Data-led creativity has reached an inflection point. As a result, the era of art and commerce is giving way to a new age of art and science. We are amidst a data transformation revolution and the customer topography has never been more complex. Finding the right mix of algorithm and humanity is the Holy Grail or ultimate brand hack, no matter who you are, what you’re marketing, or who you are selling to.
Consequently, a palpable need to formulate best-in-class “brand alchemy” is the new strategic imperative. This is the reason the past generation of “artists of business” I hailed in my book WE-Commerce, is quickly giving way to a new breed of executive that I am calling “artists of science”.
I’ve launched the Brand Alchemy Q+A series in parallel with my Ask the CMO column to get into the minds of this new species of leadership, as I believe they will ultimately emerge as the creative Darwinists defining the future of both business and brand. I recently sat down with Rama Mallika, Senior Director of Market Research, Head of Customer Insights & Analytics at PayPal. He is an insights professional who has sat at the intersection of science and creativity at leading brands such as Venmo and JP Morgan Chase. Following is a recap of our conversation:
Billee Howard: Let’s start with why new approaches to insights are so important in today’s environment, where getting closer to the customer is the strategic imperative. What are your thoughts?
Rama Mallika: Firms have realized that customer centricity drives financial metrics, but the consumer world is deceptively more complex than ever before. First, there is a step change in expectations of consumers from brands and products, particularly with digital natives. Second, rapid globalization made the world closer and flatter, which means, it became vital to reach out to a global consumer base. Third, polarization of opinions, fragmentation and de-centralization of ideas through social media creates new barriers to development of insights and a need to engage at a micro-level. Most recently, COVID drove an elevated need to understand and advocate for the consumer in a rapidly changing landscape.
Thus, traditional approaches, based on a static view of consumer personas, obscure the fact that the customer is ever changing and acting differently, in different contexts. The future of insights must shift to a global, dynamic and predictive view to distill the complexity of human emotion and socio-cultural differences. Newer predictive approaches with behavioral sciences are changing, not only how we perceive customers, but also how we reach out, engage and interact with them.
Howard: There are so many new approaches designed to anticipate consumer needs-how do you predict what is next?
Mallika: Actively listening to consumers within their micro moments is the best way to predict what is next. Having constant eyes and ears on the ground, is most crucial to bridging the gap between what consumers say vs. what they do. This can be done using both qualitative and quantitative tools. One way is psychological mapping using deep probes and metaphors. Using trade-off estimation methods like conjoint, gamification with brackets, and discrete choice exercises help predict what is not said.
For example, we recently used a Bayesian predictive model to isolate inherent drivers of transactions. It was successful in quantifying how small changes can impact a broader outcome and showed how a Growth Lab construct can test several combinations quickly. In addition, constant and fluid exchange of ideas with thought leaders helps us stay ahead of the curve in anticipating and deploying newer methodologies. Most importantly, keeping an open mind to emerging methodologies makes prediction and incorporation of the zeitgeist easier.
Howard: That is helpful Rama, thank you. Can you share your thoughts on insights and their use both from a B2B and B2C lens and how emotional intel is an increasingly important factor in both scenarios?
Mallika: In the digital payments space, PayPal is recognized as a market leader for the past two decades. However, with the explosion and influx of tech brands, we needed to adapt by measuring emotional intent behind consumer’s decisions. While we had measured financial metrics for progress, we realized a need to innovate and elevate the brand. We developed a Brand Love construct to bridge functional and emotional aspects of payments. We leveraged subject matter experts to define and measure Brand Love. We ran empirical studies to refine that thinking into practice. Today, Brand Love represents the way PayPal analyzes how we build connection to purpose and gives us another avenue to be customer centric.
While emotion has now been largely accepted as integral in B2C lens, that acceptance has been harder in the B2B context where buyers and decision makers of corporate enterprises are assumed to be rational. However, we have found that emotional intelligence becomes more relevant for B2B. The sales process can converge towards greater success with a solid emotional understanding. We recently humanized Large Enterprise CXOs using metaphor that elicited techniques and images. We often think CXOs are rational – while it was partially true, we showed that CXOs have fears, aspirations and insecurities.
Howard: Super interesting and something I often find in my work as well. Authentic purpose has perhaps never been more important than right now. How should brands think about connecting insights to corporate purpose in meaningful ways?
Mallika: PayPal’s purpose—democratizing financial services—is foundational to our success and lived across every facet of the company. However, PayPal strives to reflect that purpose by enhancing tangible value to consumers. For example, we developed a set of fresh insights for underserved digital natives to broaden financial access and commerce that brand and product teams are leveraging to live our corporate purpose by developing new products and solutions.
Recently, in May, PayPal provided relief to its customers to meet the COVID-19 challenges with a set of tangible benefits. Our work indicated that most small businesses were familiar with those new benefits and expressed a strong sense of brand loyalty and love for “walking the talk” of being a champion for them. We learned that the delivery of tangible value centered on brand position coupled with a credible and helpful voice is essential for delivering on corporate purpose. In general, customers are increasingly turned off by brand duplicity as they exhibit lower tolerance and patience for messages that are off-center from realities of their corporate and management actions.
Howard: Customer experience has emerged as the new battleground. How can Insights best be used in ways that respect privacy, yet best benefit the consumer?
Mallika: Absolutely, a frictionless and trusted interaction is the new differentiator as customers demand flawless performance that honors their choices across devices and contexts. Financial services and ecommerce are in the privacy forefront and their insights can be broadly applied across most industries. Research indicates that transparency of choice, simplicity of information and articulation of value exchange are key pillars for concurrent benefit at the intersection of flawless experience and brand trust. Also, there is an emergent need to continuously educate to build empathy with customers on their choices.
Imagine a world where companies evolve to a paradigm of value exchange with an overt recognition of privacy as a human right. Marketing is an instrumental catalyst to deeply embrace privacy across organizations and must evolve to a permission-based ecosystem where consumers crave to opt-in for a seamless experience that benefits from intrinsically knowing the customer in a trusted habitat.