Insights and analytics experts enjoyed a surge of influence during the pandemic. Reckitt’s Elaine Rodrigo, Chief Insights and Analytics Officer, shared with WARC’s Anna Hamill how the company develops fresh insights, navigates big data and why the function can drive diversity, equity and inclusion for brands.

The healthcare industry has really stepped up over the last two years with the pandemic. What role did insights and analytics play in that for your brand?

Insights, data and analytics have always been really important at Reckitt in terms of how we do marketing and make our business decisions. But I think it’s never been as much at the forefront as during this pandemic, primarily because we have disinfecting and protection brands such as Lysol and Dettol.

So, we found ourselves right at the heart of everything that was going on around the world, and it became even more important during that time for us to stay on the pulse of what was going on in consumers’ lives, and what was changing in terms of attitudes and behaviors so that we could help them.

Right from the onset in February/March 2020, we were looking at real-time consumer sentiment about what was going on to then informing about what the new normal would look like in 2021. Today, we’re continuously monitoring the different types of hygiene and health behaviors that people have picked up over the last two years, and we see that there’s been a lot of positive change. For example, hand washing… This is an example of [behavior change] that we would like people to keep.

From an analytics perspective, how do you join the dots between a campaign and behavior change?

A good example is Finish [the dishwasher tablet], which we started infusing with purpose quite early on. The UN Sustainable Development goal that we wanted to go for was clean water and sanitation.

A dishwasher uses about 10 liters of water to do one load. If you hand wash the same number of dishes, it’s 100 liters. Not many people know this! When we went into people’s homes and we observed what they were doing, we realized people were pre-rinsing the dishes before putting it in the dishwasher. By doing that they use 50 liters more water, but it’s not actually necessary.

So we started a campaign called Skip The Rinse to encourage people to not pre-rinse before putting their dishes in the dishwasher. What we wanted to do is drive behavior change, so we identified that the one behavior change of skipping the rinse would actually help the planet save water, and also drive category growth.

So how do we know that? We have a very robust measurement framework where we look at a group of people who are exposed to the communications and how many of them actually change the behavior we wanted them to. In this case, we know from our data that about one in three people exposed to the message skipped the rinse and changed their behavior. From there, we got hold of their water bills to see how much water they actually saved, and can therefore calculate the number of litres of water that was saved.

We have a measurement framework that the insights and analytics group is responsible for. So in a way, it’s like holding a mirror to the organization and keeping us honest as well.

It sounds as though you’re bringing in a lot more frameworks and real life behavioral examples. But data is everywhere now. Has that made your job easier or more difficult?

I’ve been in this industry now for over 20 years, and I would say the core reason of what we do hasn’t changed, which is about being consumer-centric. But how we do it and the way we do our job has changed.

Really, it’s two big things. It’s data, and also tech-enabled new tools to be able to get insights and foresights in a different way. I think that all of this has helped us. It’s helped us become better at our jobs. I feel like we’re much more agile, and we’re much better at actually getting the insights and foresights. But I wouldn’t say it’s actually made it easier, because – at least, as of today – a lot of the automated tools and data requires quite a lot of human intervention to do what I call ‘humanizing data’.

How do you separate the signal from the noise when you have so much data to use?

When you’ve got all these data sources, the AI and machine learning can do the first steps in terms of connecting all the dots. It does things that we couldn’t do. I couldn’t possibly get billions of data sources on my own; the AI and the machines can do that. But they don’t actually give you a prescriptive answer, so it does require a certain level of human intelligence in order to interpret that humanized data story and take it down to, for example, the three things the business needs to do.

As of today, I think that the capabilities and tools we have are getting much more precise over time, and we’re also learning. We are getting much more precise about trying to understand what drives consumer choice in our categories. So we’ve developed capability around demand spaces, which is really a very, very data-driven way of getting the strategic incentives precise on what drives consumer choices and demand in the category. Coming back to the Finish dishwasher tablets example, we know precisely that there’s something around convenience and efficacy in terms of getting the dishes done that drives demand for that category.

I think the data and some of these tools are helping us do that. The other thing is feedback loops. Because we’re starting to in-house a lot of this capability, we’re running this ourselves, so we actually have the data. We can learn more about when we’re right and when we’re wrong, and then we can pivot. I feel that that has changed versus before when you would get a PowerPoint deck telling you.

Many brands WARC has spoken to have noted that COVID disrupted how insights were perceived in their business. What was your experience with that?

I definitely saw it as well. Insights and analytics has always had a strong seat at the table at Reckitt, which is great. This is a very kind of performance-driven, data-driven organization.

But [the role of insights and analytics] did accelerate. If I look at the last two years, for example, I think we’ve become true partners – not partners just in day-to-day delivery, but actually looking ahead and becoming much more predictive about where we think this organization is going to go. Really, nobody knew what this ‘new normal’ was going to be. Some of those consumer behaviors have changed, and it’s better for the health and hygiene of the planet. It’s been a positive thing, for sure.

At the same time, the insights and analytics group has had to rise to the challenge as well. With that, more responsibility has come and also the need to skill up. But I’m pleased to say that my team has embraced the challenge and gone with it.

What do you see as the opportunity facing your brand from an insights, data and analytics perspective over the next 12 months?

I think there’s so much opportunity for our function and insights people to be agents of change on driving purpose. Such as diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), for example. We are the windows to the world and communities outside… I think we have a real opportunity here, and we’ve picked communications and creative as the first place to start.

As low-hanging fruit, for starters, we’ve hard-wired DEI metrics into all of our communications pre-testing for a couple of years. We’re trying to see whether we can collaborate with some of our partners and use AI-driven tools so that all kinds of digital assets and content can go through there to check for any form of unconscious bias, and also checking the AI itself doesn’t have unconscious bias.

We’re making sure as well that underserved communities are heard, because we are the ones who define to some extent the sample sizes and the people we speak to. I think we have a huge opportunity to actually be champions of DEI within the organization so that all our brands become more progressive.

Does that include hiring people from more diverse backgrounds? Data and analytics perhaps has a stereotype that it’s not as diverse as it could be.

The answer is yes. The Market Research Society in the UK has a planning council which I’m a part of and that’s one of the topics that we actually look at, in terms of how we drive and encourage [more diverse talent], within the industry, but starting with our own sphere of influence.

I’ve been in this role for two and a half years now, and we’ve tripled the number of women in the analytics part of the organization. When I came in, [the percentage of women] was about 10%. Now it’s about a third. The only way to do it, honestly, is to just be really intentional about it.

There’s just so many talented people, and that’s great. But if you’re not intentional to say “I also want people from different cultural backgrounds and gender diversity” then you will almost always fall back into what it was before. So, I’m pleased to say we’ve tripled it and now, I’m trying to hit 50%.