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CASE STUDY

Barilla

The Observatory at Barilla, a real-time digital insights hub

CASE STUDYBarilla
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Due to the sheer amount of data in the digital sphere, understanding customers, their cultural environment and the people who influence them has become a powerful tool for companies that wish to stay ahead of the competition.

The food brand, Barilla, founded in 1877 and currently active in 100 countries, is faced with just this challenge. How can they continue to innovate, to keep their customers satisfied and be undisputed leaders in the pasta industry?

About Barilla

Barilla is a well-known food brand founded by Pietro Barilla 145 years ago as a bakery in Parma, Northern Italy. Today, its products include pasta, sauces, snacks, and baked goods. Although Barilla currently exports its products worldwide, with a major presence in Europe and the United States, it’s not lost its unique identity, clearly oriented around Mediterranean ingredients, local production, and product sustainability.

The Observatory at Barilla

Barilla’s identity as a traditional company has not prevented the brand from embracing technology and digital transformation. The question that guides their latest strategies is this: how can we remain the most recognisable brand in the pasta industry?

True to Barilla’s word, the brand has created a real-time Observatory to answer some of the most pressing questions in the business.

Initially, Barilla launched the Listening Room back in 2015 to monitor people’s conversations about the brand and opinions around its products. This was a physical listening room, incorporated into each of the company's international offices, from Paris to Parma.

Evolving and staying ahead

In 2022, the Barilla Acceleration Team based in London evolved the Listening Room to The Barilla Observatory with the aim of improving their understanding of the market, consumer trends, and the regional differences of its various audiences. This wonderful new addition also functions as a real-time insights hub which allows the company to extract the most useful information from conversations between different online audiences. This covers customers, media, organisations and influencers - from social media, blogs, and forums, to other digital platforms. The Observatory has everything Barilla needs to stay ahead.

With large screens and engaging graphics that provide visualisations of key brand data sources – such as website performance, social trends, and industry consumer insights – Barilla can make better, real-time decisions about their products, audiences and content.

Alessandra Cervi, Barilla's Global Digital Insights Manager, is responsible for analysing this kind of customer behaviour at the company's Observatory in London. For Alessandra, studying online conversations means sifting through an endless amount of data and finding enough meaning and structure to forge authentic connections.

"We aim to establish relationships with the different social clusters that exist online. It is essential to understand who we are talking to if we wish to achieve visibility among these customers in such a saturated digital landscape."
— Alessandra Cervi, Global Digital Insights Manager at Barilla

Accessible insights for the entire company

This shared project led by the various teams at Barilla, is an essential step in putting this customer information to good use.

"We are trying to convert data into campaigns and specific actions. If we fail to do so, this information loses its value. It only has meaning if we take action."
— Alessandra Cervi, Global Digital Insights Manager at Barilla

That's where Alessandra's team comes into play. The Observatory is the centre for the interpretation of these insights. It acts as a place to give a story, context, and analysis to the millions of voices that would otherwise only generate more noise and confusion.

This analysis is followed by the creation of new synergies at the hands of the Marketing team, the Market Research department, or through product development.

Each of these teams is provided with relevant information on what consumers have said about one of the group's brands, about a campaign, or about a specific topic on which they wish to gain more insight, such as sustainability.

How important is it to customers if a product is ethical? Or made with natural ingredients? Does price remain an important factor? These are just some of the key questions that can be answered by monitoring online conversations. 

But the story doesn’t end here.

"We also work with the Sales team to monitor online concerns in the retail sector, or with our staff in e-commerce to verify the most commonly observed types of sales or what sort of price comparisons users are carrying out."
— Alessandra Cervi, Global Digital Insights Manager at Barilla

Of course, another crucial – and perhaps the most visible – relationship for Alessandra's team is with the Communications team which, thanks to these online insights, is able to create better brand content and consequently improve the reputation of the company as a whole. This intelligence on customer behaviour is combined with other more traditional research methods, such as focus groups or news analysis.

“This amalgamation of different data sources is essential in providing a comprehensive image of the customer that can be translated into specific company decisions."
— Alessandra Cervi, Global Digital Insights Manager at Barilla
“This is how we start to see a certain inspiration, the association of the brand with a specific smell, taste or memory, and the trust placed in its products by an international customer base.”
— Alessandra Cervi, Global Digital Insights Manager at Barilla

Barilla is more than a company specialising in food; it’s a symbol for lovers of good Italian pasta that’s been able to adapt to new customer groups thanks to its acute understanding of the market. This brings us to our second point.

Those who know the industry best

If we type "pasta recipes" into Google, it brings up 1.2 billion results in English. This little fact highlights the importance of adapting to the requests and needs of customers that occur at different points and channels throughout their journey.

The challenge, and the opportunity, at hand is about resilience, and having a constant appetite for improvement. To stand out, Barilla does not only study different customer groups, but also goes even further to fully understand the industry as a whole.

The Observatory can also be used to monitor conversations on the rise, concerning ingredients (for example, negative opinions on certain ingredients), recipes, topics such as sugar, different types of diets, superfoods, or competing topics that are dominating the social conversation.

And because being number one is the priority, the Brandwatch alert system informs the team when there’s an increase in conversations relating to one of these trends, or of the appearance of new potentially useful trends, both among the general public and in the micro-communities targeted by the brand.

Once again, the constant monitoring of data is the key to standing out in the industry.

Technology and humans working together

As we mentioned previously, the members of Barilla's human team are the ones who are truly able to reach the hearts of customers.

"Technology and artificial intelligence allow us to move more quickly, that's an undeniable fact, but the human dimension is crucial in formulating new questions or turning data into good storytelling."
— Alessandra Cervi, Global Digital Insights Manager at Barilla

"Again, it's about knowing what to do with infinite information; knowing how to turn monitoring into intelligence." 

There are a few questions that, according to Alessandra, should guide the work of data analysts:

  • Why is this person saying what they are saying?
  • Why are they sharing what they are sharing?
  • Why are they following this person?
  • And most importantly, what does this mean for my company or brand?

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