Tools of Engagement\r\n\r\nThe best way to make ‘personal’ connections is often through technology\r\nIs it counterintuitive to use technology to create stronger bonds between people?\r\n\r\nHowever much you might be inclined to say, “Yes,” the answer for most sales and marketing executives in the consumer goods industry is a very emphatic “No.”\r\n\r\nWhile the general consensus in society is that our ever-growing reliance on smartphones and other technologies is breaking down interpersonal understanding and communication, it could be said that the opposite is true for sales and marketing executives – that technology is improving their ability to both understand and communicate with consumers and retailers alike and, therefore, is strengthening the bonds between them.\r\n\r\nThat statement might require some unpacking. And the explanation begins with advanced analytics, which lets consumer goods companies identify the deeper insights about consumer behavior and product demand needed to better inform their retailer partners. Here is where artificial intelligence (for deeper analysis), cloud architecture (for collaborative planning) and mobile devices (for sales force empowerment), among other tools, have come in quite handy.\r\n\r\nThose deeper insights also drive better engagement with consumers themselves, of course, by helping brands figure out how to better influence every step of the path to purchase, starting with developing more relevant products and continuing through each aspect of the increasingly personalized marketing and sales conversion process – right down to customized products, in a growing number of cases. The list of helpful martech tools in this area is practically endless, but includes various forms of data collection (social listening software), engagement enhancers (chatbots, augmented reality) and delivery platforms (retailer media networks). \r\n\r\nBridging the sales and marketing functions are a growing number of tools that product manufacturers are adopting to meet the demands of both retailers and consumers by building out the systems necessary to manage an omnichannel supply chain of single-product orders and direct-home deliveries. On top of all this, you now can also add the steps companies are taking to significantly reduce packaging waste – inspired, naturally, by changing consumer demand.\r\n\r\nKeeping It Real\r\n\r\nDespite all the readiness to adopt new technology, there is still plenty of need for human interaction: 45% of consumers say they want live support online when interacting with brands, but just 22% say they’d prefer voice assistants to actual people, according to the most recent “State of the Connected Consumer Study” from Salesforce.\r\n\r\n“We are fortunate to live in an age of advancing technology, but we run a risk of oversaturating our market with off-the-shelf tools that gather faceless data and create ineffective content,” said Hamid Ghanadan, founder of digital marketing agency Linus and a member of the Forbes Agency Council. “Marketing has a remarkable power to inspire audiences. Instead of an influx of new tech to adopt, I predict we’ll embrace a deeper understanding of human behavior that will foster more meaningful relationships.” \r\n\r\nA similar sentiment was made last June at the Path to Purchase Institute’s League of Leaders meeting by Sarah Cunningham, senior vice president of client service \u0026amp; development at marketing agency TPN, who joked that “the data beast is eating CMOs and replacing them with CDOs and CTOs.” Marketers with numerous sources of data at their fingertips must remember that data is only part of the equation, and that an understanding of “humanity” – which can only be supplied by humans – is needed to “reveal the soul behind the numbers,” she said. \r\n\r\nPeople Are People\r\n\r\nThe same holds true when the audience is retailers, not consumers, whether the target is a central-office buyer or the local store manager. In the field, technology is improving in-store performance in two ways: giving the sales team better information to bring into the store, and also arming them with the tools they need to better measure, understand and report on the conditions they find once they get there. \r\n\r\nBut that technology isn’t replacing human interaction – in fact, it’s freeing up time for more of it. Rather than spending all their time collecting data, the field reps now have more time to explain the data to retailers, help them better understand the conditions impacting sales, and working with them to find solutions.\r\n\r\nSo while a couple of tickets to see the local NBA team might still help sweeten the pot in terms of display positioning, a well-informed field rep with up-to-date information on how to immediately improve sales by altering placement is more what’s needed these days.\r\n\r\nAs for those people shopping the aisles (literally or virtually), 56% of consumers now expect to find whatever they need from a company in three clicks or less, and 71% of them expect real-time responses to their questions. With statistics like that, it’s no wonder that nearly one-third (29%) of marketing budgets are now devoted to technology, according to the latest Gartner CMO Spend Survey.\r\n\r\nAnd communication between brands and consumers continues to get smarter, more personal and even more intimate. CVS Health has been sending reminder emails to ExtraCare loyalty-program members when they might be running low on previously purchased items. But a new Attain by Aetna program launched this summer will deliver personalized healthy-living recommendations and activity-driven incentives and rewards to an ExtraCare member’s Apple Watch. (Note: The merger of CVS Health with insurance giant Aetna closed in September.)\r\n\r\nElsewhere, LG smart-appliance owners can subscribe to the “Proactive Customer Care” program (through the consumer electronics manufacturer’s ThinQ mobile app) to be automatically alerted about potential problems with the product and receive guidance on how to keep it functioning at optimal levels. (Could freezer burn be a thing of the past?)\r\n\r\nWhen it comes to consumer-facing tools, even blockchain, that still-misunderstood data collection procedure, has become promotional fodder: This summer, MillerCoors’ Miller Lite staged a “Great Taste Trivia” game awarding 10,000 prizes across social media channels, apps and browsers through geo-targeted media that found consumers inside 230,000 bars and restaurants. The game employed a blockchain solution to securely track the consumer activity. \r\n\r\nWhile Miller Lite’s use of buzz-worthy blockchain technology might have been as much gimmick as need-driven deployment, “techxploitation” might not be such a bad thing: According to the Salesforce study, 75% of consumers expect companies to use new technologies to create better experiences.\r\n\r\nDinner Is Still a Thing\r\n\r\nBut the need to retain that human touch is fairly obvious when you consider that, with all the drastic changes taking place as far as consumer expectations and shopping behavior go, basic consumer needs haven’t really changed much at all – just the ways in which consumers solve for those needs. \r\n\r\nThis past summer, Chicago-based Kraft Heinz launched Meal Hero, an AI-enabled mobile app that helps users plan meals and compile shopping lists based on their individual food preferences. The app was created by Evolv Group, an operation established in fall 2018 after Kraft Heinz acquired a small food tech specialist, Wellio, that already was developing the product; Evolv Group is an offshoot of Evolv Ventures, the $100 million fund Kraft established “to move beyond brands to have a committed first look at our industry’s most promising and disruptive tech-enabled companies,” according to a media release.\r\n\r\nMeal Hero uses a proprietary AI-powered food intelligence platform to create “tailor-made” recommendations for recipes and the products needed to make them based on the user’s preferences for taste and diet, along with local retail availability.\r\n\r\nKraft is no stranger to using meal solutions as a hook for engagement: The “iFood Assistant” it rolled out in 2008 was one of the first branded mobile apps to hit the market. It offered recipes and related cooking tips, and helped build shopping lists, much like Meal Hero.\r\n\r\nOf course, both digital programs seek to drive brand preference by solving the same consumer need for easy meal ideas that General Mills targeted when it first launched “The Betty Crocker Cookbook” in 1950.\r\n\r\nBetty Crocker has an app now, too.\r\n\r\nTo read the rest of the 2019 Sales \u0026amp; Marketing Report, click on the links below:\r\n\r\nData \u0026amp; Analytics: Everyone’s an Analyst\r\n\r\nConsumer Engagement: Meeting Consumers Where They Already Are\r\n\r\nRetail Execution: In Search of the Perfect Store\r\n\r\nTo download a PDF of the full report, click on the attachment below.