A.C. Nielsen Center students and faculty kicked off our external advisory board (EAB) meeting with a lunch to welcome EAB members back to Madison. We then continued to the Plenary Room, where Director Kristin Branch continued the official welcomes and introduced the afternoon’s panel of speakers:
- Shawn Dennis – CMP, SVP Marketing – American Girl
- Darin Dugan – VP of Marketing – Kraft Foods
- Dave Guenthner – Senior Director, Insights & Consumer Strategy – Walmart Stores, Inc.
- Tanya Schooley – Senior Director of Consumer Insights & Strategy – Kraft Foods
The overarching topic was the blurring of lines between consumer insights and brand management (general marketing) roles and responsibilities. Consumers are increasingly demanding a customized and fast path to purchase but are also more willing than ever to share information about themselves needed to create those customized platforms. However, these insights gained from focusing on the consumer voice are empty without acting on them; consumer insights managers can’t operate in a silo catering entirely to the consumer voice but must be able to influence, see recommendations through, and be proactive decision-makers driving concepts to market. Consumer insights and brand managers need to know as much as possible about one another’s visions, demands, and responsibilities in order to keep recommendations sharp and direct P&L efficiently. The panelists drew from a wealth of personal knowledge and experiences to contribute to a shared message: on these cross-functional decision-making teams, the interaction between consumer insights and brand managers is in many cases becoming progressively blended, with the perpetual goal of telling the right brand story to the right consumers at the right cost and the right time.
Over cocktails and appetizers, we broke out into speed networking sessions, which gave us students a more personalized and informal opportunity to get to know the EAB members and for board members to reconnect with one another as well. Dinner followed at the Memorial Union, where we were joined by other faculty as well as alumni who had arrived ahead of Friday’s events (the 2012 summit). As a first-year student, it was inspiring to see that alumni had remained good friends over the years, board members were sharing industry involvement and expertise with one another, and the warmth and drive of the Wisconsin spirit had carried on through all of their careers. With a host of A.C. Nielsen Center alumni returning to Madison the next day for our biannual alumni summit, it was time to call it a night. The day at Grainger had begun 14 hours earlier with the first-year students’ inaugural finance exam. Such is the life of an MBA student...and I wouldn’t change it for anything.