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For many companies in the CPG vertical, driving value creation has become increasingly difficult. But disruptions can also present new opportunities.

The webinar Chasing Sustainable Growth was a discussion on how anchoring strategies and plans in consumption and occasion demand can create value around the importance of cohesion across functions to deliver winning results. Occasion-based planning, and how it can help CPGs take a more holistic planning perspective, took center stage and sparked insights from:

  • Nathan Linkon, Portfolio Strategy Director Europe at PepsiCo
  • Scott Boyle, E2E Planning Director at Diageo
  • Sinan Erhan, Global VP, Industry Solutions at o9 Solutions
  • Victor Farnese, Director, Revenue Solutions at o9 Solutions

The group shared many examples of how the industry is changing, such as how shifting consumer shopping behaviors and business models that are increasingly powered by AI can create a path to advantage and value creation.
Occasion-based planning focuses on understanding the shape of demand that needs to be met through building customer awareness around specific products, ensuring product availability in the right locations, and precision positioning of products in a way that targets an unmet need or entering a space that can take market share from competitors. Through occasion-based planning, CPG companies can viably gain a deeper knowledge of their customers’ buying preferences by understanding:

  • What’s the need and what are the key drivers?
  • Who are the individuals and what are they celebrating?
  • What’s the context of the occasion?

“That becomes the translating layer… if we’re all focused on the same point of consumer demand, then in theory that should ensure all of our activations are nicely integrated,” says Nathan Linkon. “Understanding demand and calling that occasion-based planning is probably more table stakes than ever before.”

Occasion-based planning can redefine categories

Linkon also spoke about how the occasion-based approach allows CPGs to not only better understand what’s driving consumer demand, but to redefine the ways that they think about a category and find emerging opportunities based upon consumer behaviors.

“If I take the snacking category for example, understanding what a consumer considers a snack is really the first step that gets you away from those internally-focused financial metrics and actually makes it easier to identify opportunities for growth. If a consumer is taking leftover lasagna and calling it a snack, we need to know that because that’s a need that could be met by a current or future product.” says Linkon. “It allows us to look at our portfolio of brands and make sure each is anchored in a purpose that is incremental.”

Occasion-based planning also gives CPGs the ability to plan and align product branding, messaging and campaigns cross-functionally at a global scale for consistency while still having the flexibility to make adjustments at the local market level to help brands better resonate with customers.

Aligning occasion-based planning with financial-driven results

One of the challenges CPG companies have is finding a sustainable mix of achieving quarterly financial and sales targets while still focusing on longer-term growth initiatives. An occasion-based planning focus can provide context into what’s driving consumer purchases and guide holistic conversations that dive into the purpose of an initiative, aside from achieving financial and volume targets.

“Everybody speaks the language of occasions and that’s what everybody wants; and everyone speaks a financial language as well,” says Victor Farnese. “What we see a lot is companies being more focused on, or solely focused on, achieving financial targets and volume targets but not always the context behind those targets. [Occasion-based planning] can drive the whole organization to think beyond only financials and bring in more focus around what objectives should be achieved out of that.”

Impact of portfolio composition on implementing occasion-based growth strategies

Another topic brought up was cohesion across portfolios to create consistency across messaging, occasion-based activation strategies, and brand experience for the customer. Scott Boyle mentioned that Diageo is introducing a cross-functional task force that focuses on global above market-level initiatives on the brand’s most important categories. Nathan added that the bigger challenge is bringing this cohesion across all aspects of the brand growth strategy, from marketing building out the strategy to design and messaging, to product, to how sales teams engage with distributors and retailers so that everyone is “speaking the same language and building that vocabulary.”

Brands often have different markets and different portfolio structures and teams need to understand when it’s best to use a traditional strategy and when an occasion-focused approach is more effective. Both Linkon and Boyle agreed that CPGs often approach this by planning and aligning product branding, messaging and campaigns cross-functionally at a global scale for consistency while still having the flexibility to make adjustments at the local market level to help brands better resonate with customers.

Incorporating data into the equation

In order to enable targeting the right customers on the right occasions, executives need to leverage proprietary technologies to unlock a scalable occasion-based planning approach.

Depending on the market, gaining visibility into data based upon every single occasion in every single market can be challenging – different levels of data richness and availability can put an immediate constraint on granularity. Linkon says some CPGs find creative ways to source data from syndicated providers, such as acquiring first-party data through partnerships and having “enough in the right places to make the best educated decisions, even in places where we don’t have a lot of transparency at all.” Boyle also points out the most common data challenges: having too much data, having not enough data, or not knowing how to use or get value out of the data.

A centralized approach about data acquisition and how it is analyzed and applied strategically at a global level can help to solve for data disparities and make a case for why occasion-focused data is worth the investment. “You can harness it in your business unit that you already have and use that as a business case for finance and spread that knowledge within the organization, not as a local effort but as part of a global program.” Victor says.

The role of tech in occasion-based planning

Technology plays a significant role in occasion-based planning as it can help CPG companies bridge data gaps. Relying on AI and an effective technology stack that can harmonize occasion data, transaction data, depletion data, etc., to provide insights into where the occasion-based opportunities are and how to develop an effective strategy to execute. An integrated business planning (IBP) platform can take scrubbed data and relies on AI/ML technology to configure this data into nuanced patterns, essentially connecting the dots that ultimately fill the data gaps and provide planners with the insights to determine what resources need to be allocated towards occasion-based assortment planning.

Leveraging technology to build processes that create greater cohesion

To conclude the discussion, the group focused on how technology is a connecting layer that enables processes that lead to better decision-making, sustainable growth, and ultimately better investment returns. Technology can also bring together fragmented processes and siloed departments to align across larger business initiatives and opportunities that lead to greater growth.

If you are drawing a line from understanding demand, understanding occasions, understanding where your battlegrounds and must-win battles are, then drive that throughout the organization,” says Linkon.  “Then you can compliment that with other pieces of data that are going to help a revenue manager identify what’s the best promo on shelf price, because all of that information is linked back to a set of information about the customer.” 

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