I commenced my marketing career as a digital marketing executive in the music industry. Afterwards, I served at three technology start-ups, an established technology solutions & transaction services business, found my way to a telecommunications business and then went to a digital marketing agency where I managed various fast-moving consumer goods clients. I’ve remained within the fast-moving consumer goods industry ever since, having contributed my expertise to the growth of several global brands across Africa.
FMCG companies are some of my most admired companies in the world. I see the big and oldest FMCGs as the bedrock of many professional functions (e.g. Marketing, Sales, Engineering, Supply Chain Management, Human Resources Management etc.). Their huge investments in cutting edge manufacturing technology blow my mind. FMCGs have stayed relevant over many years & industrialization eras due to their constant innovation especially in manufacturing & product formulation. However, for many years in the FMCG world, communication, insight generation for innovation and consumer engagement has taken place through 3rd parties and several middlemen but with the changing competitive landscape and need for speed, it has become imperative to focus more on direct engagement with consumers and better-optimized use of consumer data. This is where consumer apps come in!
Consumer apps exist in the “digital world” to serve a similar purpose to consumer-packaged goods in the “real world”. In case you do not understand me yet, consumer apps are a wide range of applications available on the internet that serve a wide range of people across demographics, psychographics, nationalities etc. The market-leading consumer apps (e.g. Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, TikTok, Spotify, YouTube) are usually mobile apps, popular across Android and iOS app stores. They are listed under various categories, such as health, entertainment, finance, games, music, news, and travel, among others. A key similarity between consumer goods and consumer apps is that both help consumers in their day to day tasks and both form a key part of consumers’ everyday life.
So why should a consumer goods company consider launching a consumer app? There are many reasons why this should be considered however I will touch on the below 3 reasons which I consider to be of utmost importance.
- The changing landscape of marketing & advertising: traditional advertising, especially TV advertising is intrusive & disruptive to the viewer. Over the last few years, there has been an increasing focus on engaging consumers through their passion points. Digital has also empowered consumers with choice. They choose what content to consume and what content to ignore. Advertising content has increasingly gained notoriety for being ignored by consumers both online & offline, Ad Blockers are at an all-time high in terms of usage and all these undermine the effectiveness of the advertising budget. The cookie-less world is almost here & data policies are changing such that FMCGs may no longer find 2nd party data providers dependable. Consumer apps provide a new opportunity to invest the marketing & advertising budget, reach and engage a critical mass of consumers and tap into real-time insights that will drive the growth of FMCGs going into the future.
Access to real-time data & larger sample size to drive consumer insight generation & product innovation: today many FMCGs rely on market research agencies for market data & insight generation but it is getting clearer by the day, that many market research agencies lack the speed and agility to generate insights at the fast pace required in the current competitive environment. Consumer apps have the power to bridge this gap. Although consumer apps may not replace research agencies immediately, they hold a huge potential to detect real-time consumer interests and trends at scale. These apps can provide insights to FMCG companies with the speed of light so FMCGs can set their innovation agendas in motion faster than ever. A consumer app reaching 1 million consumers, for example, provides the FMCG business with a larger sample size than most research agencies can provide. Consumer apps can also be harnessed for brand safety purposes including detection of fake products.
- Mobile devices are centres of attention, taking up a high share of the consumer’s time every day: why do FMCG brands sponsor big concerts, popular TV shows etc? My answer is that brands do this to leverage the high level of “attention” provided by these platforms. The mobile device has become an always-on centre of attention for the consumer, taking a large chunk of the 24 hours available to every consumer every day. What better way to connect with today’s consumer than to provide them value on a platform with such a high share of their attention? Consumer apps go beyond regular content deployment on social media pages or launching mobile campaigns for temporary transactional engagement, consumer apps can engage consumers on an always-on basis through their passion points & needs on their most used device, the mobile phone.
Against the backdrop of these reasons, you might ask the question – what kinds of consumer apps can FMCGs launch to engage consumers at scale? Just like the previous question, there is an infinite number of consumer app categories that can serve consumer goods, however, I will share 3 consumer app categories which are proven to be valuable to consumers and can be of great benefit to FMCGs.
- Passion Point Apps: FMCG brands are built around a boiling pot of passion points, from sports to cooking to beauty to fashion, the list goes on and on. Consumer apps built around relevant passion points can bring target groups together at scale and brands can engage them with content and harness the opportunity to generate insights and drive product innovation. Personalization of marketing communication at scale is also made possible through passion point apps. Nike is a great example of a brand with great passion point apps and this was key to the resilience of the business when the COVID-19 lockdown forced the temporary closure of their stores & experience centres worldwide.
Knowledge & Thought Leadership Apps: consumers have an endless list of questions especially in certain life stages or occasions hence they seek for knowledge. The search for knowledge has been key to the growth of Google over the years and this gives a great cue for FMCGs as well. Consumer apps providing knowledge and thought leadership on specific topics that matter to FMCG brands and their consumers can bring together the target group of the said brands at scale. Categories such as Baby Care, Feminine Care, Pregnancy, Pharmaceuticals etc. can play strongly in terms of engaging consumers through consumer apps that answer their burning questions & provide answers from trusted sources.
Tools & Utility Apps: utility apps are specialized apps that support several personal and business activities like a reminder, to-do list, scheduling & time management apps, travel planners etc. They come handy for consumers daily as they are key to staying organized throughout the day. Many FMCG brands have the opportunity to engage consumers through utility apps, especially consumer good brands that are closely linked to key daily habits of the consumer.
When it comes to technology and marketing, the questions are often endless, and this creates a huge room for constant innovation. One more question I would like to answer is “what goes into the creation & maintenance of consumer apps?” If you are a leader within FMCG and looking to kick-start your consumer app journey, please be sure to take the following into consideration in addition to budgeting.
- Consumer Centricity: a precise understanding of consumers and their mobile app usage holds the key to launching a sustainable consumer app. FMCG leaders need to start by conducting in-depth research on consumer behaviour in this area to develop an understanding of consumer motivations, triggers & barriers to the usage of consumer apps, usage patterns, drivers of engagement, drivers of churn, drivers of acquisition as well as a great understanding of what it takes to delight consumers at scale via consumer apps.
Organizational Data Strategy: consumer apps give FMCGs direct access to consumer data hence, it is key to establish an organizational-wide strategy in terms of managing data. The strategy must put into consideration the overarching laws and regulations as touching data privacy. The strategy must also align with industry standards and state clearly how the organisation intends to capture consumer data, analyse, and leverage the same for commercial purposes. All stakeholders involved in the setup and maintenance of consumer apps must have their pulse on the policies, data strategy and other legislation around the subject matter to prevent any violation of relevant policies.
- Consumer App Strategy: this should be a part of the overall digital strategy of the organization and it should be a plan stating clearly how the organization intends to engage with consumers via apps. It should cover the Do’s & Don’ts as well as all rules of engagement as touching consumer apps. It is always good to test on one or two brands, take learnings, establish app-market fit before rolling out to other brands or investing in aggressive consumer acquisition via consumer apps.
Cross-Functional Capabilities: historically, some of the skill sets required to build consumer apps have not been internally available within FMCGs, however, when companies choose to hire the technology & software experts, there must be a strong synergy between them and staff who already have a good understanding of the business. This is the only way a successful collaboration can be achieved as FMCGs are not traditionally known for hiring software development talent while software developers outside the FMCG industry are limited in their knowledge and understanding of the workings of an FMCG business. The team responsible for the conceptualization, development, launch & sustenance of a consumer app within an FMCG should consist of Software Subject Matter Experts, Content Creation & Curation Experts, Consumer Engagement Experts, Consumer & Market Insights Experts, as well as Legal & Regulatory Experts, however, this list is not exhaustive.
Agility & Continuous Improvement: this is of the essence if success is to be achieved at scale. The team in charge of a consumer app must be flexible & nimble, taking learnings at the speed of light and improving at the same speed to keep consumers engaged and coming for more. The digital world is filled with excitement and change drives this excitement hence FMCGs looking to launch consumer apps must be ready to change at the pace of excitement. The Facebook suite of apps owe a lot of their success to their speed in terms of change and offering exciting new features to consumers to keep them engaged, which in turn, prevents switching to the competition. The same applies to consumer apps built by FMCGs.
I imagine a future where investment in consumer interaction/consumer-facing digital technology is proven to be just as vital as the investment in capital expenditure such as machinery in the large FMCG world. Given the trends and data on current consumer behaviour, I believe that consumer apps will completely revolutionize the way marketing teams spend their advertising and marketing budget as we proceed into the future. As I drop my pen and anticipate your questions & contributions, I would like to reiterate that the key issue is bridging the gap between FMCGs and their large consumer base. While there are other solutions to this, the use of Consumer Apps provides FMCGs with the opportunity to go beyond transactional data collection relationships with consumers to providing added value to their core products and at the same time access real-time data to drive all 6Ps of marketing including Price, Proposition, Product, Pack, Place and Promotion.