The consumer insights tracking helping Beiersdorf marketers navigate the crisis

Head of brand and media data analytics shares the consumer sentiment tracking approach the brand has taken to steer through COVID-19's impact on behaviour


A concerted effort to build real-time consumer sentiment tracking has seen Beiersdorf pivot its marketing, media and social approach to meet changing behavioural trends during the COVID-19 crisis.

Beiersdorf head of data analytics and insights for brand and media, Shameek Raj, told CMO the international skincare company has traditionally undertaken market, product, packaging, brand and consumer research using external platforms but found itself in need of an internal capability allowing more timely access to insights. So the Australian team brought on the Qualtrics platform at the end of last year.

The first ambition was regular campaign and brand pulse tracking to understand how well campaigns and the group’s brands are going, using key measures such as ad recall, campaign recall, impact, brand health and attributes. Beiersdorf’s brand portfolio includes Nivea, Elastoplast and Eucerin.

“That was all going great, and then COVID-19 hit,” Raj said. “We saw the market go into shock and panic. As FMCGs, we had to rely on people finding our products online. There was no precedent or rulebook on responding to this or knowing what would happen.”

Globally, Beiersdorf tapped into external research services to try and keep up with rapidly changing consumer behavioural trends and sentiment. But Raj found these inadequate for understanding the unique Australia situation. For one, Australia didn’t get the same numbers, severity of cases or deaths. What’s more, insights were quite generic and didn’t meet category or specific product needs.

“The work was around general sentiment and things like government trust or consumer trends, but these were not put together with consumption of our category and how people behaved in our space,” Raj said.  

So the local team replicated brand tracking set-up via Qualtrics and adjusted it to suit COVID-related questions and responses. Raj said this measured how well dominant brands and wider institutions such as government are performing, consumptions levels and where concerns are, such as economic, health or being worried about family. But it’s also highlighted what consumers are doing in the crisis – such as working from home - and how these aspects affect consumption of categories like skincare and personal care, along with shopping patterns and usage.

“Linking those two things together gave us a rich picture of what was occupying consumers’ minds at a higher and larger point of view, and how that affects them at a home level and relating to our category,” Raj said.  

Tracking kicked off just as COVID broke in Australia, and continued on a weekly basis during the peak of the crisis. As Australia enters a tentative COVID-10 recovery phase this has been adjusted to fortnightly frequency. There’s also been a focus on ensuring a large number of people each time, and a good cross-section of Australians, are engaged.

“As things normalise, we are seeing that in the tracker – we are heading back to normal – so we’re moving that out to fortnightly frequency. A benefit of the platform is you can pivot back to weekly, fortnightly or longer as you need to,” he said.  

This flexibility has played out during COVID-10,  with the platform providing Raj’s team with the ability to change questions and gain results quickly, as well as tweak surveys in days, not weeks.

What Beiersdorf found out about consumer behaviour

Long-term, Beiersdorf is hopeful of understanding if the behaviour of people will change more permanently off the back of the COVID-19 crisis. But in the shorter term, there has been a wealth of insights to help the group navigate swiftly changing consumer sentiment.

For example, in the early phase of the crisis, product messaging wasn’t resonating.

“We were quick to see in the peak - by week four and five – that there was a spike in health concerns and about getting sick and getting the virus,” Raj explained. “As we started bucking the curve, we saw how that pivoted into more economic issues and concerns. From there, we’ve seen become less about the economy and more about personal finances and issues.

“We also linked that to how they responded to our category. For example, when the larger concern was staying healthy and keeping your loved ones safe, brand messages and what we were selling had no impact whatsoever – they had no interest in it. Using that insight, we pivoted out of a lot of FMCG product advertising and pushed that out.

“But once we starting mapping sentiment when they were coming back into the market, we saw consumers becoming more open to brand messaging. So when there were less concerns about health and more recognition of life coming back to normal, we pulled forward our campaigns to meet that sentiment.”  

Another trend Beiersdorf responded to was consumers looking for entertainment and content that would take their minds off the situation. It pivoted into more social campaigns with more of a saliency objective accordingly.

An example was talking about having fun with washing, and creating a media splash campaign on TikTok. “We also found with some of our core skincare and washing products –shower, soap, facewash – there was a doubling in terms of consumption over normal usage. That was unusual, and we pivoted towards that over moisturising and skincare,” Raj said.

As people worked from home more, consumption of other categories was also changing.

“Unless you’re doing face-to-face meetings every day, the consumption of moisturiser and anti-ageing products reduced. When that happens, you don’t cleanse as much, and so on. And that takes on a more pampering aspect rather than a rational one,” Raj said.

While social campaigning wasn’t a direct result of COVID, Raj said its COVID-19 consumer sentiment tracking resulted in Beiersdorf spending money in channels in new and different ways.

“This was driven by a combination of things, but this has given us confidence to go in that direction,” he said. “We also tracked consumption of media and types, and saw a lift in social platforms, plus the need for people to engage more socially.

“It doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you’re making decisions on hundreds of thousands of dollars of spending and on channels, it gives you the insights you need.”  

Related: How Nivea delivered a better ROI on marketing spend

Related: CMOs in the spotlight on consumers and the crisis

Up next: Just how permanent these consumer behavioural changes are, plus how Beiersford upskilled staff to embrace data insights

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