Achieving meaningful customer centricity with AiCi Li of Mars

In this episode of "Now That’s Significant, a market research podcast," host Michael Howard welcomes AiCi Li, the Director of Futures Lab at Mars. This episode explores AiCi’s career journey, her transition from traditional market research to a shopper-centric approach, and her insights on the evolving retail landscape - helping brands become truly customer centric, with being more than just a label. AiCi discusses her non-linear career path, highlighting the importance of serendipity, embracing opportunities outside of one's comfort zone, and the value of strong mentors.  She delves into her current role at Mars, where she leads a team focused on "bringing the outside in and the future back" to drive innovation in the retail and marketing space.

Through her own experiences, AiCi reveals how valuable it can be to step outside of your comfort zone and embrace the unexpected turns your career might take. Her own transition from a market research-focused role to a shopper-centric position at Mars provided invaluable insights that have shaped her approach to innovation.

This episode unpacks critical considerations for businesses aiming to thrive in the ever-evolving world of retail. Let's dive into five key takeaways.

Balancing Consumer and Customer Centricity

AiCi emphasizes the importance of balancing consumer and customer centricity when innovating in retail. While consumer-centricity focuses on the end-user, customer-centricity in the retail context refers to understanding and meeting the needs of retailers. This balanced approach ensures that innovations resonate with both the end consumer and the businesses bringing those products to market.

Front-End and Back-End Innovation

Successful innovation requires understanding both front-end and back-end processes. While front-end innovation focuses on the consumer-facing aspects like branding and packaging, back-end innovation addresses the logistical and operational aspects within the retail ecosystem. Aligning both is crucial for seamless implementation and adoption of new ideas.

The Power of Cross-Functional Collaboration

The complexity of today's retail landscape demands collaboration across marketing, sales, and insights teams. AiCi highlights how conversational commerce, for example, requires input and expertise from all these departments to create a successful strategy. Breaking down silos and fostering communication is paramount.

Humanizing Data with Insights

While data is undoubtedly crucial, AiCi stresses the importance of human insights alongside data. Data alone lacks the context and emotion needed to truly understand consumer behavior. She advocates for a "thick data" approach, combining data analysis with qualitative research to uncover the "why" behind consumer actions.

The Evolving Retail Landscape

Looking towards the future, AiCi predicts the continued dominance of marketplaces and platforms in the retail landscape. However, she also believes that physical retail will remain relevant by offering unique, experiential shopping opportunities. The key for both online and offline retailers will be to leverage AI and data analytics while retaining a human-centric approach.

Question for Our Listeners

As AI and data analytics become increasingly sophisticated, how can businesses effectively leverage these tools while maintaining a human-centric approach to retail?

Tune in to future episodes of "Now That’s Significant" for more insights and discussions on the latest trends in market research. Subscribe to the podcast on your preferred platform and share it with your network. Your reviews and feedback are greatly appreciated as we continue to explore the ever-evolving world of market research and its impact on business decisions. 

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