Zak Haitkin, Lyft: Human Intelligence is the Most Valuable Intelligence

Over the past five years, Zak Haitkin has worked his way from Driver, to Customer Support Representative, to roles within the Competitive Intelligence team, and today, he is the Senior Strategy Analyst on the Competitive Intelligence team, making integral observations and leading change within the company.

Improving People’s Lives

Before he found himself working in the HQ, Zak was behind the wheel of a fuzzy pink mustached Lyft car picking up passengers and experiencing the company’s motto firsthand. Zak believes his experience during this time gave him a passion for the company and hands-on experience that still assists him in his role today. “There were a couple of reasons I was compelled to work for Lyft. The first was the mission statement. It’s changed a bit over the years, but the current iteration is, ‘Improving people’s lives through the world’s best transportation.’ Our cofounders, John and Logan, have never wavered from that, and from the beginning, I felt like I was participating in something groundbreaking.”

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Elizabeth Oates, Kohl’s: Core Skillset for Making an Impact

Elizabeth Oates is the Director of Consumer and Brand Insights for Kohl’s Department Stores. While completing her MBA in Market Research at the University of Wisconsin, she worked on research teams at Lands’ End and American Family Insurance. Upon receiving her degree, she worked for General Mills for five years before finding herself at Kohl’s, where she has been since 2011.

Fueled by Passion and Self-Improvement

With over a decade of experience in her field, Elizabeth has determined that her position as a market researcher is, first and foremost, to be the voice of the customer. To her, acting as the customer brings passion into the role.

“Speaking for the customer is meaningful because it allows me have an impact on our organization, our strategy, and how we move forward. Having everyone in this organization be customer-centric is my goal.”

Elizabeth explained that she often finds herself recommending strategy that balances customers and the company.  She notes that while the customers’ wants are important, they have to be balanced with what’s in the best interest of the company. “It’s a tough but critical balancing act!” She remarks. “But we also can’t just do what’s right for us. The important thing for me as a market researcher is not just understanding customers and how they think, but also understanding the business and how we operate. The pendulum can’t swing too far one way or the other, or your actions will get distorted.”

This mentality is something that drew me to sit down with Elizabeth in the first place. She is committed to making the best decisions for her organization, the customers they serve, and the team she leads. Her success is fueled by her constant efforts for self-improvement.

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Ryan Vander Ryk, Cubic: Adding Value to your Company

Ryan Vander Ryk is the Head of Market Research at Cubic Transportation Systems in San Diego. Prior to this job, Ryan held a similar position at BAE Systems in Washington D.C., implementing Competitive Intelligence programs for each division of the company. His integrity and industry experience have given him the upper hand in assisting his clients with their competitive projects.

A Blooming Industry

The competitive intelligence field has been growing rapidly in North America over the past 15 years. When Ryan first got involved in the industry in 2004, the concept was new, and not many businesses were embracing the field. “Now I see that almost every company has some sort of competitive and market intelligence function,” Ryan says. “There are a number of different names for it, but really they’re all doing the same thing, which is competitive and market intelligence research and analysis.”

This early-adoption into the field of competitive intelligence has proved advantageous for Ryan, as he has been able to utilize his experience to achieve the best possible outcomes. Over time, his experience has shown him patterns that help him better assist his clients and the companies he interacts with.

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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.”

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Patty Chung, Viacom: Bringing the Audience to Life

Patty Chung is the Director of Trends and Insights at Viacom – with a dual role on the Global Consumer Insights team and the Marketing Strategy team. Her role is to elevate and market the insights and thought leadership from Viacom. Prior to this role, she worked on the Culture and Creative Insights team (fka Scratch), a full-service integrated marketing and creative content team. In her past life, she worked in different creative and digital roles – non-profit art, production, community management, and editorial for Creative Time, VICE, and MTV. She has a Bachelor of Science in Media, Culture, and Communications from NYU.

The most interesting people she’s casually seen while working at Viacom/Times Square – Paul McCartney, Justin Bieber, Snooki, and Larry David.

Building a Foundation- Hard Work

To Patty Chung, building a foundation is the most important place to start when building an insight. And while that seems intuitive, she believes it helps to uncover insights you never would have thought of otherwise. “This foundation I’m referring to is research. The consumers’ motivations and behaviors are the building blocks.” The “why behind the what” method is popular among insight professionals. Patty describes evaluating the why as being the ticket to “providing more depth and breadth in terms of what you know about your audience.”

What she describes here is reminiscent of Malcolm Gladwell’s iconic 10,000 hours theory. If you’re unfamiliar, Gladwell found that it generally took someone 10,000 hours of practice or hard work to become successful in their desired field. Patty suggests that the research one must conduct before uncovering insight is that essential hard work. “After you’ve covered your bases with foundational work, there’s always more to do to hone in on unique insight.”

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Craig Elston, Integer: Diagnosing Issues and Proposing Solutions

Craig Elston is the Executive Vice President and Global Head of Insight and Strategy for the Integer Group. He has held various strategy positions across Integer, where he has worked since he moved to the US in 2006. Previously, he worked for TEQUILA\ in London as the Director of Customer Insight, and before that he held several positions in market research. He studied Business and Finance in his undergraduate career, then received his Masters in Marketing at Kingston University. He is also a graduate of the Omnicom Senior Management Program.

Craig Elston has the type of grit it takes to make a difference in the industry, so I got in touch with him to determine how his hard work has shown results in his position at Integer. Craig shared with me his own insight into the Insight Industry. First, he redefined some terminology that helped to shape our conversation.

“Most People Use the Term Insight Incorrectly”

What most people refer to as an insight, they actually mean a data point. It’s easy to find data points. Craig chooses to define insights as previously hidden truths.

“And that can come from the amalgamation of different sources and requires some strategic intuition to be able to uncover it. For us, it’s a creative process. It is about trying to find something which is there but hasn’t had a spotlight shined on it. It’s about connecting things in new ways to reveal something that was previously hidden about a brand, about consumers, or about a culture.”

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Dan Gould, Google: Uncover Ahead-of-the-Curve Insight by Diversifying your Inputs

Dan Gould works as the Human Truths Manager at Google. In his current position, he helps his clients see trends and implement actions based on those trends. He studies demographics cross-culturally to offer the best insights to his team, and assists them in uncovering relative insight as well. Dan held a similar position at Sparks and Honey before getting hired on at Google, and graduated from Syracuse University where he received a BFA. Dan is a client of ours and uses Sharpr to help his team with insight delivery.

The marvelous part about insights is that everyone has them, especially the very smart ones. Dan Gould is one such insightful man. Pun intended. He currently helps some of Google’s top clients curate information, and then begins a dialogue with them to promote actionable next steps. I look up to Dan and all he has accomplished, so I decided to give him a call to see what he does to help his team uncover truly great insights.

“The Why Behind the What”

Dan is a big believer in the “why” behind the “what.”

“We get a lot of the what from the data,” Dan explains. “And we can use our data tools to see that there are searches trending in areas like “intermittent fasting” or “apple cider vinegar.” What we then need to know are the motivating factors behind those searches; the why.”

“Doing so allows us to pinpoint the specifics about each phenomenon, why it’s reoccurring or trending, and from there we can try to extrapolate what comes next.”

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Michael Lancor, P&G: Be Curious, Empathize, Expand Your Creativity


Michael Lancor has been at Procter and Gamble since 1992. He held several positions across P&G businesses before working his way to his current role as the Director of Consumer Fundamentals and Insights. Michael is well-known in the Insights industry as someone who implements change, as he has successfully done at P&G for years. He graduated from Indiana University Bloomington studying Economics, Marketing and Business Management. Michael is a client of ours and uses Sharpr for insight delivery and communication.

Each research and insight professional has a method for pushing the insights they have found to those who can act on them, and Michael is no exception. He has trained his team at Procter and Gamble to think expansively, create unique insight and then deliver it to decision-makers. (See section titled “Build a Toolkit.”) I called him up to learn a bit more about that method.

Turn Insights Into Action

Michael Lancor believes that turning insights into action is one of the most important parts of his job. He also acknowledges, however, that it is one of the more difficult tasks he’s faced with as well. “Trying to engage people who can take action on insights is one of the main constant challenges in the insights industry today.” I couldn’t agree with that more, so I asked how he had been able to get inside the decision-makers brains. In response, he shared the following insights.

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