University of Pittsburgh

Meeting Buyers at the Decision Point

To understand why consumers shop the way that they do, Megan Hennigan heads to the decision point: the very spot where products are sold, at supermarkets, big-box stores, gas stations, and convenience stores.

Hennigan (MBA '11), senior manager of shopper marketing for the global food company H.J. Heinz Co., unravels the mysteries of shopping experiences so that her company can improve them. Called shopper marketing, the discipline tracks who is buying a product, where, and why. Although a relatively new field, shopper marketing is increasingly important to the overall sales strategy of major packaged goods companies such as Heinz, Proctor & Gamble, Coca-Cola Co., and Kraft Foods Inc.

"I'm very focused on the path to purchase. There is a different trigger system for the way people buy products," Hennigan says.

The 33-year-old Hennigan was named in November to the 2011 Pittsburgh 40 under 40 list. The award - hosted by Pittsburgh Magazine and PUMP (Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project) - recognizes people under the age of 40 who through work and charity are helping to make the region a better place. Hennigan is one of two Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business alumni on this year's list. Jared Souder (MBA '10), executive director of Veterans Place of Washington Boulevard in Pittsburgh, is the other winner.

Outside of Heinz, where Hennigan has worked for five years, Hennigan is active in the community. She is a mentor for a Girls Hope of Pittsburgh, a nonprofit that provides a stable environment for at-risk girls from the ages of 10-18. Hennigan, a member of the Girls Hope Young Leadership board, helps with the organization's fundraising and spends time with girls in the program every month.

"I live by the principle that 'to whom much is given, much is expected,'" explains Hennigan. "I feel that I've been blessed in life with great family, friends, and opportunities. I try to give back as much as possible with my time and resources."

Hennigan says shopper marketing differs from traditional marketing, which tends to focus on consumers and how people use a product. Shopper marketing, in contrast, zeroes in on how people decide to buy a product, where they decide to purchase it, and how that buyer can be influenced.

For example, "everyone knows and loves Heinz ketchup," explains Hennigan, "but how do we influence them to purchase it? How are shoppers in Wal-mart behaving differently than shoppers in Whole Foods or in Sheetz?"

At Heinz, Hennigan builds the marketing strategies that are used to reach shoppers at specific locations. She says there are "huge leaps and bounds in the research. We can barely keep up with the new knowledge that is unfolding. It's exciting to work in a growing and evolving field."

Hennigan says her Katz education included a course on in-store decision making, taught by J. Jeffrey Inman, associate dean for research and faculty and Albert Wesley Frey Professor of Marketing. In particular, Hennigan is thankful for the courses that beefed up her understanding of other business units at Heinz.

"Because of my finance classes, I better understand the accounting and corporate finance end of things. I can see how they all work together in terms of the marketing scope," Hennigan says.