How Colgate-Palmolive Is Using Data And Analytics To Transform A 200+ Year Old Business And Accelerate Growth

The origins of Colgate-Palmolive date back to 1806, when William Colgate, who had emigrated from England just two years before, established a starch, soap, and candle factory on Dutch Street in New York City under the name William Colgate & Company. The business expanded over the years with the introduction of toothpaste, a new soap made from palm oil and olive oil – hence the name Palmolive – and a range of health and hygiene products.

Today, Colgate-Palmolive is a $17B global company, and the worldwide leader in oral care. The Colgate brand is in more homes than any other, and in addition to oral care, the company is a global leader in personal care, home care, skin health, and pet nutrition. Colgate-Palmolive has also emerged as a global leader in the use of data and analytics to innovate in health and hygiene products and better serve consumers.

Colgate-Palmolive recognizes that data and analytics will be at the heart and center of innovation and growth for this 200+-year-old business. With the establishment of the Chief Analytics and Insights Officer role, Colgate-Palmolive is demonstrating how longstanding companies are today reshaping how they make decisions and drive growth in the business.

Diana Schildhouse is the Chief Analytics and Insights Officer at Colgate-Palmolive, a newly established position that she has held since 2021. Schildhouse previously served as Senior Vice President, Global Strategy, Insights, and Analytics at Mattel. In this new role at Colgate-Palmolive, Schildhouse is a member of the senior leadership team, reporting to the Group President of Strategy & Growth of the company and operating in close alignment with business leaders. The executive reporting structure underscores Colgate-Palmolive’s commitment to the necessary role that data and analytics play in shaping the company’s future.

The use of data and analytics at Colgate-Palmolive is grounded on the principle that investments in data and analytics must deliver measurable business value. To ensure measurable business outcomes, Colgate-Palmolive pursues a use-case driven, “business first” approach. This approach begins with asking what are “the big business questions” that the company needs to address, in domains such as Revenue Growth Management (RGM), which includes product pricing, promotion, and assortment, as well as areas like Marketing and Media Effectiveness and Digital Commerce.

This commitment by Colgate-Palmolive to using data and analytics to better serve its customers, deliver greater consumer options, and deliver business growth and value, was highlighted by Diana Schildhouse at a recent gathering of Chief Data and Analytics Officers (CDAO) in Boston. While many industry CDAOs spoke of spending much of their time on “defensive” data and analytics activities relating to regulatory, compliance, and risk management, Schildhouse pointed out that her focus was “100% on offense,” using data and analytics to drive business growth, create new products, and better serve our consumers. This observation was received with delight by the audience of data and analytics executive leaders, who aspire to spending more of their own time on growth-related activities.

Colgate-Palmolive’s commitment to using data and analytics to better serve consumers and drive innovation is highlighted by several ongoing initiatives. Working with internal business leaders and external partners, Colgate-Palmolive synthesizes multiple data sources to better understand consumer needs and predict trends that lead to new products for people based on their needs. For example, the company has successfully employed a proprietary graph network approach to analyze patterns in consumer queries on search engines such as Google, Baidu, and Reddit. The approach allows it to better understand the consumer journey and to help identify underlying consumer needs to innovate against across its portfolio — from millennials seeking an at-home whitening solution to pet parents choosing its Hill’s Pet Nutrition products.

Within research and development (R&D), Colgate-Palmolive has been at the forefront in the application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to improve consumer experience and transform the research process. The use of AI/ML has been extended to innovation in R&D with the application of patented algorithms that analyze clinical data to highlight emerging trends that predict how well a new formula will perform as measured by efficacy, consumer appeal, and time to market. In recognition of these innovations in the use of AI — which it can apply to the science supporting its oral care, skin health, and pet nutrition businesses — Colgate-Palmolive was awarded the 2020 Thomas Alva Edison Patent Award in Adaptive Technology.

While many organizations pay lip service to the idea of becoming data-driven, Colgate-Palmolive has undertaken a series of concrete initiatives to build and embed a data and analytics culture within the company. A new “Data Literacy and Analytics Academy” has been established within Colgate-Palmolive to help demystify the lingo and jargon too often associated with data and analytics initiatives, and to demonstrate the business value of data and analytics concepts in simple business terms that both executives and front-line employees can understand. One result is making business teams more comfortable and confident with the use of data and analytics within their roles.

Colgate-Palmolive has also added other courses such as “Data Science for Everyone” to achieve this same comfort level when it comes to translating data science concepts into simple business terms and outcomes. Demonstrating leadership by example, Colgate-Palmolive Chairman and CEO Noel Wallace recently shared on LinkedIn that he had completed the analytics training, noting that “data and analytics is part of everyone’s job here at Colgate-Palmolive.” The ambition of Schildhouse and her team is to ensure that data culture becomes embedded in the “day to day rhythm of the business” so that everyone in the company asks the question “what data is behind this decision.”

Looking ahead, Schildhouse says her team plans to continue to expand the use of data and analytics to drive measurable business value within Colgate-Palmolive – more domains, more use cases, more markets, and further embedding of data and analytics within day-to-day activities across its businesses. She notes the importance of “people centricity” in her approach not only in terms of deeply understanding Colgate’s consumers, but also extending that same people-centric lens to the teams that she works with, by always focusing on developing solutions that solve her business partners’ needs, and that can be understood and ultimately adopted. “We are committed to using data and analytics to drive growth and innovation across our business, in how we make decisions, how we create products, and how we engage with people,” concludes Schildhouse.

It’s a testament to this commitment, that a 200+-year-old company is leading the way — transforming its business, evolving with the times, and enabling the consumer journey — by embracing the power and insight of data and analytics.

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