How are big brands brushing up on customer understanding this year?


Brain trust: how are you developing a deeper understanding of customers this year?

Brand leaders at Johnson & Johnson, Heineken and GoDaddy share how they’re enriching their understanding of customers even further in 2019.

This article originally appeared in The Truth IssueMarketing‘s first print issue for 2019.

Louisa Thraves, head of media and connections, Johnson & Johnson

The first area would be around the data we’re collecting and the insights we can get from it. It’s a big opportunity for us. As a business, J&J doesn’t own a lot of first party data. We don’t own the end sale and the transaction – the retailers own that. So we’re starting to map out all of the different data sources we do have available to us. It may not be our sales data directly, but data we get through media interactions, owned channels and second-party data partnerships. In order to help us in this area we’ve brought in a new role: audience and insights analyst. This role focuses on piecing together that data and building insights from it so that we can then better target our consumers.

Off the back of targeting, it’s about what we learn from that; making sure it’s a cyclical process, where we then look at the results and how we can translate them into further insights, to target again. We target, we look at results and we track against KPIs, but prior to having this role in-house, we haven’t had a dedicated resource to see what’s out there in the data.

The key thing is moving away from the old-fashioned approach of demographics. In FMCGs, some companies own a lot of data and have done this really well, but some more traditional companies still tend to think and brief in terms of demographics. Diversity and inclusion is a big thing for J&J. We need to consider it when we’re thinking about our consumers and not lump them into one ‘women aged 25-54’ bucket, for example, but instead actually understand the individual, who they are and what drives them.


William Papesch, global marketing manager, Heineken

Beer marketers are lucky – we work in a highly emotive category where we are gatekeepers of brands rich in history that are often ingrained in the cultural footprint of a country. As a result, consumer insights are easy to come by, with passionate consumers who are vocal about purchase habits and the quality of brand communication.

At Heineken, international beer brands like Tiger are continually searching for the right balance between global consistency and local relevance, negotiating the obstacles of translating global strategy into successful local execution. For a brand like Tiger, the starting point in understanding local insights is to ensure we’re keeping our finger on the pulse and making sure we immerse ourselves in the bars and restaurants where consumers experience our brands. Additionally, trends can move quickly and staying relevant – especially when we are targeting young adults within premium environments – can be challenging and costly, and come with high risk if solutions are unproven.

In these situations an incubation approach can be successfully applied to prove a business case and gain more insight into the customer and consumer before launching at scale. Tiger Beer applied this approach in Australia and New Zealand where we were able to confirm unique consumer insights and a differentiated channel strategy before sharing and reapplying learnings globally.

In emerging countries, simplicity done right, first time and at scale can have a massive impact. In these markets, however, beer brands are regularly faced with a consumer insight that’s fundamentally different to those of more developed markets, or a global insight that doesn’t apply. In these markets, we often need to move fast to implement a tailored approach or commission comprehensive consumer research to generate deeper insights.

A more successful and pragmatic strategy can be partnering with one market where a local consumer insight is strong, and there is clear potential for broader application.


Tracy Hall, marketing director, GoDaddy

The digital world gives on-demand access to research and data to learn more about your customers, but no amount of online resources can replace actual human interaction and conversation. It’s these personal exchanges that we will be looking to have more of throughout 2019, in order to develop a deeper understanding of current and prospective GoDaddy customers. Without discounting the valuable assistance online resources can provide in understanding more about customer demographics and behaviour, it can be easy for companies to fall into the trap of relying too heavily on this information.

Making the time to have face to face conversations with not only your customers, but also with other people in your network can go a long way to understanding the ins and outs of consumer behaviour. For me, it’s talking to everyone – from small business owners in my neighbourhood to the start-up entrepreneurs at WeWork and even Uber drivers who have multiple side hustles – that can offer some of the best insight into our customers.

What never fails to surprise me is the amount of insight I can collect from just a few conversations with business owners, discussing in-depth their challenges, drivers and what they may need from a brand like GoDaddy to help them succeed.
Conversations with customers that may have their products with a competitor can also offer a fresh perspective. It gives understanding into what draws customers to another brand, and their motivations for staying there. Speaking with the everyday Aussies who interact with small businesses in their day-to-day lives – for things like beauty, home maintenance, food and pharmacy needs – can also offer interesting insight.

Building relationships with your company’s community can be a door to a deeper understanding of how and why customers use your product. It can help you to better understand their expectations of your offering, and assist you in developing a set of experiences better suited to them. This can not only help to instil trust between your company and customers, but also help build you a loyal customer base.

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