Consumer Goods Business and Technology Leadership Conference 2017

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It was the year of the consumer at the Consumer Goods Business and Technology Leadership (CGBTL) Conference. Sounds redundant, I know. Stick with me.

Last year’s conference was an amalgam of supply chain, advertising, brand development and product packaging. All of these areas revolve around consumer need in a distant, aggregate way. But this year was different. This year, there were several distinct trends in the sessions that speak to the core of the consumer goods industry shifting from a consumer needs focus to a consumer relationship focus.

Below, I’ve called out a few thoughts overheard this year that represent the challenges and solutions the industry is facing.

The way the consumer plays the game is changing.

Consumers are increasingly looking for a relationship with a brand. They call it “leadership,” but they have completely redefined what leadership means. Rather than the best products, the newest technology, or the most relevant positioning, they are looking for a company that is relatable, authentic and trustworthy. Consumers increasingly want to feel as though they are buying into an experience, a story or a cause that says something about who they are and what they care about.

The consumer wants what they want when they want it, how they want it.

Consumers are on laptops, mobile devices and a variety of online networks where they expect to be able to interact with their brands. Before ever walking into a store, consumers research the brands and the products they intend to buy. They listen to reviews from complete strangers on what to purchase and where. Consumer goods companies need to be where its consumers are: anywhere, anytime.

Disrupters can’t be ignored.

More than one session mentioned specific instances of disruptive companies rocking the landscape for traditional consumer goods organizations. The companies are born in the internet age. They have a message consumers believe in, they treat customers as individuals and they foster consumer relationships through social media.

One question came up a few times: Do consumer goods companies need to get into retail? Not necessarily. The appeal of online retail can’t be ignored, but the underlying reason for the success is the establishment of a direct relationship with the consumer. That should be the focus.

I don’t want your ideas. I just want your good ideas.

This was a great comment from keynote speaker Luke Williams, author of Disrupt, Professor of Marketing at NYU Stern School of Busines, and Executive Director of the Berkley Entrepreneurship Center for Innovation at New York University. In context, this is about being open to experimentation: try new things, make small bets. Consumer goods companies need to invest in ways to establish a relationship with its consumer. Companies need to get more data, understand customers as individuals and figure out the right way to cultivate a relationship that will provide a loyal customer for years to come.

So what does this all mean? More than ever consumers are looking to engage with companies directly – so try it. Hire that social media person to respond to customer tweets and Facebook messages in a voice that’s consistent with your brand. Try a campaign that encourages your customers to interact with you and use that information to start the iterative process of deepening your relationship. If your customers are known, get to know them better, in a more personal way. Ask them a simple question if they’re on your site and use the answer to personalize the way you treat them. There are myriad ways to do it – and there’s no prescription for success, but engaging consumers through your authentic voice and treating them as individuals is the path forward to gain loyal, delighted customers.

If you’re interested, take a look at how Janrain is helping consumer goods companies engage with customers and create those unique and personalized experiences.