Category Archives: Consumer Packaged Goods

Building a Consumer-Centric Strategy: Highlights from the Marketing & CPG Club’s Conference

On November 16th, 2014, the Marketing & CPG Club hosted the 2014 Marketing Innovation Conference at Harvard Business School. This year’s theme was “Building a Consumer-Centric Strategy” and the conference drew MBA attendees from HBS, MIT, BU, Dartmouth, Tufts, and more.

The day-long conference featured 3 keynotes, 6 panels, a networking lunch and cocktail hour. As thought leaders in marketing, our keynotes delivered powerful presentations about how their company’s execute a consumer-centric strategy:

  • Michael Moynihan of LEGO shared the story of LEGO’s turnaround from near bankruptcy to a thriving company relentlessly focused on their core consumer. His story taught us all of the importance of letting “your fans own your brand.”
  • Mark Addicks of General Mills emphasized the importance of defining markets in human terms and always having a Brand Champion at the center of your brand. He shared many General Mills brand campaigns (e.g., Betty Crocker, Cheerios, and Fiber One) that effectively tailored messaging to their Brand Champion.
  • Kerri Hoyt-Pack of Nike Women’s Training closed the day by reminding us to “listen more” and “be where she is” in order to connect with and innovate for  female athletes around the world.

Students learned how marketers are dealing with shrinking budgets and measuring the ROI of their marketing mix on the panel “A Marketer’s Reality: Building Brands on a Budget” and how to resonate on an emotional level with consumers in “Consumer Engagement: How to Create the Most Meaningful Connection”.

All throughout the day, attendees posted their takeaways on Twitter using the hashtag: #MCPG14. Overall, it was an exciting day to connect with other interested members of the marketing community and learn how to keep the consumer at the center of any strategy!

For the full agenda and bios on all our conference speakers, check out

– Megan Ritter, Marketing & CPG Club Conference VP


Reflections and learnings

marc jacobs beautyAnd there it went – 8 weeks at Sephora, 3 weeks at Tatcha – it all just blew by so quickly. And what came of all of it? Amazing beauty products? Sure. Fantastic new friends? Absolutely. But given all the effort and agonizing that came with the internship search, surely I expected something more. So, without further ado, the 7* lessons that made this all worthwhile for me:

1) Winning is not easy: It’s easy to look at an industry leader like Sephora and imagine a seamlessly polished machine cranking out innovation after the next. Not so. The competition is hungry, the consumer is savvy and just getting technology to work can be really, really hard. Seeing the struggle and the ambition from inside-out has been really eye-opening and makes me appreciate the results in a whole new light.

2) Eavesdropping is critical: It’s often heard that in consumer facing businesses, you have to connect with that consumer. Some people do it through focus groups, others make it up as they go along. But there is a fierce legion of people who understand that the best place to know what she wants, needs, is delighted by, is to be right there with her. Some of my favorite and most enlightening memories of the summer involve me casually / awkwardly standing pretending to examine a shade of lipstick while eavesdropping on conversations around me.

3) You don’t know product-love until you’re always around it: I was a semi-product junkie pre-Sephora. I ooo’d and ahhh’d like many girls, but as you can see from my earlier posts, being at Sephora has really taken my product-mania to the next level. And in many ways, I think that’s a good gut-check for how well you’d fit into / love a career or company. Can you be obsessed.

4) Networking is such an ugly word: But the only way you’ll truly get a feel for the culture and values of a company are to meet with and talk to as many people in as many different roles as possible. You’ll be amazed by how open and thoughtful people are, and you’ll walk away better being able to answer the ultimate question: “do I fit in here?” What I’ve learned is that people here are incredibly smart, have short attention spans and just want to get things done.

5) People work for people: This is not a new one, but it’s one that gets hammered in with each new job experience. When looking for a job or internship, don’t just go with the company/brand/project that is most exciting: really know who your direct manager will be and make sure they are someone who will support and champion you. It makes all the difference.

6) Be uncomfortable: This one was actually my own personal goal when starting my MBA but has continued to ring true. For your one (and possibly last) internship experience, go do something totally new, totally uncomfortable. As for me, between working at TATCHA, the small e-commerce beauty brand where I started the summer, and Sephora, I’ve definitely stepped outside my familiar zone, but in hindsight I wish I pushed that even further.

7) Just ask: At the end of the day, there’s no such thing as crafting the perfect experience. So I say jump in once you’re sure you’ve found a team you want to spend time with. Then take the projects they have proposed, rock it, and ask for other things that you are interested in. I started off with A/B testing and found my way to online cross-selling in Merchandising, and even did a group project on Women of Color. 8 or 10 weeks is a lot of time to shape your own experience and I challenge you (and myself) to keep doing that. Be proactive, be eager and just ask.

Love, beauty and fearlessness,
Emily Wang, MBA 2014

* Why 7? Well because I wanted to channel Ms. Coco Chanel and her obsession with numerology, because it’s my favorite number, and because I thought you’d stop reading before #8.

3 Projects, 1 Priceless Picture

I could fill another dozen blogs with all the fun activities I’ve experienced at Nike this summer: seeing Lebron James on campus as we celebrate his 11th year with the swoosh, playing pickup beach volleyball on Friday afternoons, taking a double-decker bus to local Oregon vineyards, and the list goes on. But, I suppose I should dedicate at least one entry to my professional experience this summer. Unlike most interns at Nike who have one project over the course of the summer, I’ve actually had the opportunity to learn invaluable lessons across three projects, each at very different levels of the company.

The 100,000 Foot View: My first project with the Corporate Strategy & Development group was in support of the annual corporate strategic planning meeting for Nike’s CEO and executive team. To help underscore the importance of a long term vision, I developed a presentation about the parallels between JFK’s vision to put a man on the moon in the 1960s and the opportunity that faces Nike today. With technology advancements speeding up day-by-day, what could Nike accomplish in a decade if the US could successfully complete the Apollo mission? What should be the vision to catalyze Nike toward global leadership, just as the space race galvanized America? Only Mark Parker and his team know for now, but I was excited to get a glimpse into the way Nike’s top executives are thinking about the future, while also honing my ability to tell a compelling leadership story.

The 50,000 Foot View: My second project was with the Nike women’s business, called Women’s Training. My work with this team brought me one step closer to the product and the Nike consumer, allowing me to see Nike’s intense passion for meeting ‘her’ needs. Assessing the women’s athletic clothing market, I helped the Women’s Training team better understand Nike’s position against global competitors and identify gaps or opportunities to consider in their business plan. Working with the group’s Strategic Planner, I also developed a ‘War Games’ activity to provide a simulation where key companies in the market battled for market share by making strategic moves like brand extensions, product innovation, and international expansion. While the game was simulated, the lessons are being taken seriously in considering Nike’s next moves in meeting women’s needs, and the analytical skills I honed will surely be a personal asset in the future.

Our winning Nike+ team and honorary team member, Phil Knight

The View from Your Finger Tip: My final project brought me down into the details of the Nike+ Running app with a team of twelve other graduate and undergraduate interns from across the company. Our goal was to understand current Nike+ users and provide ideas for continuing to engage the Nike+ community. Our team surveyed nearly 150 runners, conducted over 30 one-on-one interviews, scanned the market for competitive apps, and ran over 1,000 miles using Nike+ ourselves. In the end, we gathered valuable insights that led to our recommendations to take Nike+ to the next level by providing runners with the resources, training and social support they need to achieve their goals. Our hard work paid off in the best way – I learned how to take deep consumer insights and apply them directly to a Nike product, and our team was selected to present our recommendations to all 150 Nike interns and Phil Knight, co-founder and chairman of Nike!

– Amanda Burlison, MBA 2014

Final presentations and final farewells

I’ve now mentioned on several occasions this A/B testing project that I have been working on. What I haven’t given much air time to is the MBA group project that we were also tasked with. In addition to our individual projects, the 6 MBA interns (all from different schools) worked collectively to answer the question: How does Sephora really win the love and wallets of women of color and of Millennials and Gen Z girls?

Collectively, we interviewed dozens of people at Sephora, across all functions from operations and logistics to PR, from merchandising to the Beauty Insider program. We learned about what Sephora has done in the past in these areas, what the challenges are, and then we brainstormed with them on opportunities ahead. What ended up being most interesting was that we probably got a more cross-functional perspective on the issues and challenges than any of the individual departments: when a company is growing as quickly as Sephora is, it can be hard to keep the channels of communication open, and open frequently.

I won’t give the secrets away, but safe to say that the presentation was very well received by our cross functional audience and I am hopeful that we will see some exciting changes and innovation for this client in the coming year(s)!

After the group presentation, we had a lunch with David Suliteanu, Sephora Americas CEO and other members of the Sephora education team. I continue to be impressed by the extent to which we are asked to reflect on Sephora, on our internships and to provide honest feedback and suggestions. Sephora, and luxury goods in general are not areas where we will see the demand flunch with davidor MBAs in droves, nor is there necessarily that need. However, other MBAs (especially HBS alum!) have paved a solid road ahead at Sephora and it’s great to be a part of that effort. We won’t see the kind of structured recruiting that you’d expect from finance, consulting and other large CPG player, but certainly don’t count it out.

– Emily Wang, MBA 2014

Perks of the LVMH Family

Confession: I had no idea that Sephora was part of LVMH until I interviewed. Most of that is strategic: LVMH wants to make sure that its brands feel distinct and authentic, but this internship debenefit officefinitely exposed me to the broader portfolio in some very fun ways.

At Benefit’s San Francisco offices, we got a healthy dose of the quirky, fun brand’s personality. The reception area alone is a swift transport to all that is pink and sassy. Then we learned about the history of the brand, why its packaging and product names are so witty and how it has grown to become one of the largest color brands within Sephora. Someone should do a case study on branding at Benefit!

Then of course, we got treated to amazing brow waxing at their new Brow Bar and boutique on Sutter St. It’s interesting to observe beauty retail in a small, single brand format after having been exposed to it all summer long on such a multi-brand scale thbenefit tourat is Sephora! The first thing I noticed is just the difference in complexity. At Sephora you have hundreds of people perusing, sampling, asking questions, etc. at the same time, and it’s a lot to manage. For starters, in an open sell environment, you have to make sure product doesn’t walk out the door if it’s not paid for! In a smaller boutique, all of that is scaled down and is much more intimate, with each incoming client greeted personally. I found that I actually enjoy the craziness of a large format store, but was very impressed by the level of service the Benefit gals gave each of the clients!

Learning about the science in beauty

I’m now most of the way through the summer and am feeling pretty good about my project and also have really appreciated the senior exposure along the way. But something was missing…and shockingly, that something was actually beauty! So when Sephora offered me the opportunity to attend a week of classes at Sephora University, I jumped at the chance.

Over the course of 4 days, I learned about topics like why skin ages and how chemicals like retinoids and peptides can help undo damage as well as speed up the process of getting new cells to the skin’s surface. And did you know that there are 3 different kinds of exfoliators (physical, chemical and enzymes)?

EW2Among my pictures is one of me smelling an empty glass – that was during the Fragrance class where we learned to identify different notes and impressions, do some “blind smelling” and guess the scent!

On the days about makeup, we learned how to match clients to the right foundation shade, how to draw eyeliner and brows, and all along the wayEW1, got to practice and play on each other and ourselves! These classes ended up being some of my favorite memories from the summer – and talk about being useful!

Back in my “day-job”, I’ve been busy prepping for my final presentation, which involves shopping my deck around to various departments. One thing I learned very EW3quickly at Sephora is just how cross functional every project is, and it’s important to get buy-in or at least feedback all around (which reminds me a lot of my life as a consultant!). In fact, it’s been incredible to leverage all my experience at BCG while at Sephora. So for those of you spending your summers in consulting know that while it doesn’t pay off in beauty products, it does end up giving you some widely applicable skills!

– Emily Wang, MBA 2014

It’s going to be a beautiful summer…

Testing out new Sephora products
Testing out new Sephora products

This past weekend I was at a BBQ where techie entrepreneurs from around the valley mingled over beers and hot dogs. Someone would approach, and ask me what I did, to which I would reply that I am a business school student currently interning at Sephora.

“Sephora?” they asked quizzically

“Yes, you know, the really large beauty retailer” I replied.

“Oh…I think my [sister] [mom] [wife] buys her makeup there…do you work at a store?”


No, no, it’s not what you think. Or maybe it is. In any case, I am actually based out of their downtown San Francisco headquarters working on a project much closer to the technology side of things. Specifically, I am interning in the Direct (dot com) Marketing group and working on developing an A/B testing and targeting strategy for the company. In simple terms, A/B testing is when you show part of your audience one version of a page / functionality and other portions of your audience variations. This way you can compare differences in response rate/actions of the variations against the control. Pretty technical! But that’s the beauty of Sephora: the stark contrast and intimate blend of beauty products with technology. An average day might include attending a meeting where we play with a bunch of samples and design sample bags for the upcoming holiday season (probably most fun meeting of the summer so far), followed by another meeting where we discuss what tags we want on the back end of the site or what’s going to be part of the next Sprint. It’s two worlds and two languages that manage to coexist so nicely.

Lastly, because Sephora is always working on very exciting, innovative things, there are often fun events to attend! Today I spent an hour painting new nail designs as part of an event to celebrate the new Formula X for Sephora nail polish that will debut in stores September 5th – can’t wait!

– Emily Wang, MBA 2014