Tell us a little bit about yourself as an insights person.
I had the privilege of working for PepsiCo early in my career, a company characterized by smart, hard driving and curious individuals who want to win in the marketplace. Consumer insights was seen as one means to win. The output was strategic, results oriented and engaging. Leaders like Dwight Riskey and Blaise Mercadante elevated the function from market research to consumer insights by addressing big questions like “What drives industry growth?” and “How can we accelerate growth?” as well as by advocating non- traditional ways to address traditional business issues.
One defining moment for me was getting challenged to bring fresh thinking to Pepsi’s strategy. I worked with Dwight Jewsen, a strategic consultant, and crafted an approach that involved bringing in several political consultants to help us build strategic scenarios for the brand. It was just after a presidential election year and we brought in the lead republican strategist, Roger Ailes, and the lead democrat strategist, David Garth. It was an inspiring two days, which ultimately contributed to a significant shift in Pepsi’s business strategy that changed the trajectory of the company’s performance. Through this initiative, I learned that consumer insights can come directly or indirectly from consumers and that part of my job is to help people think differently.
At Nordstrom, what is an insight? What does the word ‘insight’ even mean?
Nordstrom has a high bar for insights. Insights bring clarity and understanding to complex business issues. They usually involve asking new questions; looking at data with new and different angles or combining disparate data sources in new ways. Like most companies, we have a ton of data and information, but far fewer true insights. Developing insights from information is the challenge I put forth to myself and my team each and every day.
For you, what makes an insight valuable?
To me, the value of an insight is dependent on the action taken and the resulting business outcome. The outcome could be sales growth, brand enhancement, reduced returns, improved customer satisfaction, etc. The value is about the insight and the action – not just the insight in and of itself.
Consumer insights can come directly or indirectly from consumers
Can you share a great example of an insight that has led to a specific business success at Nordstrom or at another company at which you’ve worked?
Let me give you three of the most straightforward examples I can think of. First, at Nordstrom we identified a group of consumers who responded well to our catalogs, but only received a few each year. We changed our circulation strategy to increase coverage among this group and generated significant incremental sales as a result. Second, at Taco Bell, we looked at the competitive marketplace and realized that we did not have a signature offering of our core product. All of our key competitors had this; McDonalds had the Big Mac, Burger King had the Whopper, etc. So, we developed a strategy to build a signature taco. This led to the creation of the Gordita and the Chalupa, each of which generated hundreds of millions of dollars in incremental sales for the brand. And third, we did some fascinating work with men at Nordstrom and realized we were under-serving men with a specific style orientation. Our merchants made changes to the assortment and how it was merchandised on the floor, and realized sales increases as a result.
How are insights cultivated at Nordstrom: internally, through a partner and why?
We have a combination of approaches that involves both internally generated insights as well as outsourced projects. This enables us to choose the best approach for the situation depending on time, complexity, cost and capabilities.
Can you describe the kinds of people, processes, principles or practices you look for in a partner?
We look for unique added value in bringing in outside partners. This may be manifested in tactical tasks like fielding a large study, or strategic challenges like pursuing new approaches to getting insights or tackling big, complex, issues with lots of organizational biases. We have developed strong internal capabilities, so external partners need to bring something more than we could do ourselves.
How are insights socialized and brought to life at Nordstrom so that people not involved in cultivating them feel invested in them?
We try and “bring others with us” in the projects that we pursue. This is a fairly easy task if the project has narrowly defined objectives and a narrow group of interested business partners, like meeting the needs of our bridal consumers. It becomes more difficult if the project has broadly defined objectives and a broad group of interested business partners, like meeting the needs of modern women. With that said, we have gone beyond the standard PowerPoint presentation on several occasions to optimally engage our business partners. A few years ago, we built a consumer gallery with huge visuals, video stations, product stations, and a strong narrative to communicate insights and implications. This was very successful in building high engagement among a lot of people throughout the company who needed to be aligned behind the insights. ////
Lynda Firey Oldroyd is the Vice President of Consumer Insights with Nordstrom, which includes database marketing, business intelligence, Advanced Analytics and consumer research in the more traditional sense. She is based in Seattle, United States.