How Colgate-Palmolive succeeds in a data-driven world.
How Colgate-Palmolive competes and succeeds in a data-driven world

Diana Schildhouse,  Chief Analytics & Insights Officer, shares how Colgate leverages data to drive growth

April 29, 2022

To harness the full power of data, context is key, says Diana Schildhouse. Data storytelling is a key part of Colgate’s analytics transformation and how we are powering our purpose to reimagine a healthier future for all. 

With more than 20 years of experience in data science and advanced analytics, business intelligence, strategic planning, and consumer and market insights, and now as our chief analytics and insights officer, Diana has learned the power of data storytelling. 

In the first edition of Fractal’s new ai:sight magazine, Diana tells us more about her strategy – and how it contributes to Colgate’s growth.

First up, how does data drive decision-making and growth at Colgate? 

I'm very focused on enabling data-driven decision-making for the organization, giving everyone across the business access to the tools and the data they need to make effective decisions. Enabling data is key – it's about instilling a data culture and ensuring everyone understands what data means and how it applies to their role. A key component of that is building data literacy so that everyone speaks a common language. 

I'm also focused on bringing discipline to measuring the value of our analytics work. For example, we quantify the value of the recommendations coming out of our work and align those with the business to determine which are feasible. By tracking that, we can focus on both business adoption as well as driving real, measurable value from analytics. 

Can you share a little about your analytics journey at Colgate-Palmolive and how you prioritize the workstreams? 

We started with an outside-in perspective. We took time to understand other proven success stories and familiarize ourselves with the learnings that have happened along the way in this space. We then looked at how this might apply to our journey, while recognizing that a cookie-cutter approach cannot achieve successful analytics transformations. 

We are operating in a 'build the plane while you fly it' mode, so we aren't waiting for our data to be in a perfect state before we move forward. This is where some companies stumble – by prioritizing perfection over progress, there's a high probability that you'll never get started.

We're also adopting a use-case-driven approach rather than a tech-first strategy. That means we focus on the different domains across the business where analytics can drive the most value. For example, that might be revenue growth, pricing, trade promotions, or marketing and media effectiveness. We choose a couple of priorities and then focus on building, embedding, and scaling.

How do you organize analytics teams for success? What are the skill sets typically needed?

The first thing I'd say is that the partnership with the IT organization is critical. For us, that means having folks working on data strategy and data operations that act as a day-to-day link with our IT experts. They make sure that we have the data we need to do the type of analytics work that we want to do. Of course, you cannot underestimate the importance of roles like data engineers and data scientists, and they need to work together in an ecosystem. We also need analytics translators for adoption to serve as a link between data scientists and the business teams. To succeed, we need to articulate what data means, how to use it, and how it solves key problems.

We're also looking to foster important attributes, such as curiosity, across our entire team. Curiosity is important in terms of problem-solving and around best-practice approaches to learning, understanding what's new and evolving in the analytics space, and how different approaches might set us apart.

Storytelling is also crucial. It's never been more important for everyone within an organization to connect the dots in their work and weave it together to tell a compelling story that spurs action. The most successful analytics teams can clearly articulate what their work means and how it can impact the business.       

What competitive advantage does your focus on analytics provide? What potential will this unlock for the business?

There are two areas where we are focused that I believe will set Colgate apart.

The first is that business link. Everything we do within analytics starts with a business question - rather than a tech-first approach. We have to deeply understand what decisions our business partners need to make, when they need to make them, and what priorities are most important to their success. Then, we can help to solve some of those through analytics. The greatest successes within analytics come from embedding that work into the rhythm of day-to-day business operations.

Another is data storytelling. Of all the case studies I've seen around analytics transformation, as well  as the transformations I've led myself in prior roles, the ones that are most successful are those that succeed at changing behaviors and getting those behaviors to stick. It's about fostering a business-first approach that can be enabled through storytelling – especially as we start to link many different types of data. It's not just about syndicated data or market share data, but also first-party data and data partnerships with retailers. Being able to mine that data, draw the relevant insights and spur action is key to real scalable success. 

What challenges do you encounter when implementing your strategy and how do you overcome them? 

Change management can be a big challenge – it's the case in any organization where people are comfortable working in a particular way. 

Building trust across the organization is incredibly important to solving adoption challenges. That starts with really taking the time to listen and understand your stakeholders' priorities and their business problems so that we can address the most important areas for them. I invest in building relationships, whether that's through one-on-one meetings, lunches, or informal chats. By communicating effectively and, most importantly, by listening, you can build trust from the beginning and therefore overcome a lot of skepticism from the outset. It's also effective to find the curious, interested champions with whom you can partner for 'quick wins' before scaling up.

You also have to articulate your vision and strategy and where you're headed very clearly and often, not just to your team and your analytics organization but also to the entire business. This means speaking in plain terms to demystify data and analytics and make it something that everyone understands.

We have our analytics strategy on a single page at Colgate, including all of our strategic pillars. It acts as a kind of north star that can be referred to constantly to communicate why we're doing what we're doing, and to make sure that we're focusing and staying on track with what's most important. 

What does the future hold? How do you expect Colgate’s strategic objectives to evolve in the coming years?

We have our strategy, and we know where we're headed, but we also recognize that the business and the analytics space will continue to evolve. We have to constantly look at what's happening externally to make sure that we're still taking the most relevant approach for our business. We need to stay current with emerging approaches, data sources, and technologies. We are most excited about more predictive and prescriptive analytics for the future and using AI to automate decisions that require human effort. However, it is always with the approach of tying it to a business question, then building, showing value, and scaling.     

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