Q&A with Kantar PH CEO Gary de Ocampo on Consumer Path to Purchase (Part 1)

Kantar is one of the world’s leading data, insight and consultancy firms with 30,000 employees providing business strategies for clients in 100 countries. It is part of advertising giant WPP, and its services are employed by over half of the Fortune Top 500 companies.

Gary de Ocampo is the CEO of the Insights group within Kantar Philippines. The group includes Kantar TNS, Kantar Millward Brown and Kantar Added Value. He was the president of the Marketing and Opinion Research Society of the Philippines (MORES) in 2008 and headed Kantar TNS from 2008 to 2016 until he assumed his current role in February last year.

Q1: How should marketers map out their customers’ thinking process?

GARY: Mapping out customers’ thinking process is always a challenge, and there are many ways to approach this. At Kantar, we always start with context, which, while should be described in very simple terms, is an amalgamation of quite a lot of things:

– Consumer needs. At the core of any human decision, including choice of brands, is a universal need. A brand of mobile phone could be addressing a need for adventure and discovery, while a brand of beer could be satisfying an urge to feel distinctive or to belong to a group. A brand of car could be chosen for the sense of security it offers, while a brand of shampoo could be perceived to offer liberty to live one’s life unencumbered. Kantar TNS dives deep into such investigation to unearth how these
universal needs are expressed in specific product or service categories, and how brands satisfy these needs through their communicated symbolism and personality (whether
intentional or not) as well as everything about the brands including their social badges and product features.

– Culture. How universal needs are expressed and satisfied differently across countries is usually influenced heavily by culture – whether collective or individual, which could facilitate or deter consumers’ responses to brands’ efforts to reach out to them. What is key is to draw insights from their customers’ contexts relative to how they interact with their immediate circles, their communities and as a nation in general. Kantar Added Value has the expertise in surfacing such cultural insights that can be leveraged to improve brand success in offering products and services, and communicating to specific markets in a way that is culturally attuned, relevant and compelling.

– Media. Expressions of needs and cultures are always in a circular influence cycle with media. Needs and cultures dictate what is thrown out there on media, which in turn, with nudges of changes here and there, also influence our individual and collective culture as well as how we express our needs. Kantar Media helps us to keep tab of how brands contribute to what’s happening on TV, radio, print, online and OOH as well as understand what content on what medium a consumer is exposed to as the individual goes through his purchase consideration process.

– Brand equity. Kantar Millward Brand helps us understand how brands are built in their customers’ minds – in the media-amplified mix of needs and cultures – how their integrated marketing communication efforts have built associations over time that establish their meaningful differentiation, that is, how much brand love they have earned,
how they meet consumer needs, how unique they are compared to other brands and whether they are seen as trendsetters. We must understand how quickly these brands come to consumers’ minds when a decision to consider a brand is expected or required.

Driven by these imageries and associations collated in the consumers’ minds, brands enjoy a share of consumers who are predisposed to consider them – devoid first of market factors. Consumers see some brands as deserving of premium price over their competitors. Further, some brands are seen as having the most potential to grow, or to be considered (and hence, regularly used) not just on the short term but on the long term as well.

– Moments that matter. Kantar TNS recognizes the power of engaging with consumers from moment to moment, knowing full well that one’s attitudes, considerations, and consequently, behaviors will vary depending on their specific needs at given moments and in various occasions in their lives. Hence, brands matter not just in their totality, but as they are relevant from one moment of consumer need to another. Google calls these situations micro-moments. The challenge, then, of brands is to 1) identify these moments that matter, 2) understand the context – real and specific consumer needs, prevalent culture, the strength and quality of brand presence in that particular moment, and the media mix available – within which the consumers’ thinking process takes place, 3) flex in terms of how they can make themselves stand out for being relevant in the most important, and from a business angle, profitable occasions or moments in their customers’ lives.

What else other than seeing actual purchase will convince us that brands have the correct understanding of the consumers’ thinking process and effectively use this understanding in serving markets? Kantar Worldpanel monitors and analyzes on a regular basis actual brought-home purchases of fast-moving consumer goods. This syndicated longitudinal dataset is a goldmine to understanding how changes in the macro and micro environments affect specific category and brand purchase behavior of Filipino households.

Q2: What is the consumer’s path to purchase, and why is it important to understand?

GARY: The consumer’s path to purchase is the cyclical decision-making process by which an individual addresses the barrier between what he/she needs or wants and what he/she buys. There are various models for FMCG products, but usually they include pre-trip planning and research, locating categories, searching for products, selecting a product, buying, and finally, usage, the experience from which then feeds back to the pre-trip planning, and then the cycle continues. Others use simpler words such as awareness, consideration, purchase and consumption. It is important to understand this purchase path because every point in the process is an opportunity for marketers to attract consumers to their brands with the end goal of making an actual sale. Especially in the digital world that we live in, if we believe all we read, nobody makes a purchase decision nowadays without going through an elaborate process that might involve visiting a store to find a few options they like, using their smartphone to check on prices and independent reviews, going on Facebook to canvass their friends’ opinions, and completing the purchase on-line. But what is the story for the weekly grocery shop? Shopping would truly be a full-time occupation if detergents, pet food and bread were all purchased in this manner. The weekly shop would likely take all week. There is a huge amount of misinformation or misunderstanding concerning the ‘digital shopper’ as he or she relates to FMCG purchasing. If FMCG brand manufacturers and retailers are to succeed, then they must dispense with these myths, and think about what their shoppers demand from the digital path to purchase.

The answer is surprisingly simple! Although the explosion of digital touch points has made the world more complex, the basic rules stay the same. As Herb Sorensen put it in ‘Inside the Mind of the Shopper’ (2009), the relationship between the shopper and the retailer consists of three shopper inputs and two retailer outputs in return. Shoppers give time, money and angst, and in return they receive items and satisfaction. When it comes to meeting shopper needs – any application that saves time, money or angst (or even better all three) will have a good chance of success. Any application that does not deliver against one of these basic needs will likely fail.

Q3: You say the basic rules stay the same in a world that has become more complex. How has this influenced the consumers’ path to purchase over the years?

GARY: It is now commonplace to use a combination of online and offline channels before making an actual purchase. We all know this very well because most of us already do this. The usual example is when buying a car. If we have time or if we feel like it, we ask close family/friends for their recommendations (I know many don’t even bother to do this), then we match those with what we can gather from online sources like company websites, review sites and car group forums (which is increasingly becoming the primary source of information). After that, we set an appointment with the car dealer to schedule a test drive or to simply get more details. Further, such search activities are not only for high-ticket purchases but already include even the more mundane matters such as looking for an adhesive to patch your backpack’s stitches or where to buy your lunch at 1159 am. This does not yet happen all the time, but the seeds of habit have been planted and have already sprouted seedlings. With the encouragement of available technology, this habit is expected to grow stronger and replace current behaviors more widely in the near future.

Mobile communication has also enabled micro-interactions with the consumers along their path to purchase from search, to reviews, to actual purchase, after-sales engagements to
complement offline personal interactions. In fact, in some cases the former can come out more effective than the latter. In cases of customer complaints, one may not get much success calling a consumer hotline number or complaining directly at a store versus posting a shout-out on Facebook tagging the brand’s own page or wall. In the latter, as a matter of addressing not just one complaining customer, brand recognize they are actually addressing a potential PR crisis if they ignore or leave a complaint unattended.

Q4: What observation fascinates you about consumer behavior and categories?

GARY: It is fascinating to see how today, more than ever, different categories are being defined by consumers not anymore in terms of their intrinsic features or functions, but more in terms of how they are enhancing the quality of consumer experience as they interact with or use these products. In fact, a lot of product development ideas today are more discoveries of how consumers are mixing, matching and interchanging products according to what suits their needs or simply, what works for them in addressing what they need. Clayton Christensen has called this “jobs to be done.” Because of this consumer behavior, how marketers define categories continues to be challenged. Years ago, who would have thought that the cellphone would be competing with TV?

Hence, consumers today are more co-creators than just recipients of what manufacturers have to offer. By doing what they do and making the choices they make, we get to understand even
the unintended objectives of products and brands. It is imperative for brands to discover these gems of insight so they can come up with more targeted communication and customized offerings for their customers. It is now the age of the consumers. They define categories however they want; they also decide what a product or brand is for. We don’t.

Further, given that this is the age of digital, it is also quite interesting to note how consumers are now so trusting and so suspicious at the same time. For example, when we plan our travel, we read reviews and comments about the place, hotel or transport service, and those reviews will have an impact on our behavior and choice. This is regardless of whether we personally know the person or not (which is usually the case). On the other hand, with the explosion (or uncovering) of paid trolls and fake news, the extent to which people give their trust is challenged by a nagging sense of cynicism. Generation Z or those born around 1996 – they are about 19 or 20 years old now – are poised to take the world by storm. If Millennials were a fascinatingly hard nut to crack, the Centennials are likely to be more revolutionary and difficult to understand. They are the first generation that will not have any memory of dialing because they were born in the age of swiping. They never knew the time when we had to stop in a gasoline station to ask for direction. Everything including information about products, services, relationships, learning, entertainment, values and everything else – is easily at their fingertips. We have ideas, but who can really tell what the primary consumers of tomorrow will be like, and what new categories and channels they will create? It is an increasingly complex environment that consumers navigate, and it will continue to be fascinating to understand how consumers cope and attach meaning and relevance to categories and brands as they make sense of product offers and marketing communication put out there in fast evolving media and retail channels.

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