How long have you been with Accenture and what is your current role?
I came to Accenture almost 10 years ago with an engineering and philanthropy background. I studied at Penn State. During my time there, I ran THON, which is a fundraiser for pediatric cancer and it’s also the largest student-run philanthropy organization in the world. Last year THON raised more than $13 million. I think my experience as chairman and CEO of THON set me up to work at Accenture. I was looking for something challenging. I wanted to run things. And I like working with people. Accenture allows me to do all of that—and it’s a people place.
My time at Accenture has included work on CRM and other processes for CPG companies. Once I had a closer focus on front-office functions, I became more interested from an innovation perspective. I like helping to bring the future to life for CPG companies. This is what I do in my current role at the Accenture Customer Innovation Network.
Tell us about the latest trends you are exploring at the Accenture Customer Innovation Network (ACIN).
What I’m focused on now is helping companies find new ways to create real value. I feel like there are periods where there is a surge in technology capabilities, but there’s also a catch-up phase when you’re waiting for the next big disruption. For example, just a few years ago we saw the explosion of smart phones and analytics power. What’s interesting is watching companies figure out how to take those innovations and turn them into day-to-day valuable experiences. It’s not just about delivering a neat experience at a point in time. It’s about figuring out what value your brand adds to a consumer’s life, and how you can use new technology to unlock that.
What are the top consumer engagement challenges customers bring to the ACIN?
The shiny toy challenge is a big one, and it’s not specific to CPG. It’s easy to get swept up in new technology, but you have to use technology in a practical way and have the ability to scale good ideas. That requires things like strong enterprise architecture built in an integrated way. You also need to sense, in real time, what is happening in the environment. Then you actually have to do something about it, which calls for a willingness to test, learn and pilot.
What can CPG companies do to keep pace with the technology changes that have a huge influence on consumer expectations?
At the Accenture Customer Innovation Network, we allow ourselves to not have the right answer. I would recommend such thinking to CPG companies. It’s important to have one or two people, or a team of people, that is thinking on behalf of the business to see how leading-edge technology will have an impact. That team needs leeway to get their feet wet and learn, rather than just trying to find the right answer. Through that process, you will likely solve a problem or learn a lot about how certain innovations can help your business.
What do recommend CPG companies do differently to deliver greater value to consumers?
You need to understand the journey that the consumer is on when they are using your product. Understand the types of problems the product is solving. In what parts of consumers’ lives is it solving the problem? Then, think about how to resolve those areas of frustration. Find those moments when you can delight the consumer. Think about what they are trying to buy – the value or service - versus the product they bought. That way, you can tap into a bigger problem and instead of just selling, you help to solve what they are struggling with.
How do you define value in your own experiences as a consumer?
I want a real two-way relationship with a brand, something that comes close to human relationships like friendship or teammates. This is going to become even more possible with the magic that’s to come in the next few years for CPG. With analytics, mobile integration and context-aware apps, we can have that one-to-one relationship on a massive scale.
In your own experience, what can a brand do well to engage you and capture your attention?
Brands that impress me manage to pop up at the right time with the thing I need. I don’t appreciate when a company is either absent or jumping up and down asking for my attention.
Have any brands successfully captured your attention?
I get my shirts from an online custom shirt company. I was just about to order a tuxedo shirt for a wedding, but was struggling with some of the details. Right at that moment, I got an email from the company that said, “we want to explain why one of your shirts is late.” They communicated clearly, told me what was going on and they did something about it without me fixing it. They gave me a credit toward a rush order, plus they rush ordered the tuxedo shirt for me. They delivered value without me asking for it, and proved that they had a relationship with me.
What are your biggest pet peeves as a consumer?
My number one pet peeve is when companies have the ability to know something about me and act on it, but fail to. Know who I am and try to be my friend. If I’ve given you my preferences, deliver on those. If I gave you biometrics information, I gave it to you because I want you to act on it. Don’t give me coupons for something I bought already. I probably have this perspective because of my job. I know the technology that’s available and what CPG companies can do with it to deliver on consumer expectations.
Do you have any special interests or hobbies?
I have a lot of hobbies. I play banjo, I do a lot with 3D printing—I even designed and built a 3D printed banjo. I like cycling, I’m interested in movies. I used to teach ballroom dance and I’m a certified yoga instructor.
What would you be doing if you weren’t working in consulting?
If I wasn’t in consulting here, I would be doing a different type of consulting. I am a born consultant. I love solving problems.
I love taking a lot of different angles and matching them up into something unique and valuable. It’s applied innovation – I’m not a pure researcher, but passionate about combining others’ ideas into something new and meaningful.