Niraj AminThis November, the A.C. Nielsen Center and the Center for Brand and Product Management traveled to Minneapolis, MN to visit General Mills and Target headquarters to get exposure to each organization, and learn more about how their marketing teams functioned. As a career-switcher who is relatively new to the marketing world, I left the trip with many helpful takeaways from both company visits.

At General Mills, Carla Vernon, VP of Snacks and Andy Dybvig, Director of Consumer Insights spoke to us about various important lessons they’d learned over during their careers with the company. The insights that had the most impact on me were the following:

General Mills group in lecture room

  1. From the consumer-insights perspective, we must be able to both understand the vision of our brand manager and the preferences and behaviors of our consumer. Once these things are understood, we can help brand managers make business decisions by representing the voice of the consumer.
  2. A business must not stand still or be complacent. Consumers' expectations do not stay static, so marketers should work to make sure their brand is fit to win in the future by responding to their consumers changing expectations and preferences.
  3. Data analysis can be used to evaluate both winning and non-winning products and services, but experiential learning yields actionable insights as well. By interacting with the product or service you’re marketing, you may discover common customer pain points that can spark change.
  4. Social listening can be a very helpful way to discover trends the way consumers think about your product or service. Consumers reveal their honest feedback on social media, which could otherwise be missed in traditional consumer research.

After the General Mills visit, we made way to Target, where we were introduced to the Buyer position. Target Buyers are responsible for obtaining products from vendors and strategically planning how the products will be shelved at different times of the year. Each buyer is tied to a particular department or category, and uses the below framework to successfully execute their responsibility.

  • Who is my guest?
  • What do they want?
  • How do we fulfill that for them?
  • Knowing all this, how do we get the guests to come to Target in place of other stores?

Group at target in front of Branded Sign

Just like our typical Current Topics sessions, the company sessions during our Minneapolis trip gave us an in-depth look at how consumer insights and marketing professionals think and act in their everyday work setting. An added bonus of this experience was the opportunity to meet so many company representatives at once. We were also able to get an even stronger feel for the work environment of each organization since we were on their campus.

My favorite parts of the visits were the career development discussions at General Mills and the Buyer panel at Target. Being able to listen to helpful reminders and lessons from these professionals was very valuable to me, as I’m eager to learn as much as I can about marketing research and traditional marketing practices.

Group of student out after the field trip at a local venue