Ashley Daisley

The Science of Marketing: Ashley Daisley '12

September 26, 2017
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When she turned five, Ashley Daisley ’12 (BS BE) told her mom she wanted guests to bring books to her birthday party, not presents. It was an odd request, she acknowledges in retrospect, but her mom relayed the message and her friends complied.

To everyone’s surprise, the book-themed event was a massive hit. The five-year-olds spent nearly the entire party reading aloud from the books they’d brought.

In that moment, Daisley’s mom saw opportunity—she brought the idea of “reading parties” to Ashley’s day care center in Brooklyn, and later to area Barnes & Noble bookstores. She formed a literary organization, Young Readers Network. Ashley was integral to the new nonprofit: she attended the events dressed as a butterfly, reading books to her peers. Their story was written up in the New York Times, and they received a letter from President Bill Clinton thanking them for their work.

The experience taught Daisley that there is value in paying close attention to what resonates with people and being brave enough to act on that knowledge. “I loved that there was a way to take a little idea and turn it into something that had an impact on a lot of people’s lives,” she says. It’s a lesson she carried with her to WPI and one that has helped her thrive beyond it.

The work in consumer and market knowledge allowed her to combine her curiosity and scientific thinking, her love of people, and her desire to make the world better—one small step at a time.

The seeds of success

Daisley made an early mark through reading, but in school she also showed an aptitude for math and sciences. When a math teacher at her magnet high school in Washington, D.C., told her to consider WPI, she admitted she’d never heard of it. But after a bit of research—which included looking into WPI’s biomedical engineering program—she was persuaded to give the school a chance. An overnight visit sealed the deal.

Thinking she might become a medical doctor, she enjoyed her first few science courses. But while there was a lot she loved about the biomedical engineering program—learning to define problems, ask questions, and investigate hypotheses—there was one sticking point. “The labs made me realize I wasn’t that great around blood,” she says. A social animal at heart, she also realized she might not be cut out for often-solitary research projects.

Though she didn’t find a perfect fit in her classes, she did discover an outlet where she was able to bring her considerable skills to bear: the Goat’s Head pub on campus. As a sophomore, she was hired as the restaurant’s first student entertainment coordinator. Her responsibilities included planning events, negotiating fees with performers, and creating marketing materials to attract students.

Assistant dean of student programs Jim McLaughlin recalls that Daisley’s commitment to the work was admirable. “Whether she was planning a Halloween-themed pumpkin-carving contest or a gingerbread house decorating party in the winter months, it was clear she enjoyed planning activities that made students’ lives fun at WPI.”

Nevertheless, she wondered if she had her finger on the pulse of student desires. She sent out a survey to learn what students really wanted to see. She took their feedback to heart and developed an array of new events, including a “Minute to Win It” game show–style competition that proved enormously popular. She admits she never would have come up with the idea without hearing from students. The lessons from that simple questionnaire had a lasting impact on her.

Daisley used her fledgling customer research skills to land a coveted spot in a week-long consumer strategy workshop at Procter and Gamble the summer after her sophomore year. After besting close to 10,000 applicants, she and eight other students completed a case study linked to Olay skin care products, worked on consumer research, and even presented findings to former P&G CEO Bob McDonald. She parlayed that experience into a summer internship at the company the following year and landed a full-time role at P&G after she graduated.

The work in consumer and market knowledge allowed her to combine her curiosity and scientific thinking, her love of people, and her desire to make the world better—one small step at a time.

Getting into the mind of a consumer

Her first full-time position at P&G, as a consumer and market knowledge associate manager for beauty and grooming, focused on the look and feel of Pantene shampoo and conditioner bottles.

The products were effective, but sales were slow. Shoppers seemed disinclined to take the bottles off the shelf. She and her team needed to find out the “why.” How do people make decisions? What makes us do what we do?

Daisley conducted surveys and had volunteer consumers browse mock stores with shelves set up like a typical haircare aisle. But she obtained the most useful feedback from focus groups where she would ask consumers to think about the bottles in unexpected ways.

After showing research participants two bottles of Pantene—one with the current design and one with a new design, she asked them to imagine that the bottles  were guests at a party they were hosting. ”If you saw these two bottles,” she’d say, “how would you describe them?”

Once the initial confusion about the questions faded, participants were game, she says. “Women might say things like, ‘The older bottle looks like the person who didn’t even want to come to the party. She’s not talking to anyone, and I have to worry about her because I’m not sure she’s making friends.’ About the new bottle they might say, ‘She looks like she came to the party in a nice car and gave all of my friends great fashion tips.’”

Embedded in those statements, she says, were deep insights about what consumers like (or loathe) about a product. Most people find it difficult to explain why a certain product doesn’t connect with them, but when researchers reframe their question into terms that resonate with our everyday experiences—like hosting a party—they can gain surprisingly useful insights. Translated, that knowledge can help guide designers and help marketers create products that people love to have in their lives.

For personal care products, she says, getting the details right matters. “These are products people use every single day. They put the bottles in their showers—some of the most intimate spaces in their homes. In a crowded marketplace, something as simple as the color of a bottle can keep a shopper from buying an otherwise outstanding product.”

Daisley’s work stood out, and she quickly scaled the corporate ladder, taking on new roles that led her to dig deep into subtle issues that led consumers and businesses to buy or not buy a product.

For example, she traveled to Brazil to see if P&G could develop a new market for its liquid floor cleaners. But when she visited homes and restaurants, she discovered that consumers “liked using gritty powdered laundry detergent on their floors, because they felt it cleaned better.” “That insight—which we couldn’t have discovered any other way—saved us from going into that market with a liquid product,” she says.

Her ability to extract key lessons about what people really want has helped her in other areas of her life. She has served as campaign manager for a friend who ran for a seat on Cincinnati’s City Council. Though she wasn’t able to propel him to victory, she helped the upstart candidate garner 10,000 votes—just short of a seat. And she has been a tireless volunteer for her local NAACP branch, working to attract new members, leading branch retreats, and developing new projects for the group. “I did some consumer research work within our branch to understand what we were really passionate about,” she says. “Our executive committee was my focus group.”

At work these days she’s busy on top-secret work in fabric care, called “front-end innovation.” She and her team gather up some of the company’s best ideas, determine which ones have a shot at success, and do small tests to see if they’re worth pursuing.

While she can’t say much about her current work, she does share something that’s already out in the world. Her group was responsible for a pilot test of Tide Spin, a partnership with Uber. “Just press a button in an app,” she says, “and someone will pick up your laundry, wash and fold it, and drop it back off at your house when it’s done.”

For Daisley, the joy of her work isn’t about a new bottle shape or a new app. It’s about understanding people better, knowing what they really want, and finding ways to deliver that to them. “In [P&G] meeting rooms, there will always be people who want to cut costs or increase profits, but my job is to be the consumers’ hero—to be their champion,” she says. “People rely on our brands every day of their lives. I want to make sure we’re doing the best we can for them.” 

First published in WPI Journal, Fall 2017 edition

Behind the Scenes

A behind the scenes look at our photo shoot with Ashley Daisley, on the streets of Cincinnati, OH.

Ashley Daisley

Behind the Scenes

Can you catch what song Daisley is singing to get into the spirit?
 

Ashley Daisley