Slowdown has led brands to become more innovative: Nidhi Srivastava, BASES Lead, Nielsen

Nidhi Srivastava, BASES Lead, Nielsen South Asia, shares insights on innovations within the FMCG sector, the idea behind Top Breakthrough Innovations Awards for India, and more

e4m by Shikha Paliwal
Updated: Nov 20, 2019 9:51 AM

After reviewing over 5,000 innovations launched in the FMCG sector for over a 3 year period, Nielsen BASES (Innovation Practice) has announced the Top Breakthrough Innovations Awards for India, 2019.

exchange4media caught up with Nidhi Srivastava, BASES Lead, Nielsen South Asia, to get an understanding of what is shaping the innovation journeys in the FMCG sector.


Could you give us an overview of the Breakthrough Innovations Awards and why one for the FMCG sector in particular?

FMCG is a huge and a diverse category. It's also a category that touches consumers at multiple levels. The share of FMCG, in the rural sector itself is extremely high. We all know that rural was possibly the biggest driver of growth for FMCG as well, so this is a category which gives us a sense into the national and the whole geographic spread far more effectively.
So, we did feel that this is a category that we should definitely explore in terms of looking at the innovation winners. That is really why we went for it. And the context was absolutely right. As of now where we are talking about a consumer getting increasingly disengaged, he's distracted, straddling multiple devices etc. We're saying it's not about loyalty today, we're talking about disloyalty. So, in that context, and this is far more in the FMCG context, being able to look at some of our winners who have won through all of that and innovation was a great story that all of them straddled. So, absolutely, we thought that the right time and the right place is FMCG to do it.

How much of a role do you think have digital disruptions played for brands in their strategies and innovations?

I think - two ways. What digital has done is the immense exposure it has given to our consumers, in terms of what is out there and therefore, they are seeking that from our manufacturers here as well. So, all that exposure today, that is one. Two is that it has also fuelled our activation strategy. So, successful innovation by itself is a great proposition but when you combine it with a great activation it’s a very interesting activation. For example, one of our winners is using an Instagram influencer as one of the roots to drive activation. Why? It is to build greater authenticity behind what they are trying to communicate to their consumers. There are a lot of ways digital is being leveraged. It's making consumers far more demanding today and it is giving our manufacturers far more interesting and diverse tools to be able to activate interestingly as well.

You have been tracking innovation strategies of FMCG brands for over three years in order to decide the winners. What impact has the economic slowdown had?

So from an innovation perspective, I would say that in terms of the number of new launches that have happened since the last five years, it has actually been on a growth trajectory. It's only in 2019 that we see a bit of softening in terms of the number of new launches, number of innovations being launched in the FMCG category. We are still trying to assess it fully. However, you know, it could be cyclical in nature as well because till last year, we actually saw a growth. The other thing is that, while assessing our winners here, or assessing the entire category here, what we did sense is the fact that, while there's an overall context of slowdown, brands have decided to think differently and this is where even in this context they have emerged as winners. And think differently could have various manifestations, it could be rethinking a new consumption context, it could be rethinking an opportunity that didn't exist, it could be telling the consumer there is a need, educating him of that, which he wasn't experiencing earlier. This is really the time to power innovation and therefore coming back to what have we learned globally, we have learned that brands that continue to invest behind innovations during a time of slowdown, during a time where there's an economic head wind out there, are the brands that emerged very successful This is really the time to gain market share.

How do you think FMCG brands in India compare to their global counterparts in terms of innovation strategies? Also, how different is the Indian consumer?

FMCG brands in India compare extremely well. Going back to the consumer context here, we have seen that disloyalty among Indian consumers is very, very high compared to some of our global averages. So, that's one. There is a consumer who's really seeking the new. So, one there's a huge push from the consumer side, two is that as an assessment of that, the brands here have realized that to engage with consumers today, to engage with consumers in a very distracted context as well, innovation is extremely important. It's a different matter that brands have innovated in different ways. Some brands have built huge innovation pipelines. Some are using it far more from a reactive sort of context now because so much has happened and so much interesting stuff and unlocking new consumption opportunities. So, they have been far more reactive of that as well. But innovation for FMCG in this market is as vibrant and live as it’s elsewhere, driven by our consumers.

As far as innovation strategies go, how important are big budgets for brands?
It is the quality of innovation that is important, which effectively answers the question as to why we don't use ROI as one of the criteria at all because it's not about brand stature. It is not about the money, it is about the quality of the innovative thinking, and the ability to connect it back to a consumer need and to activate it the right way.

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