Back to the Future with Tina Tonielli (GSK)

The pandemic reality forced many of us to take a few steps backwards – to rewind and reset – in order to surf this incremental wave of change. Research and insight professionals have been challenged to rethink long-standing practices and approaches in order to navigate brands through these disruptive times. To understand the impact of the pandemic on the future of market research, we connected with CMI experts around the world in a series of ‘Back to the Future’ interviews.

In this interview, Jeff Haselum, Global Client Partner at InSites Consulting US, connects with Tina Tonielli, Americas Lead, Consumer Business Insights and Analytics at GSK, to talk about the role of forecasting and consumer centricity in this pandemic reality.

#Pre-corona data and insights are no longer relevant today

Q: Are consumer insights gathered before the COVID-19 outbreak relevant today? Have foresights become more important than insights, and how do they interplay?

“We have to look at data gathered before COVID with a grain of salt, but it’s an important grain of salt. In the past, predictive analytics and building models were really hot in our industry. But today it’s impossible to have a predictive model, because no model would have predicted COVID. We have to be a whole lot more creative – fusing ‘art’ and ‘science’ – in our approaches.

To do this, we combine different disciplines in our forecasting team: finance, analytics, and consumer insight professionals. To build forecasts, we start with looking at trends, sort of doing the math. Then, we look at it from a consumer behavioral perspective, asking ourselves what would need to become true to support the math we’re doing, and whether it makes sense. Next, the consumer insight professionals add their view based on what they’re seeing and hearing from consumers. It includes a lot of listening and talking to consumers to understand what they mean, and that’s where a lot of the ‘art’ comes in.

Bringing all these disciplines together allows us to stand by our forecasts and say: “we think this is as right as we can possibly be today”. It’s about having assumptions that we can all feel good about. Via an iterative approach, we then constantly update our assumptions, based on what’s happening in reality and what we learn. But again, that updating of our assumptions, is a team effort. It’s about bringing multiple pieces of the puzzle together: what does the math tell us, what does finance add, and what do we hear from the consumer?”

#We’ve never been as consumer-centric as we are now

Q: We all became much more consumer-centric due to COVID-19; how will we keep this up post-lockdown?

“In the past, we often focused on really specific questions – micro aspects of our category – when we talked to consumers. Think for example about the use of a product in very specific usage occasions, how much of a certain ingredient we needed to include, or what terminology we should use when talking about our products. Over the last couple of months, we did a really nice job in connecting to consumers to talk about their lives, not about us. It was necessary for us to zoom out to this macro-level and rather understand the context in which consumers were using our products. As their lives changed so dramatically, it also meant that the context of our products changed. So, everything we thought we knew about our products almost changed overnight.

Capturing the context of our consumers’ lives was a great unifying need that we had for every single one of our categories. The pressure to understand our consumers more at a macro level comes when there’s a macro crisis, like COVID-19. The question now is how we take this forward in the future. To be fair, our consumers might not care much about the wording we use to talk about our products, but there are topics they really care about – like the health of our nation or the health of our economy – that influence their context, and thus how they think about our products. So, we need to understand their macro context. I don’t think we’re going to come out of this pandemic in the next six months, so it will be a challenge for us to keep talking to consumers on a more regular basis about what matters in their context, in their life.”

In summary, connecting with consumers about their lives is key for brands to understand how the macro context impacts product use and consumption. Foresighting stimulates that understanding, but demands a multi-disciplinary approach – fusing ‘art’ and ‘science’ – to be truly valuable.

Hungry for more? Stay tuned as we will release more ‘Back to the Future’ interviews in the coming weeks!

Interested to read more on how COVID-19 increased the need for strong consumers insights and consumer centricity? Check out our interviews with Pernod Ricard, Philips, Bankwest, The Arnott’s Group and Aveo.

Or get in touch to find out how we can guide you to get a grip on the changes impacting categories, consumers and brands across the globe.

Back to the Future interview series

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Tom De Ruyck
Thoughtleader Future of Research
Managing Partner

Contact Tom