Profile: Deb Monahan, Director, Shopper Insights & Capabilities, GSK Consumer Healthcare
Deb Monahan officially joined GSK Consumer Healthcare in 2015 as part of the Novartis-GSK Joint Venture and has led the U.S. shopper insights capability at the company since then. She was excited for the opportunity, as she had studied consumer and shopper behavior in the U.S. and across global markets for nearly 15 years, focused on uncovering the universal truths of shopping life.
Describe your current role.
MONAHAN: We are focused on cultivating thought-provoking insights that result in clear recommendations and strategies to drive growth in the categories in which we compete. We do this through developing and implementing category leadership platforms that are comprehensive, insight-led programs to help retailers engage shoppers, grow their business and differentiate in the market. We also study what drives purchase decisions and how shopper expectations have shifted due to the vast choices in the market, emergence of new segments such as naturals and CBD, as well as the growth in e-commerce and the role of mobile in the path to purchase.
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How do shopper insights fit into your organization?
MONAHAN: At GSK, we are obsessed with understanding consumers and shoppers, as well as serving our customers. Simply put, we cannot do this without establishing and building a strong discipline in uncovering and injecting insights into everything we do. Over time, my team has led the way in driving this capability across the organization. It has significantly impacted not only our go-to-market strategies but also how GSK is viewed by our retailer partners in the U.S.
What emerging technology and techniques do you leverage to develop insights at GSK?
MONAHAN: We are fortunate to have a state-of-the-art Shopper Science Lab in our Warren, New Jersey, headquarters, where we are exploring and testing new technologies with shoppers. We also leverage these tools to gain insights into shopping behavior. Our eye-tracking and skin biometric tools help us to read the impact of shelf merchandising and signage, assess product findability and packaging components, and explore reactions to online webpage content and in-store circulars. We are also exploring shopper behavior as it relates to voice searches and AI tools that provide education on symptoms and products to serve our shoppers’ needs
Are any recent trends significantly impacting your team’s work in insights?
MONAHAN: The overarching trend toward health and wellness is impacting how we are looking at both product and commercial innovation. We must evolve our traditional OTC communications from simplistic ‘problem-solution’ messages to more meaningful activations that resonate with consumers and shoppers in a more empathetic and aspirational way. We need to tie our solutions to higher-order wellness benefits because that’s the way she is thinking about them for herself and her family.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of your work?
MONAHAN: My team has done an incredible amount of work over the past four years to cement shopper insights and discipline into the organization. The thing that I am most proud of is seeing how senior management at many of our customers have reacted to our work and adopted our recommendations – and how our leadership platforms have transformed their business. I am also proud of how deeply our research and insights have been embedded into our sales plans and marketing strategies.
What’s the biggest challenge facing shopper insights?
MONAHAN: I would say the biggest challenge today is the shopper’s path to purchase has not been linear in years, and it will continue to change in the coming years. No longer do we just understand shopping behavior in-store, but we need to examine and stay ahead of the ever-changing landscape of shopping life. The other more pragmatic but very real challenge we face in insights is to monetize the commercial value of what we do. Our insights work clearly enables 4P activation excellence in-market, and I have recently commissioned a cross-functional task force to develop a consistent approach to how we measure the value our insights and leadership platforms deliver. I believe many organizations struggle with this as well, and if we can crack the code here it will help further cement the value of shopper insights and the research my team delivers
MONAHAN: The depth of insights through our category platform work and the co-creation we are doing as a result in designing differentiated programs to meet shopper needs really stands out to me. For instance, in the smoker’s health category, we identified that the first-time quitter has very different needs than an experienced, repeat buyer. This was a foundational learning, and we were able to partner with retailers to design merchandising solutions to help both shopper types. We also uncovered that quitting smoking is a very emotional process. Thus, supportive and inspirational messaging and education is paramount to helping shoppers on their journey to becoming smoke-free.
In the oral health category, we identified distinct shopper types that led to improved merchandising for the specialty paste segment. For the shoppers who suffer from specific conditions, such as enamel erosion or sensitivity, education and improved findability are very important to connecting them to the right solutions. This results in more satisfied shoppers and increased oral care baskets for our retailers. We have also completed robust shopper research in the digestive health and allergy relief categories as well, and the resulting category leadership platforms are starting to gain traction in the market.