How did you get there? Michelle Gansle

Such a privilege to catch up with the phenomenal Michelle Gansle who is Senior Director, Foresight, Innovation and Growth Insights at Mars Wrigley, and who is the current Quirks Market Researcher of the Year winner! She is also running for ESOMAR Council.

Michelle is an experienced global marketing professional who has specialized in insights, strategy and innovation over a 20 year career, but perhaps my favourite, and possibly the key thing you need to know about her, lies in her personal statement, or as she describes, “her superhero powers”, which are “connecting dots, resources and people to imagine and activate a better future for the communities I serve – personally and professionally.” For anyone looking to succeed in market research and insights, this, is literally, what it is all about!

Hi Michelle, wonderful to catch up with a fellow ESOMAR Council Candidate! I know we’re both busy people, so let’s dive right in! So you’ve now got over twenty years’ experience in market research and insights with an impressive collection of global Fortune 500 Companies including Dell Computers, Clorox, Nestle and Mars, but let’s go back to the beginning, how did you get into the industry, and take us through how you got to this point?

I went back to school to become and International Brand Manager. While in grad school, I took an internship with Clorox in Insights, thinking it would help me to be a better brand manager if I ‘understood the consumer mindset’.  After that internship, I was hooked and never looked back.  If I am honest 20+ years ago, there wasn’t really a Market Research degree or formal career path, so most of my peers fell into research vs it being a destination. I am glad I found it. Every day I think “I have the best career in the world!”

Love that – you really do! And so if you had to distil everything you’ve achieved right down, what would you say are three secrets to your success so far?

Hmmm.  Good question.

I think the #1 secret to my success is Curiosity and #2 is Collaboration. 

Curiosity is a must have trait for any successful person in the Insights industry, but my desire to connect with and learn from others has helped me to broaden my perspective and find solutions I wouldn’t have found otherwise. 

So, come on, if you’re allowed to say, what’s the most interesting, crazy, fun project you’ve ever worked on?

Craziest, most fun project? I have so many of those! I am not sure I could point to one, but the most gratifying work I have ever done is partnering with Zappi, PepsiCo and 4 other companies to create the Insights Alliance.  It’s been a highlight of my career to push the boundaries on methodologies and influence industry conversation on the changing role of the Insights job description, D&I, etc.

So, you’re client side, and I know agencies are always striving to unlock the key to understanding their clients, but in your opinion, what do you need from an agency, what do clients really want from their agency?

I did a talk once at the CEO Summit on this exact question.  The answer is probably not what you would think.

The #1 thing I think is missing from agencies is deeper customer empathy and understanding.

Agencies spend a lot of time, like us, understanding consumer behavior. But so many agencies don’t spend enough time trying to have customer empathy. I don’t mean understanding our business but understanding what we go through internally and why its so hard to introduce a new supplier or methodology, for example, or having a Client Council. There are simple things you can do to get closer to understanding us and how to drive closer collaboration.

Not being in the office and around colleagues, it is incredibly challenging, for younger researchers to stand out. What two bits of advice do you have for a junior researcher, working from home in lockdown, on how they can best stand out and impress their teams?

When I was younger, I focused all my energies on “being right,” having all the answers and managing upwards internally. I wish I had spent more time asking questions, going to conferences and building my network externally. I don’t know if you know Gracie McKinstry-Smith at Target? She won the Quirks award this year for Best Young Researcher. The first thing she did was reach out to me to connect. I was so impressed! We need more Gracies in the industry.

That is brilliant. I was a judge in the Quirks Young Researcher Category and remember her entry well – super impressive! I’ve reached out to Gracie as I would love to profile her in our ‘On the way up!’ section. Watch this space.

And so thinking more long term now, what two things should junior researchers focus on as they progress in their careers?

Get comfy with understanding technology and data science. Not saying you have to go get a degree, but at least understand how it all works and connects. Also focus on getting really great at powerful storytelling (vs pretty presentations).

You’re running for ESOMAR council, congratulations! What is your key message and how do you plan to make a difference?

Thanks! And congrats to you too. Let’s do this!

My top 3 priorities will be:

  1. Supplier/Buyer collaboration – its only through working together that we can meaningfully tackle the big stuff.
  2. Diversity, inclusion and representation in research sample and within MR teams, and
  3. Focus on the insights professional of the future – what skillset, experiences, and methodologies will be necessary to ensure we stay relevant as an industry

And do you have anyone who has helped your career so far that you’d like to acknowledge and say thanks or give a shout out to? (and yes, I’ve purposely shared the pic of your cats after this as I feel they would feel left out!)

Oh I love this! I am sure to offend some folks by not mentioning everyone, but I will give a special shoutout to Stephan Gans (SVP PepsiCo) and Jami Guthrie (VP, McDonald’s)– they are my Insights leader heroes and have taught me so much on what it means to be an effective leader in this space.

So great to catch up Michelle! Thank you. Such inspiring advice for young researchers, and I love your ESOMAR vision. Hope to serve with you!