How aiSight helped the world’s largest consumer companies find their way into emerging markets

The world’s largest companies recognize that fast-growing emerging markets present exciting opportunities in the years ahead. But they have a problem: Securing the data needed to run the modern consumer business — from market size to sales and stock levels — is a huge challenge in these markets. Enter aiSight, a startup backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who thinks they have the answer.

Founder and CEO Omar Seif originally launched aiSight to work on health care problems in developing countries, where a lack of basic data about who lives and works where they are, as well as what health treatments they get, makes advance planning very difficult. Seif discovered that harnessing satellite imagery and combining it with sophisticated analysis tools would enable him to identify and map population centers in much more precise detail than was ever possible – thus predicting the spread of disease before it took hold.

This work has led to significant advances in healthcare planning in countries such as Saif’s hometown of Pakistan, where officials have been able to use the system’s outputs to intervene in disease outbreaks with very positive results. Meanwhile, aiSight has also put its technology to work for commercial customers, helping to solve the data problem faced by consumer businesses.

“These companies have very little to go with when they are operating in many emerging markets,” Seif explains. “It is based on monthly data collected by researchers on the ground, which is often incomplete and outdated.” He adds that many companies withdrew from the markets as they realized there was huge growth potential simply because they were bogged down by this lack of vision.

Seif believes the solution is aiSight technology. It works with satellite images to create remarkably detailed data on the number of homes, shops, and other buildings in almost any location. The company’s data also enables it to predict with great accuracy how many people live and work in these locations, as well as the demographic profile of this population. When a large consumer company plugs their own data into a particular location — the stores they work with, for example, and the products they provide — aiSight’s predictive analytics engine can deliver the complex business intelligence work they rely on in more advanced economies.

The goal is to track millions of products in every store in a country in order to generate real-time recommendations for consumer businesses. Once aiSight identifies an opportunity to increase revenue — by expanding distribution, improving sales targets, improving trade promotions, reducing out-of-stock stores, or refining assortment, for example — it notifies the company so it can act quickly.

“Think of aiSight as a fully automated command and control center that creates demographic and socioeconomic profiles using satellite imagery of every neighborhood in a country,” Seif explains. “Constantly monitors every store, product, channel, distributor, brand, shopper profile, and merchandising, and generates actionable alerts as soon as it detects an opportunity to improve sales, commerce, or marketing functions to maximize revenue.”

This is a big promise, but a growing number of multinational consumer companies are signing up. Popular clients of aiSight include companies such as Unilever, PepsiCo, Red Bull, Reckitt, British American Tobacco and Phillip Morris International, all of which use their technology to power more data-driven sales strategies in key developing markets.

This is potentially transformative for these very large companies, many of which are now struggling to achieve growth in their traditional markets. Emerging economies already account for 55% of global consumer spending with large fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies. But in the next five years, consumer spending in these markets is expected to grow three times faster than advanced economies, with total spending projected to exceed $6 trillion.

aiSight’s ability to give FMCG giants access to this growth is seeing rapid business growth, as well as demand for them to offer their services in more markets. The company already offers analytics for countries across Asia and the Middle East, but it increases its coverage almost continuously. This week will see the announcement of a major new batch in Africa.

The company operates on a software-as-a-service model, with subscription fees dependent on product ranges and the countries the company wants to track.

Veteran retail analytics consultant Jason Elliott thinks it’s a winning formula. “Such a platform is the holy grail of the FMCG industry, which is still stuck in the monthly retail review slide decks, Excel sheets, and PowerBI base charts made by armies of sales analysts,” he says.

Leave a Comment