Katie Thomas

Lead, Kearney Consumer Institute

Katie Thomas has built her career around understanding consumers — what makes them tick, how to meet their needs, and why they are so fiercely loyal to Heinz ketchup.  As lead of the Kearney Consumer Institute (KCI), Katie is advocate for and expert on all things consumer, identifying provocative insights, authoring opinion pieces, and interfacing with Kearney clients.

Katie’s career began in management consulting at Kearney, working on projects across Fortune 500 consumer goods, retail, and media clients to build strategies, conduct market analyses, and identify operational efficiencies.  Katie shifted gears post-MBA, moving into brand management for beloved brands from Heinz to Aidells chicken sausage.  Katie’s obsession with the consumer only deepened through consumer ethnographies and new product launches. Returning to Kearney to lead the KCI, Katie challenges existing assumptions and reframes questions with a consumer-centric perspective.

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  • Posted on: 08/05/2022

    Is TikTok becoming a bridal shopping portal?

    The main thing for brands to focus on here, as highlighted, is letting it be used as discovery and inspiration. For this example in particular, wedding planning is a process where consumers will be evaluating many options over time. Don't force purchase conversion and make the overall experience less appealing or inauthentic for consumers by attempting to make it "shoppable" too fast.
  • Posted on: 07/26/2022

    How important are founders to brand authenticity?

    We all have to perform a gut check here. Do we really need founder stories for every brand we buy? Do I care who founded my toilet paper company? As with any aspect of brand purpose or communicating to consumers, whether it be founders (e.g. Ghiradelli, Heinz) or sustainability/values (e.g. Patagonia, Ben & Jerry's), communicating authenticity only works if it's ... authentic and clearly an ongoing core aspect of the brand.
  • Posted on: 07/22/2022

    Study says health labels get shrugs from shoppers

    In the name of making systemic or structural changes, companies put these health labels on foods to seemingly enable consumers to make healthier decisions. But in fact, it puts all of the onus on the consumers to "choose" the healthier option and makes them feel judged when they don't (we see this often in sustainability initiatives as well). If brands really want consumers to be healthier, they should eliminate or improve the less healthy options. Or they should acknowledge the role they play in consumers' lives - if I'm going to a fast food or ice cream restaurant, I may already know this isn't my healthiest decision. And if it's my splurge, I'm increasingly annoyed to be confronted by the numbers that make me feel bad.
  • Posted on: 07/21/2022

    Macy’s keeps going small and off-mall

    We're seeing a general trend of big brands launching multiple formats to appeal to different consumers. From Dick's Sporting Goods to American Eagle, retailers are learning to adapt to changing consumer preferences. Macy's is no exception. Sometimes the simple size and selection of a full department store is daunting. A tighter merchandise assortment in a non-mall location could provide value for both the consumer and Macy's.
  • Posted on: 07/19/2022

    Will Toys“R”Us kids help Macy’s have a very merry Christmas?

    Getting the assortment right may be a bit of a challenge, but this partnership holds potential for both Toys "R" Us and Macy's. In a time where nostalgia is still rampant, Millennials who have or are beginning to have kids have a fondness for their own childhood as a Toys "R" Us kid. Macy's is seeing positive momentum and it's worth experimenting with which departments are the right ones as consumer needs and behaviors evolve.
  • Posted on: 07/18/2022

    Hasbro wants to put all our faces on action figures

    Two birds, one stone. This is an inventive way to personalize options for the consumer and allow them to engage with their favorite brands while also testing 3-D printing functionality. Our research shows that 71 percent of consumers say something appeals to them simply for being rare or unique. This idea nails it.
  • Posted on: 07/07/2022

    Are Walmart+ members ready to invite the retailer into their homes?

    Agreed - yet I also keep thinking of Uber. While it seemed insane at one point to get into a stranger's car (or stay at a stranger's house, a la Airbnb), it's been a successful model. And those companies have dealt with significant issues around theft, assault, and the like. But I agree that Walmart will likely be held to a higher standard from the outset than these "start-ups/disruptors."
  • Posted on: 07/07/2022

    Time’s up for TikTok’s U.S. livestream shopping plans

    I could be wrong here (seriously, feel free to correct me) but I always felt like the success in China was due more to the monopolistic nature of Tmall, where consumers can buy from a wide range of brands during livestreaming events. Whereas in the U.S. and Europe, the market is much more complex so there's not as much incentive for consumers to participate in an event for just one or a few brands.
  • Posted on: 07/05/2022

    Is Amazon taking its foot off the Prime Day marketing pedal?

    While inflation will certainly have an impact, Prime Day has increasingly become focused on buying Amazon products, and how many Rings and Echos does one consumer need? For this event to be truly monumental, they need other manufacturers on board, who are probably hesitant this year due to supply chain issues.
  • Posted on: 06/27/2022

    Are outsized private label gains in grocery a foregone conclusion?

    Consumers will be increasingly willing to try store brands if they are more affordable. But they won't continue to purchase if the quality or taste doesn't deliver. In that case, they'll buy the national brand still - perhaps in a better pack size, or they will try to use the product more frugally.
  • Posted on: 06/16/2022

    Will country star Miranda Lambert raise Walmart’s profit margins?

    It certainly makes sense that Walmart wants to grow successful discretionary categories. That said, I question if their shopper is looking for these categories from Walmart. Target (and other brands such as TJ Maxx and HomeGoods) are known to attract treasure hunters and unexpected purchases - it's basically part of the brand ethos. Walmart's ethos is more centered around price. Specific assortment of these partnerships aside, it will be interesting to see if these partnerships will pay off for Walmart, or if it's not what their consumers are looking for from them.
  • Posted on: 06/14/2022

    Retailers produce rainbows, rain-fauxs and rain-foes with Pride month efforts

    It's good to see broader themes and messaging of acceptance and inclusivity being attempted by large retailers - it's on the right track towards improved representation. But sometimes I can't help but wonder who approves some of the actual products, per Brian's point. They are often as bad as the infamous "Bic pens for women" debacle a while back. It's time to dig deeper - is it really about products communities want to see? Or more about broader celebration of differences and consistent commitment unrelated to the holidays?
  • Posted on: 06/13/2022

    Should retailers charge for curbside pickup?

    Spend less on shopper marketing and in-store ads to offset the cost of curbside pickup. 92% of consumers say they don't use in-store advertising. Most consumers for most products have already made the decision on what they are buying by the time they are at the shelf.
  • Posted on: 06/13/2022

    Should retailers charge for curbside pickup?

    Retailers can be a bit too linear in their thinking when it comes to costs and fees. X service costs more = must charge for it. I'd suspect there are other, more creative ways to absorb the cost - whether through rethinking the labor model, structure of curbside, etc. that won't lead to a consumer balking at a suddenly appearing extra fee.
  • Posted on: 06/03/2022

    Are off-pricers holding a glass that is half-full or half-empty?

    Consumer behavior during inflationary or recessionary periods is often over-simplified. Consumers don't simply trade down across the board - they are looking for the best bang for the buck. Off-pricers still need to deliver on a quality expectation for the price, and not assume consumers will simply choose them on price alone. Many consumers are willing to spend a bit more if they think the item will last longer or work harder for them. Tactically, some of these categories (apparel, home) are not yet seeing the consumer concern around inflation like more day-to-day categories (food, gas) are.

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