The Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) industry is one of the largest industries in our economy at an estimated $2.1 trillion according to the Grocery Manufacturer Association (GMA). The industry is so large, it becomes a “reflection” of our economy in general, where no single company is representative of its challenges. One thing however is certain: It deals in the TANGIBLE, not the intangible.
A box of fudge bars can be marketed digitally, but the fudge bars still require sugar, sticks, cream, card-board, labor, machinery, agencies, a truck (and some fuel), a crew of people to get it to the shelf, send an invoice, collect the payments, measure the profit or loss, etc etc. As the saying goes, it takes a village!
There are many paths to a great career and no single formula guarantees success.
Whatever your aspirations are, I would argue that there are 2 key “foundations of experience” that will serve you VERY well in this industry.
1) SOME type of Analytical Experience of the retail Market Place
Sometimes called category management, or Syndicated Data analysis. Despite the emergence of the internet as a distribution channel, the “War is in the store.” Thousands of suppliers are competing for fixed shelf space. Facts of the productivity of that shelf space are all around us with syndicated data. Many people go through an entire career without a basic feel for what is really happening in the market place. Market Share. Promotion effectiveness. Consumer response. In short, the basics of how brands compete. Many suppliers do not have analytics in their DNA, and they are the ones on the outside looking in. Facts Matter. They provide for sound decision making and added value for the retailers that distribute your brands. The quicker you develop analytics in your DNA, the better. No better way than to spend a couple years (minimum) where it is your full time job. The closer you perform this function to the brand and retailer decision makers the better. So if you can choose, choose the manufacturer side, close to retailer and brand teams, not the data supplier side. If you can’t choose, get the experience however you can.
2) Key Account Sales Management
Back to “The War is in the Store.” No matter how strong a brand may be, there is an ultimate gate-keeper that needs to say YES in order for the end consumer to vote with their wallet. It is the Retail Buyer. Sometimes called a Category Manger. They need to say YES! to put it on the shelf, at the right price point, promoted for the consumer to try, etc. It seems simple, but it is not. Why?
Simply put, buyers have more options than you have great reasons for them to say yes. And with retailer consolidation, there are fewer and fewer buyers that make up a greater portion of the market place, so its getting harder, not easier. (see one of the missing P’s of marketing, POWER). Nothing happens until first a sale, and the key account manager is the closest to the Buyer that makes this happen. So that is one reason why this experience is critical.
Here’s another one. The field of Marketing may be one of the most mis-understood professions. Take one of the 4 P’s, PROMOTION. Most people think of Marketing and sometimes their mind goes straight to TV commercials. They are certainly important, and its certainly the “sexy” part of marketing. But in CPG, they are simply not as relevant as Trade Promotion ($’s spent with the Retail CUSTOMER). Don’t take my word for it, do your own research. Trade Promotion is sometimes greater than 90% of a brand’s marketing budget, and its all targeted at influencing the Retailer buyer to say Yes!. The Key Account Manager delivers the message, negotiates the deal, and uses all of their relationship, analysis and marketing skill to get them the best outcome possible for their brands. So would you rather have experience that touches 90% of a brand budget, or 10%? Get both if you can so you have the full experience. If you have to choose, always pick the one with greater influence.
Those are my 2 critical experience areas. Any missing?
Updated take on CPG Industry experience: Get to Headquarters!