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Online access to a global marketplace has empowered today’s consumers. They’re savvy about finding the right products to meet their needs through social networks, mobile devices, and the Web. Therefore, consumer products (CP) manufacturers must continually adapt to engage shoppers and earn their loyalty to keep pace with these always-on shopping opportunities.

Attracting shoppers, gaining their loyalty, and enticing them to buy top-dollar brands requires special “listening” skills. It’s critical to listen across brands, across channels, and across communication platforms to learn what shoppers want – and then deliver. CP companies need to enable their line of business (LOB) executives in finance, sales, marketing, supply chain, manufacturing, procurement, and more to operate in this way. Otherwise, consumers and shoppers are going to buy private label brands or other alternatives.

Perfecting your listening skills

How can CP companies listen more closely? In what form do these listening opportunities appear? Not in sound waves – but in bits and bytes.

LOB executives must be able to identify insights, spot trends, and monitor the state of the business in real time across different communication and commerce channels, points of contact, and shopping platforms. Whether it’s social media data, point-of-sale scan data at the register, or other forms of downstream data, LOB executives need to bring shopper data together in a meaningful way. It’s got to be easy for them to consume it, understand it, and ultimately react and respond in a highly consumer driven way. Once this happens, it’s easier to deliver rich experiences that delight and exceed the needs of consumers and shoppers.

It’s a common assumption that most CP companies already have solutions in place to address consumer and shopper Big Data challenges – and that’s true in many cases. But too often, these solutions are department-specific. What many CP companies lack is a solution that enables holistic, integrated business planning across corporate functions based on a comprehensive, real-time view of shopper demand and shopper behavior.

Gaining a single version of the truth in consumer products

More often than not CP companies need to deliver downstream data analytics, extended supply chain solutions, and integrated business planning capabilities to enable demand-driven business planning. Only in this way are they able to deliver targeted and profitable products and services to consumers across channels, not just within one particular channels.

These Big Data challenges and Big Data dynamics relate to demand-driven, consumer -driven tools that enable a single version of truth about customer and consumer data across retailers, wholesalers, and distributors. Having a single source of truth across the enterprise that they can aggregate and analyze empowers LOB executives to drive demand planning and forecasting accuracy and ensure items remain in stock while managing optimal inventory levels and delivering a great shopping experience in store or online.

But there are different dynamics across different channels or within specific channels. Whether that channel is physical, such as grocery, department, do-it-yourself, or pharmacy, or virtual, such as online marketplaces – each channel has specific needs and requirements.

Aggregating data among these channels poses a problem because, currently, no two systems report the same data for the same period in the same way. So it’s likely that LOB executives may come together for a monthly planning meeting and spend considerable time arguing about whose numbers are the “right” numbers to use as the basis for their go-forward cross-functional planning.

Unifying downstream data

Professionals across functional domains such as account management, customer service, marketing, merchandising, category management, demand planning, finance, and replenishment, all need access to real-time consumer demand data. They need a holistic view of collections of retailers.  They need to plan for production, which means they need to understand demand holistically, across retailers and channels – and that’s easier said than done.

Unifying downstream data requires a platform that enables a CP company to acquire, cleanse, harmonize, aggregate, and assemble insights from different retailers and channels. The platform needs to accept data from third-party syndicated data providers like Nielsen, point-of-sale data directly from retailers, and social engagement and consumer sentiment data from consumer social media interactions. A platform that can help identify insights into consumers’ evolving needs and preferences, how these are influencing what’s happening on the shelf or online, and, as a result, enable LOB executives to better plan and forecast in an integrated, interdisciplinary way.

Enabling integrated business planning based on aggregated data

Clearly, there’s no shortage of data; the amount is growing exponentially. The problem is the shortage of insights. SAP Demand Signal Management application can help remedy this problem. The application serves as a platform for handling all downstream data from retailers, social media, distributors, wholesalers, third-party market researchers, as well as internal supply chain transactional data. Once the platform is in place, other industry solutions for business planning, such as SAP Integrated Business Planning, can leverage that data for immediate value.  Individual cloud applications that enable planning across demand, inventory, finance, response and supply, and sales, marketing, and operations are available that can run on the SAP HANA Cloud Platform. These solutions enable CP companies to leverage SAP’s powerful infrastructure to improve their critical extended supply chain domains.

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