The Grocer

The Data Dogma

The Data Dogma

There is a pervasive dogma in our industry that we must be data led.  It is something you’ll never get fired for saying.  It feels transgressive to question it.  But the reality is more nuanced.

Of course, data can add value.  If for the first time you can measure how big Hello Fresh and Gousto are, and which consumers are buying from them, then that is massively helpful.  But often data, unwisely used, can cause big problems.  The retailer who convinced themselves from analysis of their customer satisfaction data, that price was not of pre-eminent importance to their customers.  The food manufacturer who switched from value to volume (kg) share as their key measure of success, after a quarter in which a category with very heavy packs had a strong run.

There are lies, damned lies and statistics.

So what can you do to ensure that data plays a positive and appropriate role in your business, as part of your toolkit?

First, all decision-makers need to understand the measures they are using.  It is not enough to leave it to your Insight people.  You must at least know the fundamentals.  Scanning measures do not properly include Discounters.  Kantar Worldpanel excludes food bought and eaten out of home.  Customer satisfaction tells you about existing customers, not potential customers who shun you.  Penetration can be measured over any time period.  (An especially persistent and meaningless mantra is the notion that brand growth is all about penetration.)

Second, use a variety of different measures, including seeking out new ones.  Resist the urge for a simple life and “one number we can all focus on”.  Life and business are not that easy.  I have sometimes heard people criticising Kantar’s numbers because they get the growth of a small category in a small retailer wrong by a few percent.  And then writing Kantar off as a result.  What a waste.  Kantar Worldpanel is a treasure trove of insight – the one tool I’d take to my data desert island.

So accept multiple measures, and understand their limitations and strengths.  Take notice when different measures clash – it probably tells you something.  Look for new measures as markets develop – if you’re in Vitamins, how are you tracking Symprove (mainly subscription based)?

Thirdly, most importantly, keep faith in your observation, experience and instinct.  If what you see, believe and sense, clashes with what the data says, have the courage to challenge the data.  See if the data holds up and be ready to find your intuition is wrong.  But equally be ready to find that the data is wrong or misleading.

The great companies and the best people in our industry are not data led.  They are data influenced.  They resist the temptation to be seduced by the idea that the answers are all there in the data, if we could only see.

​Jeremy Garlick is a Partner of Insight Traction, consulting with FMCG and Retail companies. He was formerly Head of Insight at Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Premier Foods.

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