FMCG giants won't survive without data, says outgoing Mondelez media boss

Bonin Bough: the former Mondelez media boss is moving into start-ups and small business
Bonin Bough: the former Mondelez media boss is moving into start-ups and small business

The FMCG establishment can't survive until it solves its data problem, according to Mondelez's outgoing chief media and ecommerce officer, Bonin Bough.

Bough made his comments during an exit interview with Campaign on life after Mondelez.

He stepped down last week to host a Dragons' Den-style show about small businesses, Cleveland Hustles, on CNBC and has become an advisor to video streaming start-up Centric.

While Bough couldn’t comment on Mondelez for legal reasons, he said the "biggest challenge" to the wider market was a lack of first-party customer data.

He pointed to NatureBox, a subscription snacking service similar to Graze in the UK. The start-up boasts "millions" of users and has seen considerable revenue growth by using an algorithm that recommends better snacks over time, similar to the way Netflix recommends shows a viewer might like.

"They can sit down across the table from a retailer and predict how big a product will be from subscription to big box retail," says Bough. "New manufacturers entering the market are data rich. We are data starved."

Bough pointed to Unilever’s surprise $1 billion acquisition of Dollar Shave Club, a subscription razor service.

"Unilever bought Dollar Shave Club because they are data rich," he says. "Why do you think Amazon has such strength? Every other retailer that is a growth retailer is data-driven."

As Campaign found earlier this month, Unilever and P&G are looking to partner with or acquire start-ups that can bolster them in customer data. They are also looking to young businesses to inject some fresh thinking into a corporate structure that has become formulaic.

Bough is optimistic, however, that the FMCG giants can turn things around.

Unlike critics who suggest FMCG companies might struggle to change their culture, he believes that the acquisition strategy will work.

"P&G and the other big FMCG companies are going to be digital innovation leaders at some point in time – whoever can accelerate that timeline the fastest will win," he says. 

"Food will be 3D-printed, it’ll happen," he adds. "If you can see this will happen, if you can see finish line and you know it’s a finish line, it’s who can run the fastest to get there."

The growth of messaging apps

Bough has for some time been banging the drum about the importance of messaging apps such as Snapchat and WhatsApp and is himself working in the area.

He won't say whether this might be a messaging start-up, but points out the dearth of analytics for messaging apps.

"I left Mondelez because there's an opportunity in the messaging space that's untapped," he said.

"I'm working across the messaging space, but don't have full details to share," he added. "But what are the standards? Where's the IAB for messaging? There's lots of room in the market."

Earlier this year, Mondelez announced it would up its overall spend on Facebook for 2016, though it didn't say how much. This includes building a chatbot to speak directly to consumers via Facebook Messenger.

In spite of this, Bough says bots are "only a piece" of the wider messaging equation.

"Brand engagement on automated bots – customers aren't going to want that," he says.

He pointed out that customers spend huge amounts of time in messaging apps, at least in the US.

"I’m appalled that as an industry we haven’t taken more notice," he added. "I was the only person at Cannes talking about creativity in a world where you send a person a message." 

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