In this issue of ConsumerCurrents we explore the ways in which consumer brands are innovating to keep up with the rapidly evolving needs of their customers, and to pursue opportunities often overlooked by their competitors. In particular, we explore how India, as the world’s second-most populous nation, presents a tremendous opportunity for brands looking to expand, and how an understanding of local and diverse preferences is key to thriving in this dynamic market. We talk to Diageo CEO Ivan Menezes about his company’s success at reading market signals early and responding to volatility faster, and examine how retail companies are striving to meet the need for experienced and digital-savvy staff at the managerial level.
“However beautiful the strategy is,” Winston Churchill once remarked, “you should occasionally look at the results.” That has seldom been more apt than in today’s global consumer marketplace, where simply knowing what your customers really want has become exponentially more complex than it was before the advent of smartphones, the internet and social media.
You get a sense of the scale of the task from the industry leaders who feature in this edition of ConsumerCurrents. On p20, Michele Buck, incoming President and Chief Executive Officer of Hershey, sums up the group’s transformation in one telling phrase: “We’re a knowledge company that happens to make chocolate and candy.” The company’s founder, Milton S. Hershey, made caramels by hand when he started the business in 1894. Today, the group has its own ‘mission control’ to track, in real time, the discussion of its brands on social media.
On p6, Ivan Menezes, Chief Executive Officer of Diageo, the drinks company with a portfolio of world-famous brands, defines his task in simple terms: “The biggest challenge I give myself is how do you keep a large company feeling small?” The power, value and reach of Diageo brands such as Johnnie Walker whiskey, Tanqueray gin and Smirnoff vodka is immense but that hasn’t stopped the company innovating, either by developing new products internally or investing in promising start-ups. For Menezes, the need to innovate is so compelling that the group is raising productivity so it can reinvest the gains to drive growth.
It’s important to be clear about what digital technology hasn’t changed in the consumer industry. As Sir Ian Cheshire, chairman of British retail icon Debenhams, succinctly notes on p14: “Retail remains a business where you sell goods that don’t come back to people who do.” Debenhams’ customers do come back – they typically visit their stores once a week. Even so, Sir Ian recognizes that his business needs new skills – and a greater diversity of experience – to flourish in a marketplace where customers expect to buy what they want, where they want and however they want.
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