Mary Colleen Hershey, Nestlé: Balancing Consumer Need + Business Opportunity

Mary Colleen is the Vice President of Consumer and Marketplace Insights at Nestlé S.A. She has 20+ years of broad marketing research experience, including brand, innovation and growth. She is a hybrid researcher and strong with both qualitative and quantitative techniques. She’s also a skilled manager of research teams and an excellent partner to brand teams.

Businessperson & Consumer Insights

My desire to interview Mary Colleen Hershey came from previous conversations I had with her. She has this undeniably pragmatic approach to consumer insights. She is both a businessperson and a consumer insights professional. It’s this rare combination that makes her a trusted partner inside of Nestlé.

Intersection of Consumer Need + Business Opportunity

Creating value for the company is an integral part of what we do. She has her own imagery for what this means. “Our role is to stand at the intersection of consumer need and business opportunity, and to be the crossing guard there. The role of insights is to help convey the opportunity internally to my business, and convey the offering externally to my consumer.”

To successfully bridge opportunity to consumer need, Mary Colleen taps into different emotional and intellectual aspects to convey the message to those she’s seeking to persuade. “Internally, I focus less on my gut, and more on the needs that I know we can meet well. It’s more about the strategic application of the opportunity.” Whereas, externally she strives to implement the emotional appeal that the consumer relates to.

“Great Insights Get a Response”

Usually, when you uncover a great insight, it will naturally benefit both consumer and business. You will know it’s successful when it becomes obvious in the marketplace. “The consumer votes with their dollars. Great insight gets a response in the marketplace, which is measured in dollars, whether we like it or not.”

For this reason, Mary Colleen emphasizes that you can’t hold company over consumer, or vice-versa. “There are a plethora of insights out there, and consumers as human beings are so interesting, but I’m not paid to understand them simply for the job of understanding this other human being. I’m paid to take their wants and desires back to the business. It’s important never to compromise that. It has to be done ethically on both sides; I have to fairly represent the consumer with great respect, and curiosity is a hallmark of great insight, but I have to draw the line at curiosity for curiosity’s sake.”

Link Your Efforts to Success

Her pragmatic viewpoints should be passed on to those who are just getting started in the industry. “It’s important for newer insight professionals to link the work they’re doing to the ultimate success in the marketplace, so they feel a sense of ownership in the final product. Once they understand how the work they did in the field laddered up to the success in the market, they get it. They get that they’re enabling both business and consumer, rather than only enabling the consumer.”

“Good is Good Enough”

She also adds that perfection is unnecessary in the field of insights. “Spending hours and hours writing a concept is a misplacement of your resources. Each concept is merely a blip in the process. You should strive to get it done well and move on, but the pursuit of perfection tends to be a waste of everybody’s time.” This is a fast-moving industry, and the process flexes and changes with every new finding. “If you move fast, you’ll find that good enough is truly good enough. Striving for perfection will just frustrate you and create a myopic view of the overall business process.”

It is, indeed, a fast-paced process, and her idea of believing that good is good enough is centered around knowing that there are brilliant people working alongside you. Together, you keep each other in the know. Mary Colleen urges her team to be business people first, and not lose sight of that. “If you can’t speak the business language, that’s when insights people lose their influence and effectiveness. If you’re not tracking how your business is performing and what the real issues are, you’re operating in blinders. You’re not communicating with the internal stakeholders, you’re not feeling their pain with them, which means they’re not going to listen to you.”

Be Efficient, Stay Relevant

This is what I mean by pragmatic. Mary Colleen has this double-sided strategy of balancing consumer respect with business knowledge, which makes her insights effective, efficient and relevant. Nothing is more important in a competitive business like Nestlé than being efficient and relevant. “It’s always about how you can do something cheaper and faster, staying ahead of the competition. None of us businesses are monopolies, working in splendid isolation. We have competition. We have to identify the biggest opportunity that can trigger the quickest results to appropriately benefit the business.”

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