Profile: ​​​​​​​AiCi Li, Center of Expertise for Shopper Insights, Mars. Inc.

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Profile: ​​​​​​​AiCi Li, Center of Expertise for Shopper Insights, Mars. Inc.

By Institute Staff - 09/17/2018
Photo by Doug Hoeschler

As the shopper insights center of expertise at Mars Inc., AiCi Li is responsible for growing capabilities and advancing the organization’s learning agenda in this practice area. What this means is envisioning and building the capabilities that allow Mars to better serve its consumers and to better partner with its retail customers. This involves being future-looking, experimenting, identifying and accelerating the greatest opportunity, and ensuring solutions are rooted in science.

How do shopper insights fit into your organization?

LI: Shopper insights are an integral part of the Mars organization. They have influenced our internal philosophy and our everyday ways of working. What we have found is that the most successful stories in our organization – and I’m defining success as sales – often include a shopper truth and a category growth perspective.

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

LI: Empathy and storytelling. In order to be good in insights you have to have empathy. Fundamentally, we are advocates for what the shopper and consumer is telling us (or not telling us). Empathy is necessary to uncover the insight and helps us to stay true to the insight, not allowing it to get lost in the process of commercialization. In order to be successful, you need to be able to tell a story. It’s not enough to simply provide data points, facts and figures. It’s critical to use that data to take your audience on a journey and compel your business partner to act.

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

LI: There are many advancements in the research industry today – both to current techniques and development of new technologies. Thanks to the digital revolution, it’s a very interesting time for insights. Image recognition, biometrics and neuroscience, and augmented reality are all things we experiment with to understand their value to developing insights.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of your work?

LI: Seeing the application of the tools lead to decisions that are clear, differentiated and impactful to the Mars business. And, of course, chocolate and puppies in the office.

What’s the biggest challenge facing shopper insights?

LI: The shifting retail landscape. What happened to media with the fracturing of where and when consumers consume content is impacting the retail world. How, when and where consumers shop has substantially changed and is still in a state of evolution. The implication of that is: What do you chase and how do you chase it to meet the changing needs of the shopper? These are the questions everyone is wrestling with, be it packaged goods or fashion. The other challenge, which in part is an artifact of the retail revolution, is an overabundance of data and how to manage those data streams in-house in a manner that allows us to harness it for learning.

What’s next for the insights discipline?

LI: Being replaced by artificial intelligence. Did you think you’d get through reading this interview without seeing a mention of AI or machine learning? Joking aside, there will be a greater reliance on machine learning due to need and availability. We in insights need to understand it, identify the opportunities it brings and accelerate adoption of it into our organization. Be an agent of change, not what is changed.