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GUEST COMMENT How agile development is key to product success for FMCG brands

From the demand for environmentally conscious brand initiatives to the ever-growing popularity of unboxing videos on YouTube, changes in consumer expectations and habits are impacting every aspect of product development — and they are doing so at a fast pace. 

Success in today’s on-demand economy depends on an accelerated product cycle, especially with FMCG products. It’s not enough for brands to keep watch on the evolving behaviours of their target audience; they must also constantly adapt their offerings to match. 

As a result, development teams need quick access to accurate, detailed insight. And thanks to technological progression, innovative research tools are emerging that harness large-scale, real-time analysis to power both immediate understanding and agility.

Research: the answer to rising disruption?

The FMCG sector is speed-centric. Not only because often-perishable goods must sell quickly, but also due to high competition: staying afloat means outpacing rivals. But keeping up with fluid consumer trends is increasingly challenging. Consumers don’t just want the best quality and price, they want products to provide positive experiences and align with their values – as can be seen with the rising demand for environmentally-friendly packaging.

These continual shifts make instant oversight essential, as identifying current customer needs is vital to drive rapid product decisions. This is exactly what the latest advances in research are providing. Increased digital connectivity has given shoppers greater buying choice; it has made customer bases more accessible. It’s opened up multiple avenues of communication that can be used to collate consumer views on products, in the moment. Innocent Smoothies, for example, has utilised digital technology in recent years to connect with target demographics, through in-store activations, bloggers and vloggers – particularly to evaluate response to its shift towards using more vegetable ingredients in its smoothie offerings.   

In combination with gathering audience insight, intelligent technology is also speeding up insight deployment through automating time-consuming tasks and leaving expert consultants free to focus on crafting smarter strategies. By tapping this blend of human expertise and machine innovation, product teams can place their brand ahead of competitors and deliver informed improvements faster. 

Insight as a driver for agility

Increased research efficiency powers a more flexible way of working where brands can respond to change as it occurs. In other words, it allows brands to achieve that much sought-after attribute of the digital age: agility. Of course, research scope is diverse, with resulting insight guiding everything from stock distribution to marketing activity. But when it comes to product development, the emphasis typically revolves around testing both new and existing products or services, with the assistance of sophisticated technology.

In an everyday scenario, that might mean running real-time trials of customer reactions to different concepts, such as paper wrapping for chocolate bars or more natural health products. By gathering diverse customer opinion in a short time period, teams can establish whether there is enough interest to continue development and how design can be fine-tuned, allowing them to perfect products swiftly. 

It is, however, important to note that agility isn’t just about speed. While automation enables brands to super-charge research projects, quality is still crucial. Brands must therefore choose research platforms carefully, opting for providers that rigorously apply the checks and techniques needed to ensure consistent evaluation quality, and produce a reliable and useable output.

Managing the fast-paced future 

The development process will, of course, always be subject to variation. Projects seeking to address especially complex business questions, for instance, are still likely to follow a longer timeframe. But for most brands, satisfying consumer demand will mean finding the fastest means of getting products to market, while maintaining high standards and value. And this, in turn, will drive a growing need for precise, machine-enhanced research.

Tomorrow’s industry leaders will be the retailers that prioritise persistent knowledge, and combine the best of human and machine capability. By implementing the insight-generation programmes necessary to ensure agility at every stage of the product cycle — from concept to post launch — they will be ready for the next major trend, whenever it arrives. This can be seen in brands’ leveraging pop-up stores, such as womenswear brand Winser London’s pop-up in Chelsea, which provided immediate consumer response to products. These insights can then be analysed as part of an agile development programme. By embracing a range of semi-automated solutions, brands can simultaneously utilise customer insights, sector-specific human expertise and technology to drive maximum returns, and speed.

In a sector that’s continually grappling with fluctuating consumer tastes, it takes in-depth insight and ongoing research to fuel success on the shelves. To keep revenue and product appeal high, FMCG brands must keep development in line with what consumers actually want. 

Susan Vidler is UK managing director at Harris Interactive

Image: Adobe Stock

Author image courtesy of Susan Vidler/Harris Interactive

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