There has been much talk recently about the democratization of insights and that is because they have never become more important, not only to a company’s institutional knowledge base, but also to driving market capitalization. As a result, they are rapidly becoming a vital engine of business that far transcends the marketing function. In order to accelerate niche level transformation and hypergrowth, being able to use the insights function to action strategy implementation, which catalyzes both top-down and bottom-up change, is critical.
For all these reasons, I wanted to speak to someone who shares my passion for insights and has a clear vision of a time, in the not-too-distant future, where a vital metric for assessing market capitalization can be a company’s proficiency and utilization of insights enterprise wide – across both functional and leadership roles. For my latest column, I had the pleasure of speaking with Rama Mallika, Senior Director and Head of Customer Insights at PayPal. He is an insights professional who has sat at the intersection of science, technology, and human understanding at leading brands such as Venmo, PayPal and JP Morgan Chase. Following is a recap of our conversation:
Billee Howard: Rama! Welcome back. So great to hear your voice. You and I have spoken a lot about the democratization of insights and their use to get to step-change level. Can you talk to me more about that?
Rama Mallika: Good to be back, Billee. One of the things that people have a latent appreciation for is data- driven decisions. Obviously, to enable those decisions, we need to not just influence decision makers at the top, but also across the entire value chain. We utilize a couple techniques to do that. The first critical step is to have a single source of truth. For example, on important concepts like market share, customer segmentation or brand metrics, we consolidated those efforts into a single architecture. We believe in having one version of a document that transcends across the organization, whether it is the C-level executives or the operational leaders.
Second, having a uniform version of the truth helps to evangelize in a scalable way across the globe. For example, we have a satellite channel at slack called ‘Industry Insights’ that has over three thousand members of the PayPal community who can access the single version of all the new information that my team, as well as other teams, produce. Having that common view helps different parts of the organization to become customer evangelists. It works so well as these customer champions are bringing that voice and conviction into various meetings and enabling influence, while creating an advocacy network as well.
Howard: You and I recently discussed the intentionality of insights and why a less is more approach is taking shape as insights rise in importance. Can you talk to me about that interesting paradox?
Mallika: There are two ways in which I think we have tried to embrace that principle. Obviously, “less is more” given there are only a limited and finite set of critical decisions that an organization tries to act on in any particular year. Having a disciplined focus around the most pressing decisions rather than the volume of projects can instigate a step change in terms the trajectory of the company. We think of this approach as potentially impacting the market cap that a company aspires.
The second direction is based on the amount of information in front of us right now. It is important to ‘bite size’ the insights in a pragmatic way that the reader can act upon. We use something called ‘insight-a-day’ which essentially is a tweet in a very constrained space without diluting the impact and the intensity of the insight. That brevity has a fair amount of success in our company. The other thing that we do in terms of intentionality is ‘Chart of The Month’, an one pager amalgamation of a critical insight that we want everyone in the organization to reflect on, and/or, incorporate into their decisioning process.
It took some change management to get people to appreciate insights as a strategic foresight capacity versus a validation or reassurance capacity. The key to doing that well is being transparent: providing a six-month visibility via a learning agenda or calendar that we constantly socialize to let stakeholders know what to expect, when.
Howard: How are insights driving decision enablement, and strategy implementation based off of what you just shared about intentionality?
Mallika: That is one of my favorite topics to discuss, because the greatest insight does not make a single dollar for the business unless we act on it. How do we enable rational decisions that are founded in facts? What we try to do is to have certain groups operating as a coalition or a center of excellence for decision enablement. For example, corporate strategy is a key part of orchestration as it acts as a conduit to the senior leadership team in a holistic fashion across the organization. As another example, we partner closely with strategic finance as they create business cases to benchmark success metrics effectively. Lastly, it’s data science and analytics. Obviously in market research, we use instrumented data. But can we go one step up to create algorithms or heuristics to digest all the insights to add another layer of abstraction?
These are the four legs of the decision enablement stool: your market research, your strategy, your analytics, as well as your strategic finance, or perhaps ‘the four horsemen of fact-based decisioning.’
It’s a loosely formed structure but, nonetheless, they add a lot of value to the top 50 leaders in the company.
Howard: So brilliant, thank you. That gets me to my favorite part of the conversation, which is a future, which you mentioned earlier, where insights are so essential to the business that they actually have the potential to drive market cap. Tell me more.
Mallika: I share the same passion with you on this topic. Speaking specifically about the market cap itself, you know, when insights are done right, when insights create a synergistic step change by pivoting the direction of a company, that’s when meaningful customer centric growth happens. It’s really what we want to aspire towards – a bottom-up decision-making protocol where insights team see trends in market and quickly enable the organization to utilize that breakthrough insight to place the next billion-dollar bet to the market by seizing the first mover advantage.
Our path to getting there begins with all the things that we just talked about. One is democratizing insights across the organization, top-down, left-right, front, and center, and at the same time, being intentional. Secondly, we must ensure that the message is crisp, actionable, and provocative. Lastly, forming a coalition with different decision enablement functions. With those foundations, the leadership can then activate a new generation of customer insights that can drive the market cap. I’m certain that we are on the right path – the power of insights to unlock customer centric growth is well within our reach. I’m excited to see how our industry transforms in the coming years.