What’s driving success for top brands?

A study of over-performing companies shows what they're doing right when it comes to insights and analytics.

Integrating data into consumer-facing functions and embracing experimentation are leading to better company performance, according to recent research done as part of “Insights2020,” an initiative aimed at helping companies be more consumer-centric.

Earlier this month at the ACA’s Executive Forum, Mario Simon, CEO of global consultancy Kantar Vermeer, presented a study that included more than 10,000 survey respondents and 300 qualitative interviews in 60 different markets, representing business leaders from large companies across different sectors. It found that a common factor driving growth at over-performing companies (in the top quintile of revenue performance) was leadership embracing the effort to be more customer-centric.

Simon says that while he was expecting concerns around tech, big data and software to feature in the survey, most of what was brought forth was about leadership.

The things that had the biggest impact on the business of over-performers could largely be divided into three categories: the external, total experience a customer has with a brand or company; the internal structures that help the company be customer-centric; and having an “insights engine” that powers both.

One driver for creating a total customer experience was being purpose-led (according to 80% of over-performing companies, compared to 32% of those under-performing). Companies start by expressing that purpose in a brand communication (instead of just being functional or emotional), but the successful ones then integrate that purpose across their entire marketing mix and in all of their business functions.

Another example (according to 73% of over-performers and  31% of under-performers) is creating experience based on data-driven insights. Most over-performing brands start with a broad value proposition before moving on to segmentation, then to more detailed micro-targeting and finally to one-on-one interaction and customization.

Internally, the biggest driver of growth was having a customer-centric approach embraced by every function within the company (79% of over-performers, versus 13% of under-performers). Most companies have their data owned by their insights and analytics teams, but more successful ones integrate that data into their consumer-facing functions, before incorporating it into non-marketing decisions and finding ways to align it with external partners.

Experimentation is another important driver but one that isn’t being embraced as much as it could be. Forty per cent of top performers and 13% of under-performers are embracing experimentation and risk, something Simon says speaks to how large companies tend to be organized.

“Risk and experimentation are what these companies were designed to avoid,” he says. “Financial analysts discount companies that have erratic returns and take risks, and benefit companies that are very stable and non-risky. But in a world of disruption, we need a different mindset to compete. Unilever isn’t just competing with P&G, they’re competing with all kinds of small companies that are coming up, creating their own thing and biting at the heels.”

Companies that embrace experimentation have part of their budgets allocated to experimenting and taking risks, and encourage employees to do so by making it part of their job function.

Simon singled out a few key elements for developing a data “insights engine,” including having data and analytics leadership report directly to the company’s C-suite, and focusing on collecting data that can be effectively synthesized and used.