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Alumni Stories

“I used to be an oil engineer, now I’m an engineer in emotions”

From oil to chocolate – how Norwegian Alumni Club President Sigmund Festøy (MBA 1992) transitioned to the food industry and learned about the importance of emotions in B2C.
5 min.
February 2024

There is a chocolate bar in Norway filled with truffle, marzipan and jelly, covered in dark chocolate, which goes back to the late 1930s. A relaunch of this product, called Troika, landed in Festøy’s lap when he started as a brand manager for a Norwegian conglomerate after five years in the oil industry.  

The campaign for the chocolate bar, that Festøy was part of developing, is still going strong after almost 30 years.  

“If you do your homework on what you can do for customers and define it operationally so the people involved with the brand understand it, then the development process will be highly efficient,” he said.  

When Festøy went through existing research on Troika, he noticed that not enough focus had been placed on emotions, nor on understanding the 6% of Norwegians who bought the chocolate bar on a weekly basis.  

To better understand these customers, he set out to learn why people buy chocolate – and Troika in particular.  

“It is not about nutrition. It became clear that these purchase decisions were about emotions and emotional need.”  

He explains further: “Confectionery products give a taste imprint, and this taste imprint could be all kinds of things. It could be relaxing or a sense of joy; and basically, you are in the realm of entertainment.”  

Good results

Another question that needed answering was whether 6% of the population was a small or a large number, noting that the Troika held first or second place with chocolates sold at the counters of petrol stations throughout Norway.  

“If 6% of regular buyers could be increased by just one percentage point to seven, that would result in almost a 20 percent volume growth,” he recalled. 

Festøy’s next step was to understand why some customers preferred Troika to other chocolate bars. Their personal tastes and opinions mattered, no one else’s.  

“In a random group of 100 Norwegians, only six people would know why Troika is attractive. The opinions of the other 94 are irrelevant and potentially misleading.” 

Although the research agency engaged in this project was less than happy with the narrow sample group, Festøy persisted and had illuminating results.  

“The focus group really took off,” he said. “They were spontaneously talking about what they liked about the chocolate and the mouth sensations they got from eating the bar.  

“Our advertising company made a film based on what the focus groups had come up with. It translates into a story about a woman who has a man in her life, and she sneaks away with her chocolate. Then there’s a cut into flowing jelly mixed with silk.”  

To understand how a petroleum engineer transitioned to the food industry, we need to bring in IMD.  

“When I did my MBA at IMD, I was very inspired by the professors, and I learned that marketing is strategy and analysis. Before IMD, I thought marketing equated to advertising. Working with chocolate, I gained tools on how to work with emotions in a business manner.  

I sometimes say: ‘I used to be an oil engineer. Now I’m an engineer in emotions,’” Festøy laughed. 

Solving problems

He stayed in the food industry and has become a brand and marketing expert in this field. Since 2002, he has been running his own market strategy consulting firm, Plot, providing services to retailers and restaurant chains.   

What drives Festøy forward is his interest in people and solving complex problems.  

He has since expanded his expertise to include restaurant chains, which in his experience are “very complex”.  

“The customer experience is quite intricate in terms of how to create it, and then you have to deliver it profitably,” he explained. “My work involves having to define what the performance should be or what it should deliver, making it easier for all the different people involved to understand their part.”  

It seems that every time Festøy decides to further educate himself, a seed of renewed thinking is planted. Recently, he took another course at IMD – this time in digital strategy.  

“There’s a whole set of new templates or structural thinking which are not obvious, and it was really helpful for me to get my head around these.” 

The course sparked off an idea leading to a project that Festøy hopes will become a startup in the near future.  

“Shops are still analog, and they relate to people coming into the shop,” he explained. “They know nothing about the people outside of the shop, and then they also have competition from e-trade. E-commerce, on the other hand, has information on the whole customer purchase process.”  

Utilizing foot traffic for shops and restaurants in a new way is a task Festøy will focus on when he retires from the role of Alumni President later this year.  

“I started almost at the same time as IMD President Jean-François Manzoni, and he’s stepping down, so I think it’s time for me too,” Festøy said with a smile.  

His most enjoyable experiences as president have been his involvement with activities that have created value for the Norwegian alumni community.   

“If we make an event or something, and I feel that it’s appreciated by the alumni, that gives me the most pleasure.”  

Festøy has been part of the Norwegian Alumni Club ever since 1992 and appreciates its value in connecting and developing people both professionally and personally. 

“It gives you a sense of belonging, and you’re meeting friends who share the same experiences and journey as you do. I also think the bigger personal transformation you go through, the stronger your relationship is with the class and IMD.”