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Hotels-to-packaged goods company ITC Ltd said it has been drawing relevant insights from its marketing command centres in Kolkata and Bengaluru that specialize in picking social media conversations to help create quick digital campaigns and drive customer engagement.

Called "Sixth Sense" the marketing command centres, set up in 2019, churn out consumer insights, create moment marketing campaigns, build consumer data repository, track social media metrics and benchmark itself against industry peers for its consumer facing brands, said a top executive at the company. Among brands the centres have done social media activations for include Vivel, Savlon, Aashirvaad flour, and B-Natural juices.

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The insights from the centres can also pave the way for the company to launch new products, tap into new consumption occasions apart from developing relevant communication ideas. The company believes that traditional ways of studying consumption habits to drive sales of soaps, spices, beauty products are not likely to withstand the challenge of growing consumer conversations online.

“The centre enables us to understand conversations which lead to identification of both fads and trends. So when you are doing insights around fads—it is important for the relevant business to participate in that fad for multitude of reasons. One needs to engage as it is important to participate in a consumer's life with a role that is contemporary and relevant, said Shuvadip Banerjee, vice president, marketing services, foods division, ITC Ltd.

For example, social media trends such as Dalgona coffee—that took the internet by storm last year as users posted their own versions of beaten coffee—were leveraged to deepen consumer engagement for ITC’s Sunbean Beaten Coffee and introduce a new variant in a long shelf-life ambient format. It also put out marketing content for its premium Dark Fantasy cookie brand when the new iPhone version was launched.

"As part of its multi-dimensional initiatives towards accelerated digitalization, ITC has invested in setting up a world-class marketing command centre christened Sixth Sense which leverages cloud-technology, cutting-edge social-media engagement tools and a digital marketing and analytics platform to drive contextual communication and product development rapidly," said B. Sumant, executive director, ITC Ltd.

When the internet presents a more sustained trend, it leads into a product idea, or even a packaging idea, said Banerjee. For instance, last year as consumers spent more time at home and sought convenience foods, the company launched ready-to-cook upma and poha.

ITC’s focus on social media chatter comes at a time when the pandemic has fuelled digital advertising as consumers spent more time at home—glued to their devices and using social media platforms. In 2020, digital advertising grew by 15.3% to touch Rs15,782 crore. It is expected to maintain the momentum growing at 20% to reach a market size of Rs18,938 crore by 2021, according to a report by Dentsu India.

For ITC the digital strategy is key as it moves to build a company with a greater share of revenue coming from sale of FMCG such as frozen foods, juices, spices, soaps, stationery, snacks, personal care segment etc. To be sure, ITC has 25 key brands in the fast-moving consumer goods categories that accounted for annual consumer spends of over Rs19,700 crore in fiscal 2020. This makes ITC India's third-largest listed F&B company by revenue, according to a recent report by Morgan Stanley.

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