Yakult eases data digestion with Tibco Spotfire

Profile picture for user jtwentyman By Jessica Twentyman July 8, 2015
The probiotic drinks manufacturer is using data analysis and visualisation tools from Tibco to figure out how to invest intelligently in marketing.

It’s 4pm in the Netherlands, and business analyst Egbert Jan Vierkant has spent most of the day making maps. He’s already plotted every supermarket in the country on his digital map and intends to investigate how their locations coincide with the areas in which target audiences for Yakult probiotic drinks reside.

The tool he’s using for this detective work is Tibco’s cloud-based data analysis and visualisation product, Spotfire. He’s been using it in his work as a market analyst at Yakult Europe for around three years, he says, but it’s only recently that he’s started to investigate its geospatial mapping capabilities:

It’s something I’m very enthusiastic about. As an analyst, you always want to have as many tools as possible. You always want to look at your data in different ways. So when a Spotfire upgrade includes new features, I do tend to make use of them.

In essence, Vierkant’s job is to identify elements in the company’s marketing mix that drive growth, in order to inform future budget decisions.

Being smart is our goal. We want to invest intelligently in marketing and, to do that, we need to understand better what we do right and what we do wrong, so that we’re not investing in strategies that don’t work.

For him, the “one million dollar” question is finding out what causes sales of Yakult to move in a positive or negative way, in a market that has changed significantly in recent years.

It’s a market that’s growing at a good clip: one market analyst company, MicroMarket Monitor, has estimated that European sales will grow from $395.53 million in 2012 to $616.13 million by 2018.

Already Europe is the largest market for these products, but it’s also highly fragmented and has come to be dominated in recent years by French firm Danone (which owns a 20 percent stake in Yakult) with its Activia and Actimel product lines.

More data

When Yakult first launched in Europe in the mid-nineties, it enjoyed a virtual monopoly on probiotics products. Now that the picture is very different, Vierkant can list a vast range of data that he uses in his investigations. Along with internal sales and marketing data, point-of-sale data from retailers, and advertising data from companies such as Nielsen, IRI and GfK, other categories include:

...data on weather, public holidays, economic growth figures, consumer confidence figures.

If you really want to find out what drives your sales and what does not, integrating multiple data sources is a must-have. There are so many potential factors at play here that if you don’t use all the data, you may never find the right answers.

What Vierkant likes about Spotfire, he says, is that the process of integrating new data types for analysis is easy and fast:

If you want to distinguish sales drivers from non-drivers in a very dynamic environment in which you’re doing a lot of things [marketing-wise] simultaneously, you must be able to collect all the information and look at it from all perspectives. You have to zoom in by region, look at trends at all the retailers. Spotfire makes these perspectives feasible, so we can quickly find what is working and what is not.


It’s down to Spotfire, he says, that he’s regularly invited to attend meetings of Yakult Europe’s top managers:

We all sit down in front of a large screen displaying Spotfire, and while managers are discussing new strategies, they can ask me questions - or I can proactively suggest queries we can make. The managers really like the way data is visualised and these visualisations often prompt additional questions which, again, I can ask of the system right there, while I’m in the room. In fact, Spotfire’s like an extra member of the management team.

Retailers are also benefiting from the insights generated in Spotfire, Vierkant says. He can easily demonstrate, for example, that while a 15-bottle pack of Yakult takes up more space on the shelf than a 7-bottle pack, it generates more turnover per centimetre of shelf space:

If we visit a retailer and have done our homework, which we can do very quickly in Spotfire, we have a lot of information for them. Our visits have become more interesting, because we bring news that, before, would probably not have been observed.

While Spotfire is clearly getting results for Yakult, it’s also helping Vierkant to do work in which he clearly takes great pleasure:

For the first time in my career, I’m spending less time integrating data and more time exploring it. And now that I’m now able to rely more and more on my own intuition, I get new ideas and better ideas all the time.