Out Far and In Deep: Embracing the Digital Path to Purchase and Cognitive Computing

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Out Far and In Deep: Embracing the Digital Path to Purchase and Cognitive Computing

By Stephen DeAngelis, Enterra Solutions, LLC - 10/14/2014
Early in his career, Robert Frost penned a poem about people walking along the shoreline looking out to sea. “They cannot look out far,” he wrote of those standing on the beach. “They cannot look in deep.”1 Frost ends his poem with a bit of irony. He notes that, despite the fact that the observers aren’t going to learn much about the ocean by standing beside it, that fact doesn’t stop them from watching. “But when was that ever a bar,” he asks, “to any watch they keep?” Had he been alive today, Frost could have been metaphorically writing about the CPG industry and its reluctance to do more than just dip its toes into the waters of e-commerce.

Frost’s shoreline observers probably had lots of reasons for not entering the water – the water was too cold, they weren’t dressed properly, or, perhaps, they couldn’t swim. CPG firms also have a lot of excuses for not testing digital path to purchase strategies – digital strategies require a lot of analytical prowess they don’t possess; they risk upsetting traditional relationships upon which their success has been built; and there simply isn’t enough revenue involved in online sales to make it worth their time and effort. Campbell Soup Co. CEO Denise Morrison told analysts earlier this year that time for excuses is over. "Finally, after a decade of transformational impact on other sectors of the economy,” she said, “the new frontier of e-commerce has come to food. Ready or not, our industry must do a much better job of leveraging this channel."2

Even firms that have ventured into the waters of e-commerce have only gone wading waist deep. One reason for such timidity is that to go out further and get in deeper requires Big Data capabilities that remain confusing and complex. With the emergence of cognitive computing, it’s time for CPG firms to take the plunge. Accenture’s latest technology vision, entitled “From Digitally Disrupted to Digital Disrupter,” boldly asserts, “Every business is a digital business.” The study notes, “Data ecosystems are complex and littered with data silos, limiting the value that organizations can get out of their own data by making it difficult to access. To truly unlock that value, companies must start treating data more as a supply chain, enabling it to flow easily and usefully through the entire organization — and eventually throughout each company’s ecosystem of partners too.” The technology that is going to make all this possible, the study predicts, is cognitive computing.

“What if … machines could be taught to leverage data, learn from it and, with a little guidance, figure out what to do with it?” the study asks. “That’s the power of machine learning — which is a major building block of the ultimate long-term solution: cognitive computing.” As President and CEO of a cognitive computing company, Enterra Solutions, I certainly believe that Accenture’s assessment of the future of cognitive computing is spot on. Cognitive computing will enable CPG firms to venture out far and plunge into the analytic depths of Big Data at just the right moment in history.

It is not coincidence that some of the world’s most highly valued companies are technology companies associated with e-commerce. The recent IPO of the Chinese company Alibaba provides ample evidence that e-commerce is only going to grow. CPG firms are certainly aware that they must master the digital path to purchase for two compelling reasons. First, consumers now receive brand information from the mobile internet and this threatens their multi-billion dollar investment in shopper marketing. Second, the digital path to purchase is a threat to their existing brand building efforts through traditional media. As a result, CPG companies must figure out how to sell their products in the growing, global, digital marketplace, where the power shifts from brands to retailers (like Alibaba and Amazon) and to consumers.

Every successful digital path to purchase strategy begins with an understanding of consumers. Marketers already know that consumers aren’t a homogenous group. Segmenting consumers for targeted advertising is difficult; but, it is easier in the digital world than it is in the broadcast world. That’s because there is much more data available, much of it provided in real time. Companies like mine, can help with this segmentation challenge. With the help of our Cognitive Reasoning Platform, companies can understand their customers and present them with the right offer at the right time. The bottom line is that it’s time for CPG companies to go out far and in deep into the e-commerce ocean.
Stephen F. DeAngelis
Founder, President & CEO, Enterra Solutions, LLC
[email protected]

     Stephen F. DeAngelis is a technology and supply chain sector entrepreneur and patent holder with more than 25 years of experience in building, financing and operating technology and manufacturing companies. He is President and CEO of Enterra Solutions, LLC., a Cognitive Computing firm focused on next-generation big data-enabled predictive Analytics and Insights for companies and governmental.
     DeAngelis was a Visiting Scientist at the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) at Carnegie Mellon University, where he worked closely with SEI to create new systems diagnostic methodology (for the security, compliance and performance management areas) entitled Enterprise Resilience Management Methodology (ERMM). He was a Visiting Scientist at the Mathematical and Computational Sciences Directorate at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory as well as Executive Director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Global Resiliency at the Oak Ridge Center for Advanced Technology.
     A member of IEEE, DeAngelis earned a B.A. in International Affairs from the School of International Service at the American University in Washington, DC. He is the Founder and Chairman of The Project for STEM Competitiveness, a non-profit organization whose mission is to bring outcomes-measured STEM education to underrepresented populations through exciting and inspiring project-based learning.

1.  Robert Frost, “Neither Out Far Nor In Deep,” 1936.
2.  E.J. Schultz, “Packaged-Goods Marketers Wade Warily Into E-Commerce,” Advertising Age, 16 September 2014.