Dorian Stone, General Manager of Grammarly Business, is a go-to-market customer experience leader with a drive for optimizing demand generation ROI and multiplying the value of field marketing. Prior to Grammarly, Dorian served as the VP of Customer Experience Strategy and Marketing at Medallia, where he established the backbone strategy for the company’s customer experience operations. Before Medallia, he spent nearly 13 years at McKinsey & Company as junior partner then as partner, which he served for six years.
Unless you are a business of one, you are likely challenged with getting multiple content creators to write in a consistent tone and coming across as intended. And let’s face it, communicating effectively and not making silly mistakes that detract from your message or brand is hard at an enterprise scale. That’s where AI-enabled writing tools such as Grammarly come in. It’s like having an editor paying attention to every content creation in your organization, but without the associated cost. In this episode, Dorian Stone (GM of Business at Grammarly) lays out the business case for AI-enabled writing tools and what Grammarly is doing to enable enterprises to consistently deliver content aligned with editorial policies and standards.
KRISTINA PODNAR, HOST: Hi everyone, and welcome back to The Power of Digital Policy.
Ever since I started using Grammarly's writing assistant over a year ago, my professional life has changed. I no longer have pesky typos or awkward phrases in my writing. The AI-enabled suggestions of how to rewrite my sentences to sound smarter, more powerful, and readable made me wonder how businesses are using Grammarly and similar tools to ensure the tone of voice and consistently apply writing policies to a distributed content creation workforce.
So I invited Dorian Stone, General Manager of Business, to tell me more about the tool and how the company is multiplying the value of field marketing. Let's take a listen to the conversation Dorian and I had around all things Grammarly allows you to do and how they are changing the business content space.
Kristina: Dorian, thank you for stopping by and joining me on the Power of Digital Policy. It's great to have you here today.
DORIAN STONE, GUEST: It's great to be here. Thank you.
KRISTINA: One of the first things I would like to do is actually have you tell us a little bit more about Grammarly because I've actually been an avid individual user of Grammarly. I know other people have heard of Grammarly, but a lot of people don't understand that Grammarly has an entire business aspect to it. So can you tell us a little bit more about that?
DORIAN: Sure, and first, thank you for being a Grammarly user. So Grammarly, for those that aren't familiar with Grammarly, has been around for over ten years and our mission from the very beginning and continues to be to improve lives by improving communications. We have been fortunate enough to be adopted globally with over 25 million daily users, and we do one thing and one thing only, and we try to do it exceptionally well, which is helping folks communicate their ideas effectively in written communication. Our belief in Grammarly's efforts has always been based on the idea that humans have a tremendous amount of potential in coming up with ideas and wanting to connect with each other and so on, but the communication is difficult. It requires context. It is fraught with misunderstandings, and if we can make that more effective for individuals, we can improve their lives. As Grammarly had grown, what we found was that more and more people were taking us to work with them, and when we inquired as to exactly why that was, it is because the benefit that we bring to improving their communication is helping them to be better at their jobs and is helping them get ahead in the world, and in so doing, it was actually fulfilling our mission. What we then realized was that the individual benefits that we bring were just a small portion of the total benefits that we bring, and Grammarly Business was born to improve business performance by improving communication. And that is getting groups of individuals, teams, departments, and entire companies to more effectively communicate and thereby be able to work better with each other, with their customers, vendors, and so on. So a few years ago, we formalized that effort and started to build a product for businesses. And today, Grammarly Business is an offer that we have that is differentiated from our individual offers with a series of features that bring a lot of value, and we are fortunate to be getting a pretty strong response from the market.
KRISTINA: So what are the key things that I see in many organizations, especially digital marketing teams is they try to, I guess, get the tone and the voice of their content just right, they try to somehow extend that over the enterprise if you will and all content creators. Can you talk to me a little bit about, you know, what does the world of AI-powered business tools look like for digital workers because we're always so concerned about the external customer? The internal content producer is also a customer of the enterprise, if you will. So, how do they interact with Grammarly? How do they become enabled to do what I think of as more value-added work?
DORIAN: So Grammarly is an AI-powered writing assistant that brings a ton of value both to internal and external communications. And so, and as you can imagine, one of the primary reasons that organizations come to us is they're looking to drive consistency in addition to an improvement in the effectiveness of the communication that they have with customers. And internally. One of the things that we have that we offer with Grammarly Business is a style guide, and that style guide is largely a custom dictionary with the terminology that an organization would like to see used consistently, whether it be brand names, product names and so on, or whether it be terminology that reinforces culture. For example, it is very common in internal communications for some team members to refer to their colleagues as employees and others to refer to them as team members and so on. Whether or not you decide to use the term employees or team members can actually be a very important cultural decision, and ensuring that it's consistently used in the right way can have a cultural impact on the organization, both in terms of in talking to customers as well as with employees communicating with each other, want to find that consistency that's also on-brand. Similarly, the way that we communicate in parts, as you mentioned earlier, a tone and that tone have a feeling that this is up behind regardless of what the content itself is. Some brands want their tone to be playful other brands out there very formal. And so another thing that we, Grammarly, provide is an ability for organizations to understand the tone of the communication that's going out. And for those that are sending those communications, writing those communications hundreds thousands of times per day ensure that if there's any tone that's concerning, that's flagged before the message gets sent versus finding out with the response being suboptimal from the recipient. And those are two areas that we focus on that our product monitors and provides service to the writer in real-time as they are writing, ensuring that things are both on-brand and on-culture in terminology, tone, and style.
KRISTINA: How should we think about this? I suppose with regards to the style guide, right? Because you actually have, you know, a lot of power with this AI, so it can also understand not just the style guide that we create, you can probably start to learn when it's appropriate to adopt a different style when we might actually use a different tone. For example, let's say that I'm in sales and I'm trying to ask my colleague out to lunch. It's going to be a very different tone. It's going to be a different set of verbiage versus let's say that I'm communicating with a client that I'm selling to and they just had a death in the family, which is going to probably be a very different tone of a different set of words, and you actually have the ability to not just inject the style guide and apply it right, but you actually have AI and machine learning behind the scenes. I can actually learn when it's appropriate to suggest alternatives. So, how do you actually train your AI? How does that piece work?
DORIAN: I think you asked two questions and what you have to do is take each one by one. I think the first one is how do we actually provide guidance to our users and whether the individuals or department leaders are looking at their teams around the right way to position things given what they're trying to accomplish. And the second is then how do we get smarter doing that from a product perspective we break those two things up. The first one we actually, we try not to do all the thinking for the individual. In fact, we consider ourselves AI-powered writing assistance, with the word assistant being very important to us. We want to help the user identify what it is they're trying to accomplish and then make suggestions for that user to get to their goal more effectively. So in addition to things that may be more rule-based as we talked about, specific terminology and/or things that are flagged, like the tone being able to look at the tone that a piece is going out with and flag whether or not the tone sounds joyful or understanding or aggressive, so on. We also ask the user in providing, you're basically used to say, what are they trying to accomplish? Are they trying to convince somebody of something, or are they trying to simply communicate something, and do they have a preference of coming off as a more formal or informal communicator in that specific message or specific piece of the writing? And in doing so, that allows us to understand the context and the intent that you know is not, it is really inside that person's mind writing what they're doing. And so we take that information, and then that information informs the type of assistance that we provide as we are helping make suggestions to improve what they're writing. So I think the second part of your question then is how do we get better to have; the first thing to note is that Grammarly is an AI writing assistant, writing assistance is all we do, and we do it with our mission in mind at all times which is improving people's lives through improving communication. We also, it's important to note this when we think about how to improve our algorithms, what have you we start from a very, very values-based orientation. In a very strong data privacy stance as well as security stance and that's important to note. We are fortunate to have a very active and very supportive customer base that we learn from as 25 plus million people use the product every single day, and we and we use that experience with those users to train our algorithms in real-time. Things are getting better every day in addition to additional features that we're adding, and that's actually super exciting for us. And that's the primary place that our learning takes place.
KRISTINA: Yeah, they're quite impressive; actually I get excited when somebody is moving as fast as Grammarly is and yet you're paying attention to data privacy and to data safety, two things that often times are not used as marketing trace of a company, but it's something that you probably put out front, and it's obviously part of your culture. You know, I'm kind of curious just because a lot of our listeners are in organizations where those things are important, but they're oftentimes live services. It's not very common to see organizations put privacy and security at the forefront of their communications. How did you get that adopted into your culture? And how does everybody live and breathe that is that something that just was there from the start of the company? Is it a management value? Like how does that actually culturally get embedded?
DORIAN: I've observed Grammarly for far longer than I've been with Grammarly. And the thing that I, the first thing I would say is the founders and CEO of Grammarly are I think just inherently, I think it's in their DNA, some of the most values-driven folks I've ever met. And when you have people starting an organization whose day-to-day are living values first light, they build an organization to reflect that. And today, the way that that's manifest after ten years is we take, we will actually take real-time and energy and in every week to reinforce not just data privacy, but the reason why that's so important, which is the underlying values of the organization. So, for example, we believe, and I personally believe that living values first life in building a company is not just the right thing to do, but it's actually the only way to do it right. And in doing so, we wire-in values-based systems and assessments as well learnings and so on, into everything from the way that we recruit and hire, to the way that we evaluate individual performance, to the way that we actually make managerial decisions that might have real trade-offs. I am very proud of the fact that we have left some key roles open because while we found people that may have had the right resume or the technical capabilities, we didn't think the values fit was the right one. And even though it was painful to leave the roles open, we did so because we believe that finding the right values fit and building the right values is just more important than filling a hiring need that may be critical in the moment. Similarly, we make real trade-offs that you know, we are willing to make growth and related trade-offs based on what we think is the right way to behave, and we make those trade-offs regularly. I personally have proposed things that I thought were the right way to do something even though they were suboptimal terms of growth from the standpoint of just the numbers, and there wasn't even a debate because the sort of like, "of course, that's what we're going to do." And I think you know, my experience having worked across a number of organizations, consulted in a previous life across a number of organizations, there are a lot of fine organizations out there. But in this respect, I think Grammarly is really exceptional, and you know, you don't know if you're exceptional until it actually causes pain to follow your values, and we endure that regularly. And in doing so, we only reinforce the importance of those values and the adherence to them.
KRISTINA: I think that comes through very much in your product. But I do know that it's a hard tightrope to walk, right? It's very easy to kind of pay lip service to values much harder to live them every day, but it is quite impressive. And like I said, I think it's visible in the products, and it comes across to the consumers. And so, if you can't tell, I'm a Grammarly really a cheerleader for everybody listening, but I'm not getting paid to interview you today. You know, you personally are a pioneer in the customer experience space. So I'm not surprised that you've come to be value-driven because I think that you definitely are one of the folks at the forefront really of this. I'm kind of curious just now that you're working on the enterprise technology solution side of things. Do you see organizations starting to think about the customer experience more so for their own staff and not just making it an exclusive offering for paying customers? I mean, you very much are focused on the enterprise at enabling the enterprise. So, is that where everybody should be focused in 2021, 2022?
DORIAN: So first off, those are very kind words, thank you. I am passionate about customer experience. But moreover, I believe that customer experience, employee experience and engagement, and shareholder returns are not trade-offs there. Actually, synergy is when you do things in the right way, and that's the kind of, that's one of the mindsets that we're bringing in Grammarly Business as we build it out. As we work with enterprise organizations, there are a couple of things that we are finding; they are pretty phenomenal in terms of the impact that we see the product have today. But also, as we look forward, I actually want to make a few predictions/bets, and I encourage you to come back and hold me accountable.
KRISTINA: I will do that.
DORIAN: So the first thing is, I think that as organizations look at human experience, whether it be employee/customer, or even you know vendor and partner. I think what we're going to find is working back from each of those stakeholders in the lens of the stakeholder to improve the experience for the stakeholder is going to reap huge benefits for organizations. You know, too often what we end up doing is we end up kind of getting in our own way, and it's because we have so much stuff going on that we kind of forget who the center of the world is, and that's the person we're solving for. Whether it be the customer, the employee, and moreover, I don't think that we're in a world of trade-offs today. I think we're in a world where we can improve our productivity for shareholder gains. We can improve our customer experience, and we can improve employee engagement and our employee experience, and I'll give you a few examples of that. For example, in a large support organization, let's say the department, support department of a Fortune 500 or they outsource it has that is supporting multiple Fortune 500s with some outsource support function. What we find is that Grammarly is able to unlock both double-digit improvements in productivity and double-digit improvements in customer satisfaction. And in doing so, as we survey the employees using Grammarly, they are reporting much higher levels of engagement and frankly thankfulness to their management for giving them a tool that allows them to do their job better, write all that, intent that they show up in the morning. As they want, they show up. They want to feel like they're doing a good job. They want the tools' abilities with the job. And here's a tool that allows them to do a good job because Grammarly is an AI writing assistant. It's providing assistance, and in doing so, it's translating to better shareholder and customer outcomes.
And I think what we're going to find in 2021 is companies are quickly going to realize that one of the single largest cost items they have is not on the P&L, but it's actually the ineffective and suboptimal communication that happens in the final mile. We put all this effort into ideating something we want to communicate, whether it be at the macro-level of brand strategy and positioning to the micro-level of a ticket being resolved in a support function. But a lot of energy goes into what we want to get across and the infrastructure to be able to get it across, and in that final mile, a lot of things can break down because the final miles were at the greatest risk of different people with different styles communicating in different ways, missing each other in terms of the context. And when we solve for that final mile, we actually have so much, there's so much opportunity for improvement that we actually don't need to worry about the trade-offs of employee versus customer versus shareholder. And I would go, in addition, so far as to say that's the single largest line item that you can't find on the P&L today. They cost businesses. I would say any organization of any scale outside of the manufacturing floor. I would put a thousand dollars of my own money on finding double-digit productivity improvements from simply focusing on the final mile of communication. It is enabled by all these other investments that we've made that are fantastic, but that has been a blind spot for organizations. And in fixing it, organizations will be able to avoid trade-offs for the foreseeable future while improving benefits for everyone.
KRISTINA: Final mile oftentimes is the hardest, statistically speaking is in English. Most of the world speaks Mandarin, or in Hindi or Spanish just based on the language of the world today. What are your plans for internationalization, and you know, diversifying beyond English?
DORIAN: So currently, we are an English-only product. Grammarly provides AI writing assistance in English, and we've been fortunate to have very significant success, but we are just at the beginning chapter, the early chapters of that story, and so we're staying we're focused on that story now. It's also important to note that Grammarly and Grammarly Business have, as I mentioned, 25 million-plus daily users all over the world. So we are helping people whose first time the first language might be other than English, and we're excited to do that. But we're principally focused on the foreseeable future is helping those folks write in English and communicate in English.
KRISTINA: All right, well, I think that we're a bit out of time, unfortunately, but I have to say there's so much to discover still about the Grammarly Business and about Grammarly in general. Dorian, I really appreciate you taking the time today. You obviously were named one of the most competitive leaders of AI writing system software, and I think we'll all look forward to seeing where that takes you in 2021. Exciting times!