Women of Hershey: Andrea Steele Discusses Putting Brand-Community Experience at the Heart of Digital Commerce

Originally published on thehersheycompany.com by Andrea Steele, Director of Digital Direct & Operations.

  • Digital commerce at Hershey is about understanding consumers and customers, and designing solutions to serve them
  • The five key pillars of our digital strategy help us take a holistic approach to addressing those consumer/customer needs grounded in problem solving
  • Hershey’s collaborative culture helps us deliver on our brand promise with a sense of community and purpose

As Director of Digital Direct & Operations at The Hershey Company, my team runs the digital commerce efforts that drive online and offline business via digital capabilities for every brand in our (ever-expanding) portfolio. We develop and execute strategies for a diverse set of areas spanning everything from brand sites, digital B2B, search, and end-to-end digital content to bringing data-powered personalization into all consumer touchpoints across business units.

But while our responsibilities in digital commerce may be vast and diverse, our approach is holistic.

Driving transformative change at Hershey – and designing the strategies and solutions to support our company’s digital future – starts with recognizing one of our most unique advantages: That as one of the globe’s most beloved snacking powerhouses, we’re simultaneously multi-brand and single-category.

That quality makes our culture more collaborative than most, which extends to the consumer relationship (and the internal culture our organization takes pride in).

No matter which brand our consumers interact with most, there’s a brand promise and community experience at the heart of how they feel about Hershey. My team brings that experience into our digital commerce efforts, and our career paths, every single day.

Driving consumer-centric digital change

Since entering my newly created role last year, I’ve been leading a team that’s developing a long-term roadmap to actualize the five pillars of Hershey’s digital strategy (with consumers at the center):

  • Connections – which puts into play the search strategies that make our brands as ‘findable’ on digital shelves as possible
  • Content – where we ensure that there’s an ecosystem of high-quality content for every product in our portfolio, and that it flows properly through all of our owned and partner properties
  • Conversion – where we partner with retailers on algorithms, portfolio, and fulfillment models to serve our consumers’ unique shopping journeys and needs
  • Community – that is, staying loved by building engaging brand communities to listen to our consumers’ feedback, and adapting our products, content and channels to meet their needs
  • Consumer – where we use data-driven approaches to understand consumers and their shopping missions, and serve up the right ads with the right messaging at the right time

Collectively, these pillars level up to a broader effort around transformation – as they require technologies and consumer solutions that are new to the company, and new to our industry. The opportunity to develop new capabilities was part of what drew me to this role at Hershey, as I love the challenge of solving ‘meaty’ enterprise problems.

I often say I work like a plumber, because I like taking systems apart and rebuilding them to meet consumers’ needs to fix not just the technology, but also the accompanying processes and ways of working via change management.

My colleagues share the same kind of problem-solver mindset. Our work starts with recognizing that Hershey’s success with digital hinges on two interrelated considerations; we’re constantly thinking about both the longer-term strategies we need to succeed, while executing on those plans simultaneously. This requires every one of us to balance strategic and operational work day in and day out

Throughout 2019, we developed a three-year roadmap to enable new digital capabilities for the business, and engage partners across the organization to help us put them to action. Now we are moving swiftly into execution in 2020 – and as we deploy solutions across functions, Hershey’s single-category nature is already helping us scale efforts efficiently and collaboratively.

Transforming with education and teamwork

In a large company like Hershey, operational shifts can’t happen unless stakeholders and staff work from the right foundation. Everyone affected needs to understand and respect why the change is right (or necessary) for the business, and what the results are going to be.

Knowing this, my team and I take a phased approach. For each transformation area on our roadmap, we first define the value and the expected impact of these solutions. We then determine what tools and partnerships are needed to accomplish our goals, then break our plans down into stages. From there, it’s about implementing our solutions and approaches with an emphasis on education and teamwork inside the business areas being adapted.

Phasing our efforts this way helps transformation in one area lay a foundation for change in those to follow – helping us operate in a truly agile way, and iterate our processes over the course of projects. Close collaboration with the IS function helps us define and realign priorities every week, ensuring we allocate resources effectively across business needs, get things done on time, and use data to understand and improve performance as we go.

Collaboration and connection for purpose

What’s fun about our area is that it’s all new, and all challenging. There are no pre-set paths for success; all of us in digital commerce are exploring the “grey spaces” of opportunity in online environments to figure out what can be done, and how we can do it. It takes an eye for spotting new opportunities before they’re obvious, determining if there’s a role for Hershey to play in them, and creating processes to figure them out and realize value.

I’ve always been comfortable in “grey space” opportunities. Throughout my career, the roles I’ve stepped into have never existed before me – instead I’ve collaboratively developed them with my manager around the needs inside the business that weren’t being met, and required unique solutions that called for a “figure it out” mindset.

Of course, not all professionals are confident they can “figure it out.” Women, in particular, are less likely than men to apply for jobs where the called-for abilities fall outside their existing qualifications. Yet I always encourage those eager for a challenge to stretch themselves into opportunity-focused, transformation-related roles. They offer huge potential for personal and professional growth because you get to both build the roadmap and drive it.

Building and driving digital commerce success is even more rewarding in an environment like Hershey. Solving hard problems and better serving consumers takes a culture of collaboration and connection. At Hershey, an organization-wide commitment to purpose – and to creating moments of goodness for our consumers – infiltrates everything we do as employees.

Building Hershey’s values and purpose around community and connection into our digital commerce DNA is key to Hershey’s future. Taking a holistic approach to our portfolio, with our brand promise at the heart of all we do, will help launch into the next phase of Hershey’s history with stronger consumer relationships than ever.

ANDREA STEELE Director of Digital Direct & Operations

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