How Thinking Like A Start-Up Revived an Aging Brand

When you’re pushing through competitors, grabbing the attention of consumers, acquiring and retaining customers at the same time, creating uncontested market space, you need to prioritize your intelligence needs. You need to identify opportunities constantly in order to disrupt the competition through different and new business models; in other words, you have to think like a start-up, even if you’re an established brand.

 Kimberly Clarke provides a great example of how to brilliantly disrupt the competition by discovering a key insight and acting on it. People In 175 countries, nearly a quarter of the world’s population trust Kimberly Clark’s brand and solutions to enhance their health, hygiene and well-being. Some of its very famous brands are Kleenex, Huggies, Pull-Ups and Kotex. They hold the number-one or number-two shared position in more than 80 countries.

 The global market for the feminine hygiene products is going to reach around $15.2 billion by 2017, its growth mainly fuelled by intense competition, by continual product innovations, and of course also by the rising health and hygiene awareness among women in emerging economies. However, the toughest challenge encountered by manufacturers is that of keeping pace with their customers and their constantly changing lifestyles, attitudes and ideas. The problem for Kimberly Clark was that its Kotex brand, a mainstay in many homes for years, had become not just your mother’s brand, but your grandmother’s brand – and your grandma wasn’t buying any more. Kotex had gotten pretty lazy; the company that claims to have invented the disposable sanitary pad had not made any real changes for the last 20 years, including its advertising, which is pretty scary. Clearly, capturing the future meant the company needed to find a new market.

 What did Kimberly Clark do? It capitalized on understanding the changing business environment and focused on innovation through insights. They gathered category, market, consumer and shopper intelligence across multiple demographics to find space in the market, and opened up the category in order to reach out to teen girls.

In March 2010, they launched U by Kotex, aimed at speaking to this adolescent group in an authentic way, a complete turnaround from the old-style advertising that presented consumers with images of pristine, sunny blondes frolicking in pastoral meadows that merely hinted at what the products were for. Kotex turned this around with a series of spots that mocked advertisements they made themselves, using clips from Kotex commercials, some of which had been shown within the last year in the United States or Europe. The ads skewered the ‘run on the beach’ images and ended with ‘Why are tampon ads so ridiculous?’ along with the campaign tagline, ‘Break the cycle’, before finally showing the new line of tampons, pads, and liners. Young women loved the ironic tone and honesty of these spots and in the first few months, 600,000 samples of U were requested and 1.2 million visitors went to the website.

Just over two years after the U launch, Kotex has expanded its share in the North American market to 18 per cent, up from 14 per cent. U is driving all that growth. Kimberly Clark, this old brand, used intelligence to find the aperture and developed U, which is fresh and funky, with colourful packaging, to successfully open up this teenage category, creating uncontested white space.

 Even a giant like Kimberly Clark can’t afford to rest on its past successes, or quit listening to consumers. If you’re not thinking like a start-up, creating innovative and disruptive strategies to stay ahead of the competition, you’re doomed.