For nearly two years, consumer goods marketing teams have been reacting to consumer behavioral changes. Data and forecasts built in 2019 went out the window as every entity from field to fork tried desperately just to keep up. And we’re nowhere near a return to normal.

So, with 2022 right around the corner, the question is not when will we return to normal, but how can we fix a system that is long overdue for a makeover? The stark reality is that consumer goods companies — especially food brands — are woefully behind the times when it comes to marketing insights, smart analytics and an ability to flex with changing behaviors. And at the root of this is an outdated, disconnected technology stack that is limiting agility and proactive decision-making.

A History of Being ‘Late to the Party’

The Digital Quotient survey by McKinsey & Company pointed out that the consumer products segment is among the least digitally mature industries. Even more concerning is that many of the largest, most established brands are the farthest behind. This is problematic because it limits a company’s ability to be agile and meet consumers at the point of demand. And McKinsey also points out that being a technology laggard limits overall financial performance.

Historically, food brands have experienced three main challenges when it comes to understanding and adjusting to market changes. First, corporate planning processes tend to be slow. Second, revenue growth management professionals often lack the skills to accommodate rapid change. And finally, many consumer goods organizations lack the ability to connect sufficient data and analytics tools to decision-making because of disconnected technology and tools. This forces teams to make guesstimations and gut-based decisions for critical functions such as marketing, manufacturing, distribution and logistics.

[See also: Retail and Consumer Goods Analytics Study: Where Do We Go From Here?]

An Accenture survey of 190 executives in the U.S. confirmed this. It determined that 81% of companies lack an enterprise data strategy to fully capitalize on data assets. While a majority of organizations have a desire to become data driven, most struggle to define what that means and how to get there using modern data tools.

Data in the Cloud is Data Everywhere

Migrating business systems to the cloud is an effective way to manage IT costs, decrease infrastructure costs and enable far greater scalability. However, embracing cloud can also dramatically improve agility, increase the speed at which a business operates and enable new business models. It’s a critical first step in modernizing any business tech stack.

Unfortunately, few consumer goods companies have gone all-in on the cloud. According to the Accenture survey, 46% of consumer goods executives said the complexity of business and operational change was a barrier to adoption.

To create a data-ready environment, food brands must shift faster toward cloud-based systems such as cloud-based data warehouses or lakes, cloud-based business intelligence platforms and cloud-based CRMs. Once these are established, companies can create data connections that span the supply chain and connect to critical retailer and distribution portals to create unified access and a unified view of the data.

Often, brands can tap into existing data systems and platforms with connectors, allowing them to slowly adopt more cloud-based elements, reducing the barriers and complexity.

A New Era of Data Readiness

Being data-ready allows food and beverage brands to coordinate more closely with processors, manufacturers, distribution and retail and take a data-driven approach to improve efficiency and profitability. But this requires having the technology in place to communicate dynamically and efficiently about sales activities, inventory levels, promotions, pricing, discounting, category performance and more, to ensure companies can run at speed and scale.

[See also: Tech-Driven Revenue Planning in an Omnichannel World]

The most direct path forward requires evolving the organizational tech stack to create an all-encompassing set of data, sources and inputs, accessible from anywhere and connected to everything. By leveraging the cloud and connectors, applying automation, AI and machine-learning techniques, companies can then manipulate data in order to shed light on market changes, consumer behaviors and preferences, industry trends and more.

Artificial Intelligence Provides a Path Forward

Connectivity is just one element of an effective technology stack and strategy. With huge volumes of data, companies need a way to automatically and intelligently sort through it to serve up insights that can be used to optimize marketing, manufacturing, distribution and logistics.

AI and machine learning are paving the way for a fully connected and empowered supply chain. By leveraging the right AI-driven analytics technology within your stack, companies can optimize how products are produced, packaged, stored, distributed and marketed — in near real time.

It’s important to look for an analytics platform designed for retail and consumer goods that has connectors to business platforms and partner portals and an easy-to-export functionality. An effective platform should be able to automatically interpret supplier portal data and visually reveal the hard-to-see details hidden in operational data. Graphs, charts and maps should illuminate the most actionable data and provide clear visualization so managers can make quick decisions based on what the data represents.

By utilizing platforms that centralize and analyze data from across the business, any consumer goods brand can improve its knowledge of the market, quickly leverage customer behaviors, better understand sales trends and optimize marketing impact. But there’s no time to wait. Food brands that continue to lag will soon find themselves outpaced in the market by more agile and innovative competitors eager to “eat your lunch.”

Are Traasdahl

Founder and CEO of Crisp, Are Traasdahl has more than 20 years of experience in mobile and digital technology. Prior to Crisp, he was the founder and CEO of Tapad, and prior to Tapad, he founded mobile entertainment service Thumbplay. Thumbplay, later acquired by Clear Channel, is now called iHeartRadio. Traasdahl is a frequent contributor to outlets such as CNBC and Bloomberg News, and he has been featured in Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, Ad Age and other major news publications.

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