Unilever's move to counter data struggles

Much like every other industry, the FMCG world is also facing challenges when it comes to the highly trans-formative digital world.

According to Anser Aly, senior regional brand development manager at Unilever, big data in the FMCG world is still at its infancy stage. Aly was speaking at Marketing’s annual Analytics conference.

He explained that during the early stages of data collection, one of the main challenges for Unilever was in the lack of a centralised data system which would invariably lead to lack of actionable insights from the data.

“We did tons of market research and interacted with consumers on a daily basis and every brand manager had access to a lot of information but it was not centralised. And where there was data, there was no actionable insights to sift out data,” Aly said.

He added that this lack of centralised data was also coupled with the fact that not only was the media landscape largely fragmented, the sales channels were too with the rise of social selling and e-commerce.

Moreover, the world is now becoming far more globalised giving consumers the chance to purchase from different corners of the world - making data collection harder still.  Personalisation is also a key area of challenge for FMCG companies, added Aly. For a company such as Unilever which has 400 brands across 190 countries, and serves over 2 billion people – this could clearly be seen as a challenge.

Lastly, speed and agility are a must in today’s world. Aly explained that customers are evolving at such a rapid pace that the time from conceptualisation to creation of a product should be drastically reduced to meet consumer needs.

“Ultimately, these challenges mean that companies need to move from being brand centric to consumer centric and to aid this is big data,” said Aly.

As such, Unilever has created an Insight Knowledge Management tool which is now available to all marketing teams globally. It also created a central repository of all data from consumer home visits globally.

To make data sifting easier, it also created a search engine, similar to that of Google’s to help marketers effectively search for information and have access to all cross-category research and information globally without the need to find and read lengthy reports.

This has enabled the brand's under Unilever to create new marketing initiatives outside its comfort zone and push the boundaries of communication.

“We are still at the beginning of the journey,” admitted Aly but no doubt, Unilever has truly begun to embrace big data. He added:

Marketers might not be interested in big data but what surely catches their attention are the stories big data can tell.

For example, in London, Unilever’s ice cream brand Magnum developed ‘M-Pulse', an app that allows Londoners to seek out friends, find their closest Magnum retailer and invite them to meet for an ice cream. M-Pulse is also designed to enable proximity marketing, highlighting exclusive deals and offers, in a bid to drive sales and footfall. This is all aided with the help of big data.

Moreover, it is also contemplating external partnerships with wearable companies, analytic firms or tech specialists for its deodorant brand Sure - all enabled with the help of big data.

The company has also integrated big data in its R&D and supply chain functions to ensure seamless data sharing. As for its sales management, it uses LeverEdge, a new distributor management system that uses historical data and then applies analytics to create an intelligent selling system.

“What can make big data truly actionable is the discovery and communication of meaningful insights resulting from the systematic analysis of data,” said Aly.