not from them -- but retailers. It’s always been retail that held the keys to end-consumer relationships, while suppliers stood at arm’s length from the customer experience. Influence and insights were functions of mass media advertising to anonymous masses and focus groups as proxies for millions of consumers. No more.
Social media has brought the consumer right to the front doorsteps of CPG companies, whether they like it or not. CPG makers have responded by investing in all manner of “social extensions” to their businesses -- namely branded social network accounts, social marketing campaigns and promotions, social command centers and social customer support.
The Social “Bolt-On”
CPG organizations are notorious for adopting new technology without a plan for leveraging the investment across the company. Social media capabilities are no exception. Yet unlike most other technologies employed for internal use, social media invites consumers to become active participants in determining a company’s value. The stakes are higher, the silos are becoming deeper and executives are starting to wonder if they are prepared to deal with the fluid – and potentially volatile nature – of social media.
Anxious executives should be able to see beyond the ways social media impacts their area of responsibility. Consider some common ways social media is employed in CPG organizations today and the functions typically associated with them:
Of the four, the only one that implies an obligatory two-way interaction is customer service, an activity most brands are reluctant to support beyond cherry picking the loudest comments to respond to, good or bad. Fact is, consumers see any brand participation in social media as tacit agreement to participate in a dynamic and conversational medium. It’s no wonder many brands still fall victim to the out of control social media firestorm that harms brand value and sales.
Placing the “social cart” before the “consumer data horse” places CPG companies at a disadvantage, but it’s not too late to course correct. The key is to step back and develop a plan for creating an integrated view of the identifiable consumer interactions that includes those within social media.
Doing so serves two purposes:
Brands struggle with the concept of “social customer support,” given the many thousands of conversations that happen daily in social media. Even if an agency monitors conversations on behalf of brands, or commercial social media engagement software is employed, these align to silos associated with brand marketing or consumer affairs. The resulting insights are beyond the grasp of other roles and also lack context for the brand’s history with those consumers in other digital channels.
Possessing integrated consumer interaction data helps divine social media for the conversations, consumers, shoppers, competitors and influencers that matter. It helps address such questions as:
Social media silos cannot support these varied decisions, which impact all areas of the CPG organization. An integrated approach to social media interaction data that includes all consumer touch points can. Although retailers continue to own the last mile of the purchase journey, CPG direct to consumer sales are coming online every day. Without such a rich source of interactive consumer data to springboard off of, it will be challenging to execute those strategies successfully.