Mastering Data to Drive Innovation


As mightily as grocery retailers have strived to innovate amid the rapid pace of change, there’s one thing in particular that has still been holding them back: the fear of being wrong.

On multiple occasions, analysts and other experts have declared to industry conference audiences that if only supermarkets were more like, say, Google – willing to launch a concept for a few months, or even weeks, to see if it works, and if it doesn’t, try something else – then they could stay closer to the cutting edge.

Grocery retailers are a historically cautious bunch, with only a few willing to invest time and resources in a new initiative, and absorb the loss if it doesn’t pan out.

Faced with this thing called “Big Data” – scads of shopper insights that hold the key to giving consumers exactly what they want, when they want it, and in their preferred format – retailers have a daunting task to make sense of it, either hiring folks or seeking third-party experts to crack the code.

Still, it takes time, but some big data providers are aiming to speed up the process.

One such solution comes from Nielsen, which has unveiled its Connected System, an open, cloud-based and scalable technology platform that encompasses a wide range of data, analytics and role-based applications from Nielsen as well as an expanding group of connected partners.

Nielsen rolled out the system last week at its CoNEXTions conference in Los Angeles, where I had a chance to learn a little more about it and talk with some of the folks who make it work.

“It’s a revolution for us,” Steve Hasker, global president and COO for Schaumburg, Ill.-based Nielsen, told me about the system, which is open to all data, not just Nielsen’s.

Helping to keep it all moving is a growing list of connected partners. Companies like predictive analytics company APT, product locator Destini and data forecaster Prevedere ran demos in the CoNEXTions learning lab, along with Trax, which has allied with Nielsen to deliver better shelf insights.

To harness the data, Nielsen is developing a growing library of business intelligence apps that will allow retailers to take the pulse of their businesses and course-correct at a faster rate than ever before possible.

“In this environment, you don’t have time to gather analytics and develop hypotheses – you have to be constantly running analytics and share them on the fly,” Hasker said. “The real breakthrough is automating analytics that were previously manual.”

It’s a process that “used to take days, if not weeks,” he noted. “We’re trying to break down silos between all the decision makers.”

Fast analytics, shared by all of a business’ stakeholders, in an open, flexible and collaborative environment, Hasker said, is the greatest value the system offers.

And it can’t come too soon. “We’ve seeing more innovation in grocery in the past 12 months than we’ve seen in many years,” Hasker remarked. “We need to go fast, if not faster. We’ve built a system designed for that environment.”

Tide of Personalization

Other data heavyweights are launching new initiatives as well. Chicago-based IRI last week launched its IRI Personalization Suite, a portfolio of capabilities enabling companies and ad tech participants to personalize their marketing and promotions, as well as measure and optimize the effectiveness of their advertising spend.

The suite, IRI said, will dramatically increase return on ad spend and address an important unmet need of advertisers, industry participants and agencies today.

“It’s the first tool that truly empowers brands to be smarter about how they build meaningful, long-term personalized relationships with consumers by cutting through the clutter of irrelevant advertising, promotions and marketing,” said Andrew Appel, IRI’s president and CEO.

The suite leverages IRI’s granular data assets and retail and media partner ecosystem to give marketers a precise end-to-end platform to better direct, optimize and measure the sales impact on every dollar spent and ultimately boost ad ROI.

Fueling the suite is anonymized data from more than 250 million national shopper loyalty cards from multiple leading retailers, including BJ’s Wholesale Club, The Kroger Co., Rite Aid, Southeastern Grocers and Walgreens Boots Alliance. IRI’s proprietary assets include point-of-sale, panel, credit card and mobile location data assets and real-time analytics, delivered through IRI’s Liquid Data technology platform.

“Companies and agencies are seeking reliable, verified audiences and trustworthy ad measurement presented with speed and accuracy, and we are delivering a solution to meet their needs,” Appel said. “This launch comes in the wake of the revolution in the way consumers access content, consume media and buy goods, and as marketers are struggling to get consumers’ attention — spending hundreds of billions of dollars on media that is imprecise, often irrelevant to consumers and an inefficient use of scarce dollars. These new capabilities support an important shift from a focus on measuring what ads and promotions are viewed to the impact on actual consumer buying behavior, from a product purchase to an added trip or a bigger basket.”

The IRI Partner Ecosystem includes such companies as The Boston Consulting Group, Experian, Gigwalk, GuestMetrics, Ipsos, Kantar Shopcom, Mastercard Advisors, Oracle, Pinterest and SPINS.

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