Forest products companies are facing a fundamental shift in how they do business as the industry is increasingly expected to quickly adapt to consumer demand. The challenge is that forest products companies are typically positioned upstream in a B2B value chain, placing significant distance between them and the ultimate consumers of their products. However, a clear trend has emerged: Even though the end consumer may not be their direct customer, B2B companiesincluding those in forest productsmust put the consumer at the heart of their business decisions.

Accenture research reveals that changing consumer preferences are powerful enough to drive brand switching and spend, the impact of which can reach all the way back up the value chain. For example, consumers want to know what goes into a product, how it’s produced and how far it’s been transported. This research found that three-quarters (76 percent) say they are attracted to brands that source services and materials in highly ethical ways. Factors such as these influence how people buy, what they buy and why. In response, forest products companies must embrace customer centricity.

Customer centricity is about aligning business priorities with consumer priorities. Accenture’s Global Buyer Values Study looked at what forest products companies (sellers) think is important to their buyers (converters and manufacturers) as compared to what buyers actually value. Across both respondent groups, customer centricity emerged as a top strategic priority, but a majority also admit that they struggle to get it right. (Figure 1)

Figure 1: Customer centricity as a strategic priority

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The study shed light on three customer-centric themes: reliability, product support and new product innovation. These three areas can lead to stronger customer relationships, build trust between buyers and suppliers, and lead to an increase in customers’ willingness to pay more and buy more.

The importance of getting product reliability and support right

Product reliability and support are table stakes in the forest products industry, which means companies must excel in both areas. In fact, the Global Buyer Values Study shows that reliability and product support are two of the most important buyer values. (See top five list below.)

Buyers (Converters & Manufacturers) Consumers
1. Product support 1. Reliability
2. Reliability 2. Pricing strategy
3. Pricing strategy 3. Product issues management
4. Products issues management 4. Product support
5. Project delivery focus 5. Product delivery focus

Naturally, buyers are more willing to pay for products that perform reliably and consistently because this helps them minimize production line issues associated with printing paper and packaging boards, and thereby drives higher output from their operations. Similarly, if a problem does arise, buyers place a high value on working with companies that can resolve the issue quickly and effectively.

Utilizing new digital tools such as wearable cameras for real-time visibility and technician coaching, virtual reality training to build operator skills, or leveraging shared sensor data for critical analysis rather than traditional approaches like dispatching technicians can drive faster issue resolution. This not only helps get customer operations back to full capacity in a shorter period of time, but it also has profitability implications for sellers. According to the Global Buyer Values Study, a large number (62 percent) of sellers believe they could increase profits by more than 10 percent with new technologiesand 57 percent of buyers agree.

Opportunities to lead through investment in product innovation

Where forest products companies can truly stand out as leaders in customer centricity is in the area of product innovation. As shown in Figure 2, there is a significant gap between how buyers and sellers value product innovationin fact, the largest gap among all the values measured in the study. Filling that gap is a way for companies to differentiate competitively and align more closely to their customers’ priorities.

Figure 2: Areas of importance for buyers that are most undervalued by sellers

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Product innovation requires forest products companies to invest more in research and development (R&D) and to collaborate with consumer packaged goods companies to stay in step with evolving customer preferences. In turn, this will help them align with end-consumer demands and improve their market position.

For example, many companies that use packaging, whether as a primary, secondary or tertiary application, see new product innovation as a way to reduce their impact on the environment. Fiber-based packaging solutions can replace other non-renewable materials to better align with the circular economy. Paper-based packaging comes from a renewable resource, it can be recycled or composted, and it meets customer requirements for health and safety. Additional advantages come if the package is shipped in its own container, supports shelf-ready display needs, is more suitable for print advertising than current plastic solutions, or it can be used for another purpose after its initial packaging life is complete.

Looking ahead 

A winning customer-centric strategy doesn’t have to be difficult. Forest products companies can leverage three strategies to bring customers and consumers into the heart of their business. They can do the following:

  1. Use modern techniques to gather real-time insights that provide a better understanding of what customers value. This will help get the journey started in the correct direction and provide more timely information to align the company’s priorities with those of its customers.
  2. Shift away from hub and spoke, airplane and rental car support systems to a virtual, anywhere/anytime network. This will help improve costs while increasing customer coverage.
  3. Invest in rapid prototyping tools and agile design approaches to aid the transition to more fiber-based packaging that can support the circular economy.

Fiber is well-positioned to be the material of the future, and now is the time for forest products companies to act. They have an opportunity to leverage insights and information to become more customer centric and take steps to reimagine and reinvent how they interact with the world.

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About the Accenture Global Buyer Values Study

The Accenture Global Buyer Values Study was conducted in March-April 2020. It employed a two-part methodology, including a standard survey and a preference analytics tool (developed by TrueChoice Solutions) that ranked 74 buyer value levels across 14 defined attributes. With a total of 2205 participants, respondents included: 345 materials suppliers (approximately 70 of which were forest products companies); 760 industrial buyers across 15 sectors; 100 retailers; and 1,000 consumers. The industrial buyers group included both converters (companies that transform wood-based raw materials for manufacturing segments) and manufacturers (those that produce finished products for industrial sectors and consumers).

The following three regions and 12 countries were represented in the study: Americas (Brazil, Canada and the United States); Asia Pacific (China, India, Japan and South Korea); and Europe (France, Germany, Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom).

Michael Craig

Director – North America Forest Products Lead

Fredrik Engdar

Managing Director – Global Forest Products Lead

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