“Brand DNA” runs deep at eStoreMedia. Our founders and senior management are ex-Brand people who share the language and firsthand knowledge of the challenges our clients face. We also take pride in our deeply rooted understanding of the data required to thrive in a digital and omnichannel world.
Our Brand DNA got an injection when Francis Nicholas joined eStoreMedia as VP of Product Strategy last month. Francis brings with him a wealth of industry knowledge and experience, having personally grown eCommerce businesses, whether with large retailer partners, marketplaces or driving direct-to-consumer (DTC) pilots. He also has used a wide range of content, data & analytics products in the market.
We recently had the pleasure of talking with Francis to get his perspectives on where the CPG industry is in terms of digital competency, and specifically how brands can leverage location-based analytics to find new growth opportunities.
[Editor's note: For additional insights watch our webinar on demand: "Why daily omnichannel data is a game-changer for FMCG brands." Click here to view.]
Can you share a bit more about your background to help put this discussion in context?
I’ve been a practitioner for quite some time, spending 25+ years working on iconic brands like Pampers, Gillette, Pantene, Oral-B and BirdsEye, owned by companies such as Procter & Gamble and Nomad Foods. During that time, I’ve touched on many different channels within digital commerce, working with Grocery, Drug, Electricals and Discount Retailers such as Walmart ASDA, Tesco, Carrefour and REWE; Pure Plays such as Amazon and Ocado; Quick Commerce operators like Gopuff and Getir; Wholesalers; Marketplaces; and DTC.
What was behind your decision to move from industry to the world of SaaS digital shelf technology?
I’ve always been interested in data & analytics as a bedrock for making commercial decisions. Years ago, when I first started in digital commerce, things were tracked manually. We had very rudimentary scorecards where we’d write down what we see, and track progress using a “red / amber / green” approach. We’d also sometimes share content with retailers via USB stick or CD-ROM!
It’s amazing what can be done now with automation. The Digital Shelf industry has exploded in the past several years. You can see so much now, at your fingertips. In a way, it’s almost too much data to deal with. And that’s where Digital Shelf solution providers like eStoreMedia are stepping up to help brands navigate through the sea of data. Another area is the creation, curation and deployment of content — at all parts of the purchase funnel. Now there is such a proliferation of types of content and places to place them, I’ve been really impressed with our content offer, which allows for content to be managed thoroughly and accurately in multiple global markets.
It’s an exciting place to be. eStoreMedia’s comprehensive product offering is a great foundation to build from. Our core platforms are strong. For instance Digital Shelf is reliable; it’s robust. I’ve worked with a lot of platforms, and our roadmap is second to none. We have lots of opportunities to bring groundbreaking innovation to the industry.
Where are FMCG / CPG brands today in terms of digital readiness?
If I had a crystal ball five years ago, I would have predicted the ongoing growth of digital commerce and the rise of some new formats and innovation. What is it they say about hindsight though? Along with many others, I would have under-called it.
The pandemic clearly accelerated all things digital and brought omnichannel thinking to the forefront of people’s minds. Today, brands are more attuned to how consumers are using digital and physical together along their path to purchase. Brands must follow where the consumer and shopper is going because, in the words of my previous employer P&G, the Consumer is the Boss.
This evolving shopper behavior is having a profound impact on everyone’s business. Because it no longer means just measuring your digital sales or eCommerce channel sales. It’s about understanding all the digital touchpoints and measuring what portion of your sales are digitally influenced — both online and in-store.
So, we’re seeing brands get more sophisticated in the way they think about, manage, and organize around omnichannel. We see it in how brands are changing their organizational structures and ways of working. Companies are building capability programs to improve the competencies and capabilities of their people, both those directly touching the channels as well as other functional areas like Sales, Consumer Marketing, Revenue Growth Management, Field Sales, and so on.
One of those core competency areas involves understanding the uses and application of data & analytics. Brands need to use data & analytics to keep up with the evolution in shopping behavior at pace. This will be a key to unlocking new growth opportunities.
Read our previous blog to learn more about how brands can unlock the value of location-based data & analytics.
Let’s expand on omnichannel. Why is understanding omnichannel so important for brands?
Many brands have turned their focus in recent years to winning on Amazon. But Amazon, arguably the largest marketplace in the Western world, is a space where big brands are somewhat at a disadvantage. They have trouble generating their “fair share” of the market compared to market shares in offline stores. This is because the selection of niche products is much greater on Amazon, making it easy for small players to gain visibility and win sales. This comes at the expense of big brands.
What this means is that it’s in the best interest of big brands, vying for market dominance, to keep their attention on winning formats where product choice (or shelf space) is limited, such as brick-and-mortar and Quick Commerce. This means winning with retailer partners that not only have physical stores, but operate online sites designed to predominantly service curbside pickup / click & collect and local delivery offers.
What challenges do consumer brands face in this increasingly omnichannel environment?
Sales, profit, and market share growth will always be top-of-mind metrics for the C-suite. Beyond that, people are looking more closely at the proliferation of channels and how you’re setting yourself up to grow. This often means getting tighter on your “where to play” choices: Where are you going to play? Where do you want to win?
The days of simplicity are gone.
Today, there are lots of complexities in terms of distribution and activation. So, some things keeping brand execs up at night are: In this increasingly complex world, how do we set ourselves up to keep winning? How do we future proof the business to exploit new opportunities, with omnichannel being at the heart of that?
What data & insights do brands need to succeed in omnichannel?
Let’s first talk about the DTC model. When I ran DTC pilots, I could see every lever that I could pull to drive the business, whether it was demand creation, getting eyeballs, buying eyeballs, or pricing and promotion to try and acquire new customers. So, DTC really educates you on how to activate across the full purchase journey, including full 1P data availability. This shows the baseline where you have everything and can relate your actions back to performance or sales data.
But it’s different for a CPG brand selling through another party via the B2B2C model. As a brand you want to go as far as you can to get the same level of data as you have with DTC, being fully aware that other stakeholders own the data, and of course the legislation in place restricting your view of that detailed data.
I like to think of data in terms of a pyramid. The bottom of the pyramid is your foundation, where you need your core sales and share data to run your business.
As you move up the pyramid, it’s about increasing your performance data. This means having data on core sales fundamentals both in-store and online: tracking distribution, out-of-stocks, and price and promotion.
Finally at the top of the pyramid, you’ll want more sophisticated analytics data. For eCommerce, this means search, share of voice, secondary placements, ratings & reviews sentiment — data that will help you continue growing.
The reality is though that sometimes you can’t even get sales data from the retailer.
If you’re an “A” brand or category captain, you’re in pole position to get access to data so over time you can see how much of your sales are coming from the main stores, convenience stores, full-basket online operation, quick commerce, etc. This data helps you build the full picture needed for your omnichannel joint business planning.
What are some of the top use cases for location-based data?
The first obvious one is the out-of-stocks data. Once you have a picture of what’s going on with your inventory at the store level, some immediate next steps are: How can you focus your field sales team or agency people to address the out-of-stock situations? How can your supply chain work with the retailer’s supply chain team to help fix any issues? Over time, your commercial teams should also be talking to their retail buyers to understand root causes of stock issues to put longer-term action plans in place to 1) remedy OOS situations, and 2) work toward better demand forecasting.
For DSD suppliers or those working with a network of distributors (like the U.S. Bev/Alcohol industry), location-based data becomes extraordinarily beneficial in terms of immediate actionability. Field teams can be immediately rerouted to refill shelves in problem stores.
Another good use case is around Media. One of your first calls to action should be to only activate media once you have reached a certain level of distribution and availability, otherwise you’re wasting your ad spend in areas such as Retail Media. There’s no point paying to create demand if you can’t fulfill the sale. On a more sophisticated level, you can start analyzing the data by geography, looking for similarities or differences by region or market. This could lead to developing different creatives (images, videos, etc.), localizing your messaging, or activating Retail Media based on location.
Why is having access to daily data important?
People who shop in physical stores shop differently than those shopping online. Shopping peaks at different times of the week for each of these groups. It’s important that brands pay attention to these nuances. Trended over time, the granularity of daily data gives you line of sight into these nuances, whereas it’s lost if you only get weekly data updates.
Having daily data lets you immediately action on any issues and identify trends in the data.
For example, imagine going out of stock on, let’s say a Tuesday and you remain out of stock on Wednesday and Thursday. You wouldn’t necessarily know this if you only get a weekly data report. Or getting a data alert a week later that you were out of stock last week, only after you lost three days of revenue. This is where having access to daily updates is critical. It helps you capture sales opportunities that you otherwise would have lost.
Amazon’s recent introduction of Rapid Retail Analytics, where during key periods data is provided hourly, demonstrates the direction of travel. We are already able to offer yesterday’s data when you begin work the next morning. This allows you to see data from other retailer partners more quickly, and I’ve challenged our tech teams to squeeze that even further for those time periods when having immediate actionability can become critical.