The Insight250 spotlights and celebrates 250 of the world’s premier leaders and innovators in market research, consumer insights, and data-driven marketing. The awards have created renewed excitement across the industry whilst strengthening the connectivity of the market research community. Nominations for the 2024 Insight250 are now open at Insight250.com.
With so many exceptional professionals named to the Insight250, it seems fitting to tap into their expertise and unique perspectives across various topics. This weekly series does just that: inquiring about the expert perspectives of many of these individuals in a series of short topical features.
This edition features Christian Niederauer, Global Head of Insights, Colgate-Palmolive. Christian discusses his perspective on how research and insights impact the consumer packaged goods industry with both products and consumers.
Crispin: Christian, you’ve worked in global insights leadership roles for much of your career. Are there significant differences between countries or brands on how to operate most effectively?
There are certainly differences between markets, but when you dig deeper to understand the underlying motivations and desires of consumers, you quickly realise that there are a lot of commonalities. So, instead of looking at regional differences, I prefer to identify more people-centric clusters based on need states or cultural tribes. I guess that is also why many big brands are successful globally with limited local adaptations.”
Crispin: How critical is customer insight for CPG brands in today’s market?
I might be a bit biased, but I passionately believe that having the right insight at the right time enables all functions, teams, and individuals to perform at their best through people-centric decision-making. This hasn’t changed over time, and I would even argue that insights are a key differentiator in our VUCA world today.”
Crispin: Is using insights to drive commercial decisions increasing or decreasing in the CPG sector, and why do you think that is happening?
As mentioned before, change is happening faster, and in particular, the role of predictive insights is therefore increasing. In the last couple of years, I have also seen a shift to focus more on market pulls by understanding people’s needs instead of just pushing new technology or products just because we have them.”
Crispin: What data types are used to develop insights for CPG brands and products?
Primary research, i.e., claimed behaviour from surveys, still plays an important role. Still, we are increasingly trying to leverage observational data feeds from ratings and reviews or consumer interactions with our contact centres. With its robust capabilities in handling and interpreting complex datasets, AI is opening up new opportunities every day, and we are just at the beginning.”
Crispin: Does increased competition and a changing customer base influence how CPG brands gather insights?
Yes and no. Yes, because we have to be more agile by adapting quickly to market changes or trends. No, because you must stay true to your brand as consistency and focus on your core strengths are building trust and a loyal consumer base in the long run.”
Crispin: Has the profile of the average Colgate-Palmolive customer evolved over the last decade, and what factors drive these changes?
The key change is that there isn’t something like the average customer or consumer anymore. People demand individualised solutions that fit their specific needs. Globalisation, information democratisation, and the rise of omnichannel offerings are key drivers here. But this makes our job so interesting as you can’t just launch a one-size-fits-all every three years if you want to drive incremental growth.”
Crispin: What are the key differentiating factors for understanding your customers: frequency of use, demographics (gender, age, ethnicity), geographies (US vs. Europe), etc.?
Standard metrics from syndicated data like demographics or panel-based consumption behaviour are still important, but without a deeper as well as a more nuanced understanding of motivations, pain points, or jobs to be done, you won’t be able to come up with winning solutions and successful strategies.”
Crispin: What role do insights play in attracting new customers and moving them from occasional customers to regular users and brand advocates?
That’s a hot topic for us at the moment. With one of our key agency partners, Kantar, we started our journey towards sustained brand growth. Here, we look at all the data sources mentioned above to find common patterns and validate paths to success. Insights and Analytics are the two main teams in this project, but we collaborate closely with many stakeholders from functions like marketing, customer development, R&D, etc.”
Crispin: Can you provide an example of a critical insight that fundamentally changed a product decision or marketing strategy at Colgate-Palmolive? How do you ensure such insights are effectively communicated and implemented across various departments?
I can’t go into too much detail here because this is our secret sauce. So, let’s take a step back: We all have some examples of that big aha moment or killer insights, but those are rare even when you have an amazing insights team like we have at Colgate-Palmolive. It’s more important to manage and leverage up-to-date information at scale, allowing us to make insights accessible and actionable all the time. The best way to do this is by having an effective knowledge management approach, a people-centric mindset, and strategic partnerships with internal stakeholders or decision-makers.”
Hot topic: Market evolution
Crispin: How do you see the CPG Insights space evolving?
I see artificial intelligence, particularly the generative AI models, as a transformative force in our field. Amidst the apprehensions surrounding AI, I am genuinely excited about its potential to revolutionise consumer insights by its unprecedented ability to analyse complex data sets quickly and accurately.”
Be curious. Curiosity paired with a passion for uncovering new insights, always using cutting-edge approaches are key success factors from my perspective.”
Crispin: Thank you, Christian, for this insightful perspective on how insights are elevating the CPG industry. It’s great to get a look at the industry through your global perspective, particularly with how data-driven understanding and artificial intelligence are impacting the industry. Thank you for your time and expertise.