A Story Behind Every Number with Nick Graham & Brigette Wolf

July 6, 2022

(highlights from Episode #7 of the Gutsiest Brands podcast)

Check out the latest lessons from our Gutsiest Brands podcast as GutCheck’s Chief Revenue Officer, Jess Gaedeke, sits down with Nick Graham and Brigette Wolf, both of Mondelēz (the powerhouse company behind brands like Oreo and Cadbury). They talk about how understanding people is about asking the right questions, and how Uber became a verb. 

Brigette made her way to Mondelēz through investment banking and is now Vice President and Global Head of SnackFutures, their investment and innovation hub. Nick entered his role of Global Head of Insights & Analytics at Mondelēz by working in advertising planning and finding his way through to innovation strategy. Nick says, “one thing that you’ll see Brigette and I share is a real passion, a lifelong passion for understanding people and understanding behavior and why we do things.”  

And now, they’re here to teach us a thing or two… 

Takeaway #1 Everything Comes Down to Humans

Nick points out that, “the whole idea of a consumer and a shopper is just so archaic because, news flash, people don’t just consume and shop. They are fully rounded human beings that do lots of things.” Brigette agrees, reminding us that every data point in our analytics has a unique story behind it and we can’t get too consumed in the trends and numbers. And the same applies to how we treat our peers. Brigette says, “working with others is just having a level of humanity, of understanding [that] we are humans at the end of the day.”  

Takeaway #2 Authenticity Must Be Paired With Action

Discussing how brands can better engage with different communities, Nick reminds us that we need to think of these things as relationships, and relationships are something we invest in over time. Citing the example of Oreo’s LGBTQ Proud Parent campaign, he explains that “it isn’t just a piece of one-off video content, it’s a piece of ongoing commitment to the community, showing up throughout the entire year.He goes on to warn that younger generations have a pretty high bar for engagement with the communities…and they can sniff out when brands are not really fully authentic and not fully part of a community.” Therefore, he urges “it’s something you have to stick with over time and look at how else you can help beyond the odd social post and look at how you can really commit to working with a community.”  

Takeaway #3 Ask Questions & Wait for Answers

Modern analytics uses complex tools for obtaining information. Really, the best way to understand your customer is to ask good questions. But it goes beyond asking the right questions. Nick says this requires, “leaving space for them to think about it and to answer it. Not just jumping in with your next question, but really leaving space for a conversation and a dialogue.” Again, Brigette shows us how this can apply to the way we work with others, not just the way we sell to them. She encourages us to ask “how do I pause for my team” and reiterates that “asking them a question and then giving them the space themselves to answer is so powerful.” 

Takeaway #4 – Fight for What You Believe in

Brigette works with many startups and is constantly impressed with how these new companies stick to their beliefs. She says, “Every single one of those founders has such conviction behind what they are doing. That is what makes them so gutsy because they are doing something that is so scary that they have to explain it to the world.” Explaining their brand to the world through marketing is no easy task. Brigette suggests narrowing the focus down to only one thing and not being discouraged. “Even now it’s ‘climb your way out of the trenches.’ It is a lot of work,” says Brigette. She adds that if founders retain their “core true north of what [they’re] doing and fight for it every single day,” investors and management will understand why their company is so important. 

Brigette‘s Best Advice?

Listen to new entrepreneurs. Working in SnackFutures, Brigette has the opportunity to mentor new companies and brands. But there’s a bit of a problem. “I think there’s sometimes this misguided assumption of ‘I’m so small; what can I offer them?’ And ‘I’m so big; I can tell them everything.’ And they’re both wrong. Radically wrong.” A big business may have knowledge and access that a small company doesn’t yet. But the “entrepreneurs bring us back that holy grail of empathy. They just had the idea and they saw a need. They are the quintessential hyper-centric, consumer-centric leaders. So, they get us back in touch with those roots of reminding ourselves every day of ‘how do you talk to your consumer?’” 

Nick’s Best Advice? 

Don’t rely on the old methods when what you’re doing is brand new. He says, “I think the old linear model ofI’m going to develop the perfect concept on the perfect product and I’m going to ship it out and people are going to buy it and repeat works for some things. But particularly stretching into new spacesnovel technologies and novel categories and hybrid categoriesthere isn’t a formula. You have to test and learn what’s right. That’s actually when you work out what the real compromise is that people are trying to solve for.” It may take courage to operate in the unknown, but it can be very worth it.  

Keep Learning 

Catch up on Brigette and Nick’s full interview by listening to the Gutsiest Brands podcast where you can also hear about the empathy-driven campaign Cadbury ran in India over Diwali, an eye-opening discussion about the ‘empathy illusion’. If you are interested in how your brand can uncover the deep customer insights that can enable you to lead with empathy, pioneer new paths, stand behind bold ideas, and lean into ‘the power of AND’, we’d love to help. Drop us a note!

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