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Top 50 Q&A: Katharina Kuehn, Winning Group

Welcome to our weekly Q&A with Internet Retailing’s 2019 Top 50 People in E-Commerce. You can find this year’s Top 50 report here, and see our previous Q&As here.

You can nominate someone for Internet Retailing’s 2020 Top 50 People in E-Commerce list here. Nominations close on September 30th.

This week, Internet Retailing interviews Katharina Kuehn, chief strategy officer at Winning Group. Katharina ranked 5th on our list this year.

Short on time? Here are the three key takeaways from the interview:

  • Kuehn had no intentions of working within a retail business
  • There are few brands which harness the power of personalising in a meaningful way.
  • Kuehn has collaborated to create software that can decode human performance, to create high performing and highly connected teams

Internet Retailing: What does a typical day look like for a retail neurostrategist?

Katharina Kuehn: As it stands, I have failed to explain to my mum what I do and whether she should be worried but I’ll give it another go.

I wouldn’t call myself a retail neurostrategist. I am a neurostrategist who works in a business which, although is a retailer at the surface, really is a technology and innovation business, with a history of customer obsession. 

In most companies neuroscience would fall into innovation, R&D or marketing departments. At the Winning Group, as the chief strategy officer, I use neuroscience to inform our decision making and direction across all areas of the business, because the most important thing for us is the customer and understanding decision making.

Everything revolves around that and the best way to understand that customer is a combination of neuroscience and experimentation.

So a typical day can involve anything from working with the AI and technology teams on neuroscience based real-time personalisation for Appliances Online, to developing our in-house intellectual property.

It can also include positioning and strategy planning for any of our existing business units and brands across the group, as well as new ventures on the horizon.

The common feature of all these topics is building our strategy based on first principle thinking. We break any given problem down into its smallest parts, which is understanding human decision making in the given context and then assemble what needs to happen across culture, technology, brand, user experience, marketing, stores and our websites to cater to that.  

IR: How did you get started in neuroscience? And how did that translate to a career in the Australian retail industry?

KK: It was like a ‘sliding doors’ moment.

It was a hot summer afternoon in Germany in 2008 and my university friends and I were relaxing by the pool, when I suddenly had the urge to attend a lecture (I know, highly unusual). The lecture was by Dr. Haeusel, one of Germany’s neuroscience strategy pioneers at the time, who was giving a talk at my university.

Instead of zoning out by the pool, within 60 magical minutes he turned everything that we had been taught before in business and marketing completely on its head and I was hooked.

I applied, and was fortunate to be selected to train and work with him, consulting to large brands and retailers in Germany.

After that I wanted to work in the English speaking world so I started strategy consulting in Sydney, where I met John Winning (CEO, Winning Group) at one of the first conferences I spoke at.

We kept in touch and eventually decided to start working together. Although I never had the intention to work within a “retail” business, I was inspired by John’s vision, passion for the customer and his ability to drive change.

Being in-house also gives me a greater ability to see large projects, involving many different teams through to the end. It also ensures that we see the results of the work.  

IR: What are some of the more interesting insights into customers you’ve identified based on your time at Winning?

KK: Over the last 18 months we have conducted extensive studies to test personalised experiences across online and stores.

The results show how vastly different consumer segments respond to personalised material. Seems like a no brainer, yet there are very few businesses in the world today, I believe, who truly harness the power of personalising in a meaningful way.

IR: What impact do you believe a focus on neurostrategy has had on Winning’s ability to interact with and understand its customers? Do you see this as an advantage over your competition?

KK: The Winning Group has a true and proven obsession with providing an exceptional customer experience over the last 113 years.

Coming on board three years ago to ensure that our entire business strategy is driven by a deeper than ever understanding of our customers, has just taken this obsession to the next level.

The team and I are dedicated to delight every single customer at a deeply human level.  To do that, we are tapping into the nonconscious, emotional nature of human decision making and what it means for customer segmentation, brand positioning strategy, e-commerce, conversion, optimisation, UX, marketing and sales.

Our all time high net promoter scores of over 80 across all business units, against a retail industry average of 12 suggests there’s something in it.

IR: What is your next challenge at Winning?

KK: To continue to scale personal experiences through neuroscientific profiles and technology.

IR: Is there anything else you wanted to add? Any exciting new initiatives you’re working on?

KK: A new and exciting venture that I have collaborated on with business builder and investor Tim Mullen and John Winning is Heelix.

Heelix is a software we’ve completely built on neuroscience principles, to decode human performance and to create high performing and highly connected teams.

Our own teams are loving it and it is very gratifying to see how, in an increasingly polarised world, we can actually embrace and harness our differences rather than butt heads, and create more unifying dialogues between people, recognising that we all have unique strengths, skills and talents to bring to a successful team.

I think mum would like that.

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