Translating your Discovery Project Experience into Practice: An Interview with Alumni Fellow Rachel Clark
Rachel Clark is a YCCI Alumni Fellow currently working as an Associate Brand Manager at Pepperidge Farm. Rachel took a moment of her time recently to talk about how her experience with Yale’s Center for Customer Insights has helped her with her career in brand management.
At Pepperidge Farm, Rachel runs the Sandwich Bread portfolio and is responsible for creating the annual operating plan for each fiscal year. Rachel determines what the goals are for the brand (e.g. increase household penetration or frequency among existing users) and, working with cross-functional partners, develops tactics to achieve those goals.
The transcript below has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Can you briefly describe your YCCI project?
I worked with a leading consumer goods company to help them improve their ecommerce strategy for their family care product lines, such as paper towels and toilet paper. At the time, family care products had a lower online sales mix relative to other packaged goods. My team and I interviewed consumers who were already buying products online to develop insights around their online purchase journey and to determine what the company can do to encourage more online purchases.
Have you used the concepts that you learned from YCCI in your job as associate brand manager at Pepperidge Farm? If so, what are the concepts and how?
Yes! My project was very relevant. It was useful to have real-world experience, particularly because I made a big career change to go into brand management. Two things stood out to me the most. The first was understanding the difference between what consumers say they do and what they actually do. I learned that consumers often do not really understand why they behave in a certain way. You have to dig deeper and ask follow-up questions, specifically asking for an example of a specific time they did something, so you can understand what their behavior actually was given the context. The second lesson was understanding how the consumer purchase journey varies for different products and platforms. Developing a strong understand of that is key in brand management, because then you will know where and when to reach your consumers.
How closely aligned are the tools you used in your YCCI Discovery Project to the tools you currently use at work?
They are very closely aligned. My YCCI Discovery Project involved qualitative interviews and A/B testing of possible solutions that came from those interviews. My first week on the job, brand new to brand management, we were working on a package design change and doing in store interviews to see how consumers would respond to the new packaging on shelf. One of the first things I had to do was to review the interview questionnaire, which I had done through YCCI and was something to which I felt I could contribute right away. I was able to hit the ground running on day one because of what I learned from YCCI.
In addition, YCCI provided me with a background in consumer research. At Pepperidge Farm, we have a consumer insights team that leads consumer research and provides insights to brand managers, but it is very useful to have been in their shoes and have done it before. I better understand what really goes into the research and am able to guide the research prep to ensure that we’re getting the most out of the consumer research. Understanding the research methodologies also makes it easier to action against results.
What have you learned from your YCCI Discovery Project that has helped you advance in your career?
The value of good team is important. Working with my team for the YCCI Discovery Project was one of the first times where I could truly see how much better the results were because of how strong the team was. I learned that you need to actively pursue a positive team dynamic through team building, so that you can create a team that will help you get to better results.
YCCI also cautioned me to not take anything at face value and to always be asking and looking for the “so what”? It is easy to get caught up with what we think as marketers and not truly listen to what consumers are saying.
What is one piece of advice that you would give to students who are interested in consumer insights or careers in marketing?
Looking for opportunities to apply skills and knowledge you learn in school to a real-world setting is very important because that is where it all comes together. As I made the change from a career in the insurance industry to brand management, my YCCI experience provided me with good examples to talk about in interviews and helped highlight my interest in marketing. With YCCI Discovery Projects in particular, the level of ownership and involvement that you have with the project shines through when you talk about it during interviews and helps to differentiate you as a candidate. Once in my role at Pepperidge Farm, sharing my YCCI experience helped me grow my network because I was able to convey my interests and passions.
What is one takeaway from your overall experience at SOM and do you have any advice for current students?
One of the biggest takeaways I had from SOM was a stronger ability to connect with people. Being in SOM’s diverse environment strengthened my ability to emphasize with people and has allowed me to build relationships with diverse groups of people at work.
My advice for current students is to make sure that you are in tune with what you are truly interested in and to not get caught up in what other people are doing. SOM provides such a good opportunity to do some soul searching and to figure out what you truly love. Take some risks, but don’t overextend yourself. And take the opportunity to explore!