Sean VidalThis spring, several classmates and I were afforded the opportunity to attend the A.C. Nielsen Center Spring Break trip to Seattle, WA. This trip was beyond valuable to my career development, my understanding of marketing research as a field and, by far, has been the highlight of the semester. We had four whirlwind days in the Seattle area, met with top companies in our field and explored the Northwest with some personal time.  The firms we visited are perfect examples of the emerging combination of pure CPG companies and pure technology firms.

Monday - Empathic E-commerce
Our first day really flipped my assumptions of e-commerce firms and the insights work performed at these companies on its head. A panel of Wisconsin School of Business alumni and marketing research industry vets at Amazon gave us amazing recommendations and insight into their consumer-obsessed strategy. Expedia let us sit in on one unique qualitative research technique they use to truly understand drivers of delight and frustration in their customers. Originally, I thought we'd largely hear about the use of data mining and machine learning to drive marketing efforts. However, these two e-commerce powerhouses utilize data to find what problems to solve then deploy mainly qualitative research techniques to find solutions.

Tuesday - One Microsoft! 
We spent the entire day at Microsoft and honestly could have spent the whole week at the tech giant! The day was jam-packed meeting with all aspects of consumer research performed at Microsoft. We got to meet with seasoned vets on teams from Xbox to User Experience to Software Marketing Insights. Microsoft taught us about the large opportunity that marketing research has in their business to create impact by merging telemetry and qualitative research to truly understand their customer and drive growth.

Wednesday - Ethnographic Outdoors & How to Help the World
On Wednesday, the qualitative train kept rolling with topics on design and consumer research as well as more thoughts on web-based user experience research with Recreational Equipment Incorporated. R.E.I. takes empathic design to a whole new level! Want to know what your members truly need out of camping equipment? Go on a weekend hiking/camping trip with them. Want to design the best green vest for REI employees? Watch your "inspire guides" go about their day, observe the challenges and fight the delights the current vests brings.

AC Nielsen

The afternoon trip to Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation continued to reinforce the powerful combination of data and qualitative research. B&MGF uses research to understand drivers of the world's biggest problems and to find systemic, sustainable ways to solve them. Our class got a glimpse into how they're diagnosing the education gap between different socio-economic groups in the U.S. We also heard stories of open source data projects inspiring quick action by world leaders to help problems not previously seen.

Thursday - New Product Development, Strategic Business Insights and Alumni Connections! 
Our last day was definitely the busiest of the trip. Our group first went back to Microsoft to discuss how better content leads to higher retention. After that, we swung down to Bellevue to visit T-Mobile and discuss how consumer emotion and frustration points play a major role in their marketing and product development efforts. Our group then quickly drove across Lake Washington to South Seattle to spend our last afternoon at Starbucks World Headquarters. The biggest piece of advice we got at Starbucks was to know your customer so well that tactical questions become almost second nature to you and your team. If you invest in these foundational insights, more effort can be afforded to strategic business questions. After a coffee pairing and tour of their facilities, it was off to Elysian Bar downtown to relax and mingle with Wisconsin Alumni!

Overall this trip gave our group incredible experience not only with top companies in our field -but top companies in the world. I know that these visits have provided me with a unique understanding, a greater passion for the industry, and an enhanced network of valuable insights professionals I couldn't have gotten at another MBA/M.S. program. I want to thank all the people involved in making this trip a reality: the companies taking time out of their busy schedules, Wisconsin Alumni in the Seattle area, financial contributors to our center and the A.C. Nielsen Center staff (Sarah and Kristin!).