2017 Yale Customer Insights Conference

The 2017 Yale Customer Insights Conference was a success, as reputable speakers from the marketing and innovation world gathered to share what they have learned during their tenure. As a long-term partner of the Yale Center for Customer Insights, Ideas To Go was delighted to sponsor this year’s conference. The Yale Center for Customer Insights partners with global marketing leaders to develop, test, and disseminate new insights that advance the understanding of the changing consumer to drive growth.

The overarching theme of the 2017 Yale Customer Insights Conference put the focus on the consumer. Listen to the voice of your consumer and tailor your business to them. If you simplify the user experience, you simplify the process of buying your product. Consumers don’t want to go out of their way to make a purchase, so the easier you make the purchasing process, the better it is for everyone. Here is our roundup of each Keynote Speaker at 2017’s Yale Customer Insights Conference. If you wish to watch any of the keynote presentations, there is a Youtube Playlist available at the bottom of this post. 

"Standing still is the fastest way to move backwards.” — Stan Sthanunathan

Stan Sthanunathan – EVP of Consumer & Market Insights, Unilever


Interviewed by Ideas To Go’s very own President, Beth Storz, Stan provided a unique perspective on insights. Firstly, insights must be retrospectively self-evident. Many marketers claim to have insights when, in reality, they hold nothing more than a factoid. A real insight creates an “oh shit” moment of realizationwhen something so trivial yet so true is uncovered for the first time. These insights aren’t discovered in focus groups or in quantitative analysis, they need to be from a true place of imagination and they need to resonate with the consumer.

If anything sticks with me from Stan’s talk, it’s thisstanding still is the fastest way to move backwards. It is simple yet evocative, describing how change is necessary and definite. The need for innovation is constant, and the second you stop innovating, the competition will pass you by. You can’t be reactive, you must be proactive, creating disruptive ideas that make people uneasy. The simplest form of doing this is by identifying trends well in advance, allowing you to put yourself ahead of the competition before anything has even arisen. Watch the interview below. 



Gal Zauberman – Professor, Yale School of Management

Gal presented his study addressing how experience integrates with technology. Technology has become increasingly prevalent in today’s society. Just about everyone carries a phone in their pocket, and just about all those phones have cameras. From Snapchat to Instagram, people are taking pictures everywhere they go. Gal wanted to study how taking photos affects someone’s personal experience in a situation. He developed a study in which people took a tour of a city and were either given cameras or not. Those with cameras were told to take at least ten photos while on the tour. He found that taking photos enhanced people’s overall satisfaction with the experiencewith the caveat that taking a photo with the intent to share it decreases the person’s satisfaction. Gal attributes this phenomenon to the photo takers being more engaged in the situation, leading them to have a better experience. A key takeaway for marketers here is that engaging an audience will enhance their experience in that situation.

Norman de Greve – Chief Marketing Officer, CVS Health


When CVS rebranded themselves as CVS Health, they had made a tough decision. They volunteered to give up $2 billion in annual sales by halting all sales of tobacco products and committed $50 million to creating the first tobacco-free generation. In exchange, they back up the claim that CVS Health supports their customers’ health. In recognizing that there are no health benefits to tobacco, CVS Health created a brand that consumers could trust and stand behind. It remains a move that their major competitors have not replicated, but it has created a brand image that millions identify with. This type of loyalty to their consumers should be a model for other companies.

Scott Harkins – SVP of Customer Channel Marketing, FedEx

In a sentence that was incomprehensible 30 years ago, Scott stated, “Only 23% of people prefer to watch TV programs on an actual TV.” This may not pertain directly to FedEx’s business, but it points to the larger trend of online cord cutters and people looking to do as much as possible online without being inconvenienced. With this trend, online purchasing has gone through the roof. FedEx’s goal is to offer a continuously connected user experience that provides transparency for the packages they deliver. They now have package trackers that live track the location of your package, track whether your package has been opened, and more, as they look to make it as simple as possible for the user to know the most about their package. Involving the consumer every step of the way has proven beneficial to FedEx’s business model.

"Only 23% of people prefer to watch TV programs on an actual TV.” — Scott Harkins

Ideas To Go Exclusive Luncheon Presentation

Zoё Chance – Assistant Professor of Marketing, Yale School of Management

Image via Domino's Pizza

Zoё’s presentation came down to a three-letter word: EAT.

  • Ease
  • Attention
  • Trust

If you want consumers to buy your product, you need to follow the EAT formula. Ease of use is first and foremost. The consumer doesn’t want to take eight steps to arrive at their final destination, they want to take one step. The easier it is for them to get from point A to point B, the more likely it is that they will arrive at point B. Domino’s is a great example for ease of use. You can order a Domino’s pizza by tweeting the pizza emoji at Domino’s twitter. Don’t want to do that? You can text Domino’s to order a pizza. Or Facebook Message them. Or order with your Google Home. Bottom line, they are making the ordering process extremely efficient for the customer, and it’s available just about anywhere. It makes people more likely to follow through with a purchase.

Not only should the process be easy, but you must gain the consumer’s Attention. You need a captivating product with an even more captivating message. Just because someone sees your message with their eyes doesn’t mean they are processing it in their brain. Get the customer’s attention by utilizing consumer insights and engage them in your product.

Trust is the last component to EAT. It completes the cycle and leads to a convincing purchase process for the consumer. Ease and attention are useless if you don’t gain the trust of your consumer. Take United Airlines, for example. Trust in their service has gone down considerably. Not only is it due to what happened on one of their airplanes (see here), it is also because of the way they handled the situation. Instead of taking responsibility for the incident, United put the blame on the passenger and claimed he was acting “belligerent.” The blame game did not have a positive effect on their customers’ trust and it worsened their PR crisis. If you want to convince someone to buy your product, bring EAT together and make sure there is an easy user experience, you can get the consumer’s attention, and that they trust you enough to follow through with a purchase.

Claire Burns – Chief Customer Officer, MetLife

When Claire came to MetLife, she noticed that buying insurance was not about the consumer at all, as the buying process took them through loops and steps and complicated option plans. The forms applicants were filling out hadn’t been changed in decades, and to submit those forms they had to be either faxed or turned in by snail mail. What year was this happening? 2012. You couldn’t scan and email a document to them as late as 2012. Claire’s mission was to focus on the customer and make insurance purchasing as easy as buying a Chipotle burrito. She performed a full system overhaul to emphasize the importance of the user experience, completely renovating and simplifying forms, processes, and plans and raising customer satisfaction.

Ronalee Zarate-Bayani – Head of Global Integrated Marketing, The Hershey Company

Ronalee’s upbeat presentation was all about adapting to the volatility of the moment. Consumer expectations are constantly in motion, so the quicker you adapt, the further you will leap ahead of your competition. For example, there was a tweet that went viral about a college student’s car that had gotten robbed. However, what was robbed was only a Kit Kat Bar, and the robber left a note:


With a team constantly monitoring social media, Kit Kat discovered the tweet and swiftly responded. They filled the teenager’s car with 6,500 Kit Kat bars and were able to garner positive PR and promote organic marketing through social sharing. Something Ronalee emphasized was the need to experiment. You can never be too sure about what marketing technique will work and what won’t, but by continuously experimenting you will eventually hit a bullseye.

Adam Grossman – Chief Marketing Officer, Boston Red Sox

Image via Boston Red Sox

How do you innovate a classic American pastime older than any living human being? It’s not a simple task, but you can market your team in unique and exciting ways. For example, Adam knew that if a child goes to a baseball game before the age of 5, they will attend 58% more baseball games in their lifetime than someone who first attends a game before the age of 14. So, the Red Sox started Kid Nation, a way for parents to sign their kids up for a program that offers free Red Sox ticketsand other perks like 10% off the Red Sox Store, access to exclusive events, 50% off Red Sox Baseball Camp and more. By garnering interest at a younger age, the Red Sox increase the likelihood that those fans will come back to Fenway Park throughout the rest of their lives.

Duncan Simester – Professor of Marketing, MIT Sloan School of Management

The research Duncan presented was all about harbingers. What he found was that there are groups of people that tend to purchase products that will fail. These harbingers can then be used to predict future failing products. His study looked at 8,000 products, 40% of which fail after three years. Using the harbingers, Duncan could predict which future products would succeed and which would fail. The failing products even span across categories, meaning they can be used as an indicator for an unrelated product. Even more interesting is the fact that the harbingers can be clustered by zip code and the zip codes have just as much predictive validity. Here’s a fun fact to close the studyharbingers vote for the losing presidential candidates more often than non-harbingers.

Ideas To Go had a great time at the Yale Customer Insights Conference and we can’t wait to see what learnings await us next year! 

UPDATE: See what happened at the 2018 Yale Customer Insights Conference.


Tyler Thompson

Tyler Thompson is a Creative Process Designer and Facilitator at Ideas To Go, an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies in ideation and concept development to incorporate the voice of the consumer.