The big consumer brands that have long defined the industry are no longer untouchable. Traditional market-leading positions are under threat. A combination of rapidly changing consumer needs and expectations and a leveling competitive playing field is creating a highly uncertain, disruptive environment—one full of challenges, but ripe with new possibility too.
So what’s the right play? The answer: relevance at scale. Today’s consumers expect brands to know them inside out—and use that knowledge to deliver authentic products, services and experiences that are entirely relevant when it really matters.
But doing this at scale takes an incredible amount of organizational agility—something that many consumer goods companies just don’t have yet. It also calls for a rethinking of the entire value chain, all the way from developing new concepts through manufacturing to the store shelf and beyond.
New Game, New Rules
Today’s consumers aren’t like those of old. Often searching for more than just a “product,” they want services that bring convenience to their lives and experiences that embody the brand purpose they’ve bought into. That changes the value proposition consumer goods brands should be offering. It’s about being able to deliver something that’s “just right” for each individual customer in each moment.
It’s already happening. Just look at how L’Oreal is using a high-tech mix of algorithms and machines to make foundation tailored for each of their individual customers’ skin shades. Or how Drinkworks Home Bar by Keurig, a first-of-its-kind cocktail pod appliance created by Keurig Dr Pepper and AB InBev, offers consumers a choice of 30 bar-quality cocktails in 60 seconds in the comfort of their home.
But just think about doing that across a customer base of millions—even billions—and you get a sense of the scale of the challenge for consumer goods companies.
The way consumers and brands interact has changed dramatically too. Digital technologies have fueled an explosion in consumer touch points and engagement possibilities. Brands now have opportunities to engage with their customers that go far beyond the retail store or the billboard ad. That has radical implications for traditionally linear value chains. Everything from product conception and design through manufacturing and sales to after-sales services is affected.
Look at how Amazon Go is shrinking the thinking and redefining convenience for the digital age. Cutting-edge technology and data science aren’t just making the in-store shopping experience seamless—they're also helping the company fine-tune the assortments they know will most appeal to consumers in each locality.
On top of all this, the competitive landscape keeps getting tougher. For every traditional brand that struggles to adapt, there are plenty of well-funded startups who’ll deliver relevance at scale. The number of billion-dollar “unicorn” valuations has exploded over the past five years, bringing powerful new digital-first brands into the equation. Increased competition has made growth all the more challenging to find, with many small or medium-sized players capturing outsized bites of the market.
Time to Pivot to the New
Adapting the business to deliver relevance at scale isn’t just a good idea—it’s essential for future competitive advantage. How should brands approach the question? There are four key strategies they can adopt:
- Growth pivot to relevance. Growth in this new era will come from realigning the business model to focus on consumer needs. Leveraging a broad ecosystem of partner organizations, brands should continuously balance an evolving portfolio of products, services and experiences that target both incremental and breakthrough innovation to deliver consumer relevance above all.
- Living in the integrated marketplace. Successful consumer goods companies get stuck in to the heart of the integrated digital marketplace. They use sophisticated customer analytics to meet consumer needs for relevance across a multitude of touch points, with the agility to market, sell and distribute in continually shifting patterns.
- Resilient operations. Powered by digital technology, market leaders ensure data and insights flow through their organizations as smoothly as their products. This means leveraging digital manufacturing and new digital architectures to enable rapid responses to consumer needs, and using smart engineering and intelligent supply chains to design, develop and deliver hyperrelevant products and services.
- Smart businesses. Today’s brands can use advancing technology innovations to radically change their ways of working. This means creating an intelligent adaptive organization that can sense and respond to change, developing an ability to continuously optimize itself.
Imagine a consumer goods brand with the data capabilities to understand an individual customer’s unique needs at every moment. Imagine having the agility to use that data to recommend a tailored solution that fits those needs perfectly. And imagine the brand possibilities that come from offering that personalized solution for billions of individuals, all at the same time.
That’s the promise of relevance at scale. But it won’t happen by itself. To make it a reality, brands need to assess their footprint carefully and comprehensively, remembering the “secret sauce” that made them great in the first place, but adapting and industrializing it for a new era, making a wise and considered pivot to new growth.
Editor's Note: Laura Gurski is senior managing director and global lead for Consumer Goods & Services at Accenture.