Are P&G & Wal-Mart enemies!

Procter & Gamble (P&G), the world’s biggest consumer goods company, has been exploring a long-term partnership with Future Group akin to the one it has with Walmart in the US, that could involve joint sales forecasting and planning, exclusive product releases.

And yet in the US, there have been signs of tension between these giants.

Wal-Mart is focusing on improving the store’s physical image by reducing clutter and focusing on private label brands that offer consumers the chance to save more.P&G on the other hand, wants Wal-Mart to accelerate sales of its products, maintain higher prices on some of its key items and provide additional shelf space. This battle will continue & it will interesting to watch how it pans out in India, where P&G has less clout. And yet FMCG companies are operating in a “data dark” environment where they have hardly any data about customers. So on one side, the huge walled gardens of Facebook, Amazon & Google are forcing them to spend money on Digital media & on the other side Retailers like Wal-mart have consistently build a treasure trove of customer data.

FMCG companies can use the data produced by Retailers very effectively. Organized Retail is still small in terms of sales contribution for most FMCG’s companies in India. But this will change over time & it would be interesting to see how Retailers & FMCG companies develop their relationships! Western countries have adopted these partnerships, calling them Efficient Consumer Response initiatives (ECR).

It’s amazing; P&G was always the bully till the early 1980’s. It used the enormous consumer data that it obtained through market research to bully retailers! Then retailer’s developed sophisticated Point of sale systems & began to bully P&G right back. Wall mart was of course the gorilla of the pack. And yet surprisingly, in the mid 1980’s, this adversarial relationship between the two gorillas began to change!

Robert McDonald was the P&G CEO & was a man on a mission: to make Procter & Gamble the most technologically enabled business in the world. To get there, the 31-year company veteran and former US Army captain oversaw the large-scale application of digital technology and advanced analytics across every aspect of P&G’s operations and activities. Here is what he says:

“It would be heretical in this company to say that data are more valuable than a brand, but it’s the data sources that help create the brand and keep it dynamic. So those data sources are incredibly important. Therefore, we go to the extreme to protect whatever consumer data we get. It’s a board-level enterprise risk-management issue for us”

Hearing this from P&G is truly heretical-can data rival Brand equity in the P&G world! I wrote about this earlier. How companies store, transform & use their data will become as potent a marketing tool as Brand equity itself! Companies have huge amounts of data now and there is technology & skill sets available to decode it.

If used powerfully enough, data about a customer can transform the customer experience!

Here is another comment from Robert McDonald about P&G’s data partnerships: “For companies like ours that rely on external data partners, getting the data becomes part of the currency for the relationship. When we do joint business planning with retailers, for example, we have a scorecard, and the algorithm is all about value creation. Getting data becomes a big part of the value for us, and it’s a big part of how we work together. We have analytic capabilities that many retailers don’t have, so often we can use the data to help them decide how to merchandise or market their business in a positive way”.

P&G’s Gillette unit, for example, claims to have mined Wal-Mart data to develop promotions that increased sales as much as 19 percent. More than seventeen thousand suppliers are given access to their products’ Wal-Mart performance across metrics that include daily sales, shipments, returns, purchase orders, invoices, claims and forecasts. And these suppliers collectively interrogate Wal-Mart data warehouses to the tune of twenty-one million queries a year

In India, the first meeting on ECR took place on 10 December, 1999. The attendees included representatives from J&J, Nestle and erstwhile FoodWorld & PwC. But I wonder how this initiative has developed or are we in the stage where FMCG companies are the bullies in the neighborhood !! I am sure there will be some startups who are trying to disrupt the FMCG space!

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