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A Q&A with Hubba: Connecting CPG Brands and Retailers

May 19, 2016
Jannie Cahill
Written By
Jannie Cahill

Phil Chang

Continuing our Podcast series Q&As, Profitero’s Keith Anderson speaks to Phil Chang, Chief Sherpa at Hubba, a Toronto-based content, management and syndication platform. Prior to Hubba, Phil has spent time at Unilever, Kimberly-Clark, Danone, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Target.

Keith and Phil discuss the challenge in managing and centralizing product content, the critical role of analytics when it comes to developing and managing content, as well as some of the biggest opportunities and challenges for CPG brands in eCommerce.

Q: We often start just by getting to know the guest a bit. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what brought you to Hubba?

Sure – I’m the Chief Sherpa here at Hubba and my role is very customer-focused. My background spans a whole bunch of CPG companies and a whole bunch of jobs. I started my career at Unilever and I’ve spent time at Revlon and Kimberly-Clark and then the Danone Company along the way, as well as Pfizer, and then I spent a good chunk of time at J&J, and then finally, a stop at Target before coming here to Hubba. I’ve done everything from sales and marketing to trade marketing.

I met our CEO Ben when I was at Target. As a sales and marketer, I’ve always felt that content, whether it be structured content or marketing content, was always a little crazy to compile and to be able to share with a retailer. Then I really felt that problem when we were at Target. When I met Ben, I was super excited that at the heart of getting content write in, getting materials back and forth from vendor to retailer, that at the heart of it, it was the consumer who suffers, because they can’t search for products properly. It really got me excited. We’re growing like crazy now.

Q: Can you just give us a little overview and background on what Hubba is and what Hubba does?

At the heart of Hubba, we connect brands and retailers. We help brands get all of their information into Hubba, and that would be anything from an image to long and short descriptions, UPC codes, anything that you struggle to communicate to a retailer, we would help connect you, so you’ve got one less hurdle to do. Then we also help retailers discover new brands and figure out what should be in their product assortments.

Q: Do you mind just going into a little bit of detail about where Hubba fits in that whole content management and syndication process, and then how do  brands and retailers engage with Hubba, practically speaking and commercially?

Right at the heart of it, Hubba is free. We are free for brands and retailers. We do have a monetary set up, so if you were a big brand and you had many brand managers that had to assemble content, then we would help you get a subscription per month fee. For most brands though, it is free. The reason we do that is we want brands to come here, because brands want to go where retailers are, and retailers want to go where brands are. This creates the perfect storm for folks to come in here, for brands to come in here, share their information, and then be able to share that with the retailer. We target both brands and retailers. We’re now growing into influencers. We have influencers who come in here and look to talk to brands or be able to share brand content, as well.

If I take a step further down and into the value that Hubba creates for each of the different folks in the chain, a brand gets a lot of value in keeping everything in one place. We help bring all their content together so brands have the ability to then share the information within the organization. Everybody keeps one source of truth, we would call it. Brands also then have the ability to share this information with a retailer, so that a retailer now has everything in one place, as well.

Now if you’re a retailer, the other side of that is when you get a new product listed, usually the data is pretty pristine. You’ve got a pretty good set of information to either be able to ship, display on your website, that sort of thing. As soon as someone makes a change to that though, bad things start to happen. Then you wind up chasing vendors back and forth for the smallest details, whether it be dimensions, case packs, descriptions etc.

This allows the retailer to go into Hubba and be able to connect with a brand and then be able to see everything they have. Whether it be something simple that, as a buyer, you know should take you 30 seconds, but is really four email conversations around finding a lifestyle image. You can now go into Hubba and just pick the image you want. You can now go in and confirm a case pack quantity or UPC code.

Q: You’ve set up some of the challenges around where that information lives. What do you observe about who is actually responsible for managing and centralizing all this content? Or is that actually one of the big challenges, even if you’ve got some of the right tools in place?

It’s definitely a challenge. Every organization does it differently. I think part of the problem is some of the topics that, Keith, you’ve covered before, it’s just the challenge of moving to an omnichannel retailer or someone that is moving into eCommerce from just brick and mortar. Organizations seem to be set up so that logistics are segregated in one section, and then you’ve got your marketing stuff set up in another section. Then you’ve got images set up somewhere else. That works okay for brick and mortar. When you get to eCommerce where you really need to have the full assortment available in one place, it’s just not there. Folks are piece mailing it, for sure.

Q: I’m always interested from other folks in the ecosystem that work with a lot of CPG companies, are there any shifts in who owns the development and syndication of product content organizationally?

I think the one role that I’ve seen emerge that seems to be very capable of doing this is either someone like a shopper marketer who sees both sides, the sales and marketing parts of the role, or someone in eCommerce. Usually an eCommerce capabilities person is really good at that, because I think the coordination of just the number of accounts and what they require that is quasi marketing, quasi sales type of responsibilities makes that role probably one of the most powerful ones I’ve seen.

Q: You mentioned that some retailers use Hubba to discover new brands and discover new products. Tell me more about how that process works. Are they coming to Hubba and searching? What kind of information about a product can they find there?

When we talk to retailers, in most of the CPG categories, 80 percent of a buyer’s assortment is spoken for. That’s where their value comes from. That’s how they make their profit. That’s how they plan their buy dollars. But there’s a good 20 percent, and that varies by category, that is really for surprising, delighting consumers and finding new products or new segments and new assortments that you can find new avenues to profit and new avenues to turn your category.

On Hubba, a retailer has the ability to sort by category and just see what’s in Hubba, what’s new. They also get a chance to see what’s trending. We have folks that will like products and vote on them and comment about them.  That allows a retailer to be able to keep track of things that potentially could be movers that you could use in your next planogram update or your next program update.

Q: I get the sense Hubba approaches brands a little differently than some of the other companies, in terms of how you enter those companies and how you support them. Can you talk a little bit about what’s different about Hubba’s approach?

The first thing to know about Hubba is that we are made up of folks that have been in the industry, that know the industry. We emphasize that value and community are two key pillars in the way Hubba does things. Value is really key. You have to be able to see value out of Hubba immediately. While most brands say that they love that, most brands don’t necessarily grasp what that means right away. We keep it very low-tech. Anybody can get into Hubba. A very typical scenario is for a salesperson to come in and realize right away that this solves their immediate issues of just being able to share with a retailer.

We can see a brand up and running in anywhere from 15 minutes to half an hour. We’ve seen folks take a lot longer to curate some really cool information in there, but a really functional Hub can be up and running in half an hour. We get folks that ask us as well, “Is there a template I have to fill in? Is there a form?”. We always say the same thing, which is, “No, you don’t. What you need to think about is what do you get asked for the most in a day?” There’s always one image, one dimension, one spec, that you get a dozen calls for a day. That should be where you start. That should be the first thing you put into Hubba, because the minute you share that, those phone calls go away. They can now go into Hubba and just pull that stuff and then get back to their day.

The second piece is community and helping brands connect with retailers of their choice. Whether they’re looking for small, medium or large-sized retailers, I have a conversation with them. We figure out what works for them. Then we go out and find those folks in the Hubba community who fit the description of who they want and connect them. A lot of brands have trouble with that. Almost the very first question I have is, “What does this cost? Why are you guys doing this?” The answer is always the same, which is we know the problems that are out there. We know how to solve them, and we want the community to thrive. But they’re always shocked when I say there’s no cost to it.

Q: Talk a little bit more, if you don’t mind, about being free. There’s got to be a revenue model and some pathway to sustainable economics.

For probably, I would say, 95 percent of our population, we’re free. It really is the concept of brands want to go where retailers are, and retailers want to go where brands are. It’s such a chicken and egg, and yet neither side will budge on that. Free is a really great currency. It allows brands to get into Hubba and then it allows retailers to be able to see what’s here. It’s a great formula for us. We’ve been on this for about two years now. We’ve got over 15,000 brands, unique brands, in here. Retailers are growing by the day. It’s working. Where we start to monetize is some of those global customers, folks like a Unilever or an Anheuser-Busch,  they come on here and they come on as free. They realize the utility of it, and then they do see the value of sharing, even internally, and using it as an internal source of truth.

Q: What do you think about the importance and the role of analytics when it comes to developing and managing product content?

I think analytics and content go hand in hand. Your ability now to analyze information and be able to react on things is really crucial, but it does mean that you need to have the right partners in play. In the old days, when you had a brand, you had to go out and pay for focus groups. You had to pay for analytics and you had to pay a lot of money for a very limited set of factors. The opposite is true now. You can analyze anything you want, from the effect of a single description to the way your whole page looks, to how you SEO. Now the matter is really having the right partners, so that they can help you focus on what matters the most.

Q: We’ve focused naturally on product content, but in the broader set of strategies and tactics for eCommerce from a CPG brand’s perspective, what do you see as some of the biggest opportunities and some of the key challenges?

A whole bunch of things come to mind right away. You’d think that companies that have been in business such a long time are quick to react, but I think one of the biggest problems is just adoption. Learning how to play in a different field. I think CPG companies in particular have been very good at learning how to get their fair share of business in a brick and mortar store, but also to be able to get more than their fair share of attention from retailers.

Retailers on a similar scale are very used to getting more than their fair share of attention and knowing how to ask for things in such a way that brands can’t say no. I think in the new world, CPG companies are struggling just to figure out how you structure your eCommerce business, so that you actually understand what you’re measuring and how you move forward, and then getting a vision of what’s to come is definitely a struggle, as well.

This is completely unsolicited, but if you haven’t heard some of Profitero’s podcasts before this, you absolutely should listen to them because they are very, very revealing in terms of the way you should think about moving forward, so that your brand is set up for the future. I think for retailers, they need to realize that they’re no longer the end destination for distribution. They’ve got to think of new ways to be able to showcase items, to be able to derive some value back to a brand as well, where a brand might be able to look at analytics or better information by going to other channels.

Q: Well Phil, this has been really interesting. If people want to learn more about Hubba or get in touch with you, how can they reach you?

You can head to where you can sign up for free, or you can reach me on Twitter @retailphil.

To hear other industry thought leaders discuss the key eCommerce trends impacting the CPG and retail sector today, including our latest episode with Stephen Mader of Lego, visit our brand new Profitero Podcast Series.

We’ve also summarized some of the most important guidance in our Podcast series to date – download the key highlights here.

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