4 Ways for Consumer Goods Brands to Win in the Age of Relevance

a cup of coffee on a table

The global pandemic has placed an enormous amount of stress and uncertainty on the consumer products industry, already struggling to adapt to rapidly changing consumer behaviors, the emergence of new digital channels, and increasing market competition.   Successful companies have been the ones who have found opportunities to deliver something that is “just right” for each individual consumer at every key moment, creating relevance in ways that far exceed the direct value of the products they sell.  

As we approach the first-year anniversary of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., the time is now for consumer products companies to rethink their consumer and channel strategies in ways that will deliver maximum consumer impact and ensure competitive advantage now and in the future. Having a great product and strong retail partnerships is no longer enough to build and maintain consumer relationships given the abundance of product choice that consumers have today.

Consumer goods companies must gain control of the end-to-end consumer journey and deliver experiences that create meaningful value for consumers wherever, whenever and however they desire.

The events of the last 12 months left many people feeling vulnerable and uncertain, resulting in a propensity for consumers to turn to companies that demonstrate how well they understand them as an individual including their underlying needs, values and preferences. A global consumer survey conducted by Publicis Sapient several weeks into the pandemic revealed that 29% of consumers would be much more likely to purchase a product that was customized or personalized to their needs while one in three (33%) indicated a greater likelihood to buy products from a company or brand that was aligned to their values.

Today’s consumers expect brands to know them inside out — and use that knowledge to deliver authentic products and services that bring convenience along with experiences that embody the brand purpose they’ve bought into. As competition heats up across the sector and with a greater focus on direct-to-consumer (DTC) engagement models, CG companies can no longer rely on ad-hoc, campaign activity to establish and maintain meaningful connections to their consumers.

Instead, CG brands will need to think beyond the products they sell and drive consumer loyalty and advocacy by providing highly relevant, context-specific experiences at high demand moments across the consumer journey.

Successful CG companies achieve relevance in a variety of ways, each rooted in a deep understanding of the consumer, the ability to anticipate their needs, and an appreciation of what makes them act in key moments.  

1. Reducing decision complexity

Consumers are researching things they wouldn’t normally have researched in the past, considering more options across all products than they used to, and carrying that consideration with them into their planning. Helping consumers navigate their way through a complex purchase process is a compelling way for brands to build trust and relevance with the consumer.

Keurig’s product recommendation engine, which advises consumers on the right coffee or tea for them based on previous purchases and stated preferences and goals, is one example of how brands are increasing relevance in this manner.

To succeed in this new paradigm CG companies must first redefine their overarching purpose.

2. Personalized services

By wrapping personalized services around products, brands can help consumers unlock additional value from the things they buy, provide richer experiences and rewards, and help consumers solve bigger problems and achieve better outcomes. Consider how L’Oreal is using a high-tech mix of algorithms and machines to make foundation tailored for each individual consumer’s skin shade.  

3. Democratizing brand purpose

With consumers four to six times more likely to purchase and champion purpose-driven brands, more and more CG companies are looking to create deeper connections between brand, consumer and the wider community on such topics as sustainability, equality and social justice. In the new model, brand relationships will evolve from “direct-to” to “direct-with,” with brand purpose becoming increasingly democratized and inclusive.

Look to CG brands to create empowered communities of consumers united by a common purpose and action and to work side-by-side with these communities on issues of shared importance.

4. Gamifying the experience

Gamification is the use of game-like mechanics and dynamics in a non-game like environment. More and more brands are starting to adopt game-like items such as points, countdowns, and bonuses to inspire an increase in brand engagement on the basis of very human-like motivations such as rewards, urgency, pride, competition, and status-building.

Consider Nike’s FuelBand and Magnum’s Pleasure Hunt, which created a digital online game reminiscent of Super Mario, as leading examples of the use of gamification to drive brand engagement.

The Path Forward: Achieving Relevance at Scale

The current crisis has reinforced the need for CG companies to seek purpose and differentiation through personalized and relevant consumer experiences. As the CG marketplace becomes increasingly competitive and routes to market proliferate, CG companies will transition from a product focus to a consumer focus, shifting the battlefield from point-of-sale to point-of-experience. 

To succeed in this new paradigm CG companies must first redefine their overarching purpose — why do we exist, what difference do we make, what is our secret sauce?  They must then look to leverage data algorithms to translate this purpose across the end-to-end value chain, leveraging a deep understanding of the context and circumstances surrounding consumer motivations; including the frustrations, desires, problems and preferences that led the consumer to engage in the first place.

Finally, they must adopt an agile operating model to ensure that the business can respond quickly to new challenges and accelerate time-to-market for new consumer experiences.

As the ground keeps moving underfoot in 2021, successful CG companies will capture the value of rapidly evolving digital technologies and focus their efforts on building the capabilities needed to deliver relevance at scale. Getting that right will be the secret to future success and growth.

Scott Clarke is VP, consumer products industry lead at Publicis Sapient.