Interview with Katy Lee, Brand Marketing Leader at Ikea

Lara Vandenberg

Katy Lee is a passionate and strategic Brand Marketing Leader with 15+ years of experience working across industries and brands such as IKEA USA, Hershey Company, Comcast and more. She is specialized in integrated marketing communications, digital marketing, brand development, social media strategy, digital innovation, and consumer insights. Katy has spent half her career supporting and mentoring the startup and entrepreneurial community. She is the Founder of PlanHer Collective an online marketing learning hub for women entrepreneurs and is always looking for innovative ways to solve challenges in business and in life.

TS: You are the Brand & Consumer Insights Leader at Ikea. What does a typical day look like?

I generally start the morning doing a check-in on current insight projects with team members and agency partners. Since we are 100% remote now, I try my best to make sure there’s a social element to the day to catch up with co-workers or asking how people are doing before diving straight into meeting mode. I usually do a sweep of any new research out on current trends we are analyzing as well as checking the health of the industry.  I also collect and synthesize consumer, brand data, and internal data to contribute to recommendations to inform business decisions. Then I would build out those recommendations for key functions within the company that usually focuses on sales performance, market insights, and campaign optimization. 

TS: You have worked from some really interesting brands, however there doesn’t seem to be a common industry thread in your experience. From IKEA USA to the Hershey Company to Comcast, what has drawn you to these brands?

It’s funny I really didn’t realize I was working across industries until I looked at all 3 brands together on my resume.  The brands I worked for were ones I’ve known about for some time as a customer so relevancy always plays a factor. When it comes to my career experience, I do my research on the brands to make sure we are a good fit in terms of values and work environment. With each of those positions, there was a challenge and skill set that I was interested in such as leading social media or managing digital innovation. I think some people believe if you work in one industry, a totally different industry wouldn’t be interested but I actually found the opposite worked for me. Because I had diverse industry experience it actually benefited me in my next position.

TS: As a consumer insights leader, how has your relationship with data evolved? Is it for the better?  

I used to dread data but knew it had a big role to play later in my career. These days I look at data like a puzzle to be solved. Data provides me with little breadcrumbs that leave a trail to insightful moments. Some revelations are bigger than others but the beauty is really behind weaving the story of how it all fits together to provide meaningful insights about the customer and their relationship with the brand.

TS: As we have all been adapting to a less social, less physically collaborative environment, how are your creative levels, and where are you finding inspiration?

I was fortunate before the pandemic to work in a remote environment. I mean this is an extreme version of remote life these days but there are lots of resources out there such as online communities, online gym/yoga classes, online learning platforms to expand my creativity, and general skill-building interests. I’m finding inspiration in learning new things, practicing daily meditation, and getting more involved in the mentor/mentee experience during this time.

TS: What have been some of the lessons that you had to learn the hard way along your career path? 

Doors don’t open because you wish for them to open.  I’ve worked in the industry for over 15 years and I can’t tell you how important relationship-building skills are. It’s described in many ways but common ones you hear over and again include having high EQ (emotional intelligence) or being a good cross-functional partner. In the beginning, I didn’t understand the importance of EQ, I thought it meant being emotional which didn’t make sense to me why people would want to be emotional at work when it should be about growing the business. After some interactions, I learned it’s really about understanding WHO are the people you work with and HOW they work and finding the best ways for all of you to come together to help grow the business as a team. Now I’m known for my EQ and being a great integrated cross-functional partner but it took time to get there and this skill helped me in both work and life. Another important lesson is making sure your work challenges you. If you get bored or not learning new skills it generally means it’s time to move on. I found this to be difficult earlier in my career because the other areas seemed fine like financial compensation and just being in the comfort zone felt safe. But growth doesn’t come from staying in your comfort zone. Sometimes you need to take a leap of faith and try new things to find out what’s the next version of you.

TS: What is the best part about the work you do?

During the day I get to work on a brand that I still love and support during one of the most challenging times in our history and building insights and forecasts to help push the business forward. At night I’m exploring and developing entrepreneurial projects because what I learned as a marketer has expanded and I want to share that knowledge to a community that can benefit from it. What I love about the entrepreneurial community is that they are passionate about their work and maximizers of getting the work done.

TS: Any predictions on where you see the advertising industry in the next 10 years? 

AI still has a big role to play and the future of advertising will not only be even more personalized but I can see it being a ‘choice’ as well where consumers choose their robust interactive ad experience or even asks for it based on their current shopping needs. Measurement will be more sophisticated where ROIs will be easier to determine and adjusting campaign needs will be happening at a faster real-time rate allowing for more optimization opportunities.