Q&A with McDonald’s PH Director for Strategy and Insights Loreann Villanueva on the Value of Insights


Loreann Villanueva is the Director for Strategy and Insights of McDonald’s Philippines. She was formerly the Business Unit Head of GSK in the Philippines and Global Marketing Manager of GSK based in Belgium. A Mansmith Young Market Masters Awards (YMMA) winner of 2010, she shares about the importance of insights in this interview and will share more marketing tips in the 1st Mansmith Brand Summit on July 9, 2019 in RCBC Theater, Makati.

Q1: Why is it important to have insights before formulating marketing strategies?

A1: When we talk about insights, we need to recognize that they are more than just data and information. They reflect a deep understanding about the consumers or the patients (in the field of pharmaceutical business). Leveraging on insights allows us the ability to create powerful brands by taking in their perspectives and their view of the world as our thinking compass across the marketing mix and the value chain. It is the job of the marketer to have a good understanding of all the outputs of the researches they have obtained, whether primary or secondary, then translate them into clear insights and link these to the brand.

Q2: Are there different types of insights? Can you share when to use what?

A2: There are several ways to categorize insights and depending on the strategic management philosophy you are a fan of, I would say there are aplenty. But one of the very critical type of insight that I would advocate is the use of BEMIs or Big enough market insights which was a concept advocated by Jim Collins in his book From Good to Great. To me this is a highly relevant theme during this age of disruption. Rather than focusing on small or uncertain market opportunities, a BEMI espouses the discipline of accounting for the looming change in the market that uplifts your chance to seize a “big enough” opportunity and outperform your competitor. The pharmaceutical industry is a bit ahead in this game given their passion to predict the future by carefully evaluating the evolving lifestyle of consumers, understanding the interplay of the environment factors, public opinion and authority figures, then describing how the combination of these may lead to potential long term health challenges requiring intervention.

In McDonald’s, for example, customer experience is at the center of everything we do so we ask ourselves all the time how we will need to evolve. Given that Filipino consumers will increasingly prefer to regain control of their time and energy as they navigate through their fast-paced lifestyle, how can we ensure that we are ready to cater to their demands for ultra-convenience in accessing our brand?

For retail products, as another example, there is a need to start thinking about what will be the role of your brick-and-mortar stores if a “cocooning behavior” (desire to just stay home and recharge instead of going out) start to appeal to more and more Filipino consumers.

Q3: How do you determine a good insight? How do you differentiate this with a great one?

A3: I would usually gauge the quality of an insight based on 5 criteria : Relevance (can it be relevant to your brand in the next 3-5 years?); Resonance (does it ring a bell or a “ting” – think of how Mari Kondo describes whether an item should stay with you or not when doing the Konmari method of decluttering); Reality (is it for real and not just a figment of creativity nor imagination); Results (will it drive a consumer response in your favor); Distinctiveness (does it have the potential to make your brand stand out, not just differentiated). A great insight should have all these elements which should serve as a springboard in defining your brand’s strategy.

Q4: How did you apply insights while you were still in the pharmaceutical industry?

A4: When I was given the challenge to launch GSK’s cervical cancer vaccine, I knew it was going to be a difficult journey since all the odds were not exactly in our favor, so to speak. At that time, we were second to market and even with the competitor’s efforts by launching ahead, there was still very low awareness among Filipino women about cervical cancer disease. And for those who are aware, access to healthcare was dampened by the fact that Filipino women only go to their doctor when they are pregnant or when they are sick – not exactly the ideal patient profile targeted for vaccination. To top it all, capacity to pay was a major hurdle. Given these, I and my team had to clearly articulate every pain point and obstacle in the patient’s journey. We were then able to convince the Global and Regional headquarters to reduce the price of the vaccine by 80% in the Philippines. We invested on a massive public awareness campaign directed to women with the key message that an affordable protection is now available. We stressed in our communication strategy that with the price reduction, there is no excuse to defer protection from a disease caused by a virus which infects up to 80% of women at least once in their lifetime. The result was a GSK access strategy that led to 7-fold increase in business volume and has also served as a blueprint for other markets in Asia to increase access to cervical cancer vaccines.

Q5: How have you been applying insights now that you are in McDonald’s?

A5: McDonald’s prides itself with its culture of being customer-focused and as such, we exert every effort to be consistently attuned to what our customers need and expect from us. My role is to help embed this consciousness not just among our frontliners but also across the organization and our partners. While McDonald’s is a global brand, we have a mandate to ensure that all the things we do in the Philippines remain locally relevant. My team is very passionate in ensuring that the leaders of our organization will always have a bank of insights that they can refer to in driving the strategy and in delivering the business. We are quite happy that some of the insights that have been picked up from this bank have come to life such as the successful launch of the Flavors of Japan (FOJ). We were truly elated with the overwhelming response of our consumers when we launched the FOJ line – i.e. Ebi burger, Samurai burger, Sakura float and Nori Shake Shake fries. Prior to its launch, we highlighted the insight on how the Filipinos’ palate are widening nowadays mainly due to the growing opportunity for people to travel and experience other flavors as more foreign cuisines enter the market. The idea behind FOJ was spurred by this insight and was supported by the fact the McDonald’s has a long list of global menu bank from which we can draw inspiration.

Thus, if there is a simple formula that I can offer to the Marketeers in this age of disruption, it would be this: Do ensure that you get ahead of the game by consistently leveraging on your strength and by being courageous in exploiting the key insight that will allow your brand to be relevant and distinctive at the same time. Discovering insights is both an art and science. Keep in mind that more often than not, they are obvious and not hidden “golden (Mc)Nuggets” (pun intended).

One thought on “Q&A with McDonald’s PH Director for Strategy and Insights Loreann Villanueva on the Value of Insights

  1. Congrats you’ve gone a long way being a marketer! Good insights I should say. Maybe you can provide insights re; how to market Reedy. Go.SteadyKids program. Thanks . Best regards,

    Mon P

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