Profile: David Nolen, Senior Director, U.S. Category Strategy & Insights, The Hershey Co.

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Profile: David Nolen, Senior Director, U.S. Category Strategy & Insights, The Hershey Co.

By Ed Finkel - 09/19/2017
Photo by Jennifer Stumbaugh

David Nolen partners with retailers to leverage his company’s insights and recommendations as senior director of category strategy and insights in the U.S. He and his team work to cull the fire hose of information flowing in from multiple sources on a daily or even hourly basis in order to deliver concise, actionable insights.

How do insights fit into your organization?

NOLEN: Shopper and consumer insights are the fuel that drives the engine of category management. Every recommendation we provide our retail partners is grounded in an insight that we uncovered, through either their internal data or insights we have cultivated through our own proprietary research. Our insights team reports to our insights and analytics group within the company.

What are some of the key skills required to excel in insights?

NOLEN: It is important to start with the end in mind, given the many different streams of data available today. Our teams develop a hypothesis and then leverage the appropriate source or insight to prove it out. This may require new research or can be pulled through existing studies. The most important step is to build a compelling story that drives transformational action to address a latent or unmet demand.

How does Hershey use research to develop consumer insights?

NOLEN: Leveraging insights is at the center of everything we do. Through the years, we have built an extensive database of rich insights, whether retailer-specific or general, built around the shopper or consumer. We continue to invest in new insights to ensure we are ahead of the fast-changing marketplace.

What emerging technology and techniques do you leverage to develop insights?

NOLEN: Our team is leveraging both virtual reality and neuroscience. Neuroscience helps us understand the emotions shoppers go through as they make their shopping decisions.

Are any recent trends significantly impacting your team’s work?

NOLEN: As more shoppers continue to shop online, we are working to understand the role that impulse snacking categories like confections play in the path to purchase. We are uncovering a lot of new insights around this growing trend.

What recent work by the Hershey insights team stands out to you?

NOLEN: We conduct a lot of research on the c-store channel. Recently we released a new “gold standard” planogram based on insights about how shoppers purchase instant consumable standard and king-size items. Leveraging panel and loyalty card data, we uncovered that shoppers typically stay with the same pack size and it’s less common to switch. Knowing this, we have released a new planogram that segments king and standard bars. This makes it much easier for shoppers to find what they are looking for. Shoppers only have so much time, so it is important to help them find what they are looking for quickly. We tested this concept and it has proven to be beneficial for the entire category.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of your work?

NOLEN: The most satisfying aspect is partnering with retailers, seeing their faces light up as they understand the breakthrough insights and then walking into a store and seeing our insights and recommendations executed and providing incremental growth.

What’s the biggest challenge facing the insights discipline?

NOLEN: It is so easy to get lost in the insights and not provide meaningful recommendations. Reporting the news is easy. The difficulty is bringing the insights to life in a clear, concise manner and communicating what should be done differently to deliver results in store. We call this process “idea to concept.” Once it is a concept, we can visually represent the idea that eventually transforms to an action at retail.

What’s next for the insights discipline?

NOLEN: We continue to evolve our insights as technology changes and our retailers continue to seek new methods to drive trips and increase basket size. Those who elevate the shopping experience will be the winners by building a loyal shopper base. Many retailers continue to build new formats and remodel stores to deliver the best experience possible for their customers. We want to ensure retailers are looking to partner with The Hershey Co. for thought leadership and expertise in leveraging actionable insights to deliver profitable growth.