Kimberly-Clark Shares Tried-And-True Shopper Marketing Tactics

Kimberly-Clark is facing a challenge. The company—which sells basic essentials like Kleenex facial tissue, Huggies diapers and Viva paper towels—must prove to consumers that its products are of better value than those of competitors, said Mark Scott, K-C’s vp of shopper marketing and sales planning. Brandweek recently chatted with Scott, who discussed why the company remains confident in consumer loyalty despite a down economy and weaker sales affected by consumer and retail pullback. (K-C’s fourth quarter sales fell 3.4 percent to $4.6 billion.) K-C has been offering consumers various incentives to boost loyalty, such as a nationwide sampling effort for its Kleenex facial tissue with lotion. Excerpts from that conversation with Scott are below:

Brandweek: Times are tough for the consumer packaged goods industry. How are you driving sales on the shopper marketing front?

Mark Scott: Everyone has a different definition of shopper marketing. We really define it as an integrated marketing program based on a deep understanding of shopper attitudes and behaviors that really build brand equity and differentiate the retailer while the consumer is in shopper mode. That’s a mouthful, but the bite-sized version is shopper marketing is just simply marketing done when the consumer is in shopper mode. Then there’s also the path to purchase: Once we develop awareness and interest in a brand, how do shoppers pick an outlet, navigate the stores and find their product, and in the process of doing that, we want to build our brand and differentiate our retailers.

That’s kind of our context. The issue we and obviously everyone else is facing is a tough economic environment. The great thing about K-C’s brand portfolio is we tend to compete in basic essentials that consumers use without regard to the economy. I’m talking about tissues, feminine care and diapers. Whether the economy be up, down or sideways, they will still use our products. Our challenge, of course, is to demonstrate the value our brands have relative to other choices they have within those categories.

BW: What portion of Kimberly-Clark’s total ad budget does shopper marketing currently make up? Have you increased spending in this regard since the recession began? Why so?
MS: [We don’t break down marketing spend.] Having said that, we did in December actually formalize a shopper marketing structure in North America, where we’ve got some folks out in the field on some of our customer teams and some dedicated shopper marketing resources imbedded into our brand teams. All of that is intended to make sure we have the right shopper and customer choice at the right time as we build integrated marketing plans. Because we really want to put the consumer and the shopper—who, in many instances are the same—at the center of everything we do and we get deep insights [from] them.

BW: Any shopper marketing case studies you can share?
MS: We launched a next generation Kleenex facial lotion tissue in September 2008 with a “It Feels Good To Feel” campaign [JWT, New York] and the marketing around that launch really came out of our integrated marketing planning . . . A key task was to help generate trial and reappraisal of our lotion product. We had a major sampling effort, which included significant in-store sampling programs in the fourth quarter. We delivered a total of about 10 million samples across 20 or so retailers in North America; we have about 10,000 in-store demos, and about 25,000-plus freestanding display units in support of that launch. And we’ve seen a really nice response to our improved Kleenex lotion product.

BW: What about on the retailer front? Any marketing partnerships with retail partners?
MS: It’s really our job to make things interesting and relevant to consumers. Most of the time, the consumer and shopper for our brands tends to be mom, but our job is to really make sure their experience is interesting. A good example of that is when we used our virtual reality capabilities to help Safeway improve sales within their baby care aisle. They’ve done a very nice job with on-the-perimeter marketing of their stores, but center store was kind of boring. We gave them some [pointers] on how to bring these products together into an overarching baby care aisle through the use of our virtual reality [system] and our K-C SmartStation [kiosk that simulates the shopping experience.] We helped them create a new format for that aisle. They saw some traction with that. It . . . was about the consumer’s response to good marketing, bringing the disparate products that were all over the store together and that was an example where they implemented more of an activity-based merchandising concept around different [themes] like feeding time, play time, etc.

BW: What are you focused on in shopper marketing nowadays?
MS: We really want to understand how our shoppers are picking an outlet, navigating the store and then selecting our products. A lot of times, our products are center store, but even if they are center store, we want to understand how they navigate the store to get to our categories, if you will, and what’s an easier process of getting to them.

BW: How do you determine when to use shopper marketing, or how much of it figures into a campaign?
MS: We really focus on what is the objective—so, the task first and then we pick the tactics. The objectives really drive the tactics. The Kleenex lotion campaign would be a good example of that. Most consumers were already aware of Kleenex facial tissue. We’ve given them a softer message for a long time in advertising, so really, the task that we saw as part of the new generation Kleenex lotion launch was to get consumers to feel the product. We thought the experience was so dramatic the best way to convey the brand was via sampling. There was national sampling support. But we also communicated in-store with the consumer. We let the brand task drive the tactic, not vice versa.

Shoppers have less money to spend right now. Could that undermine the effectiveness of shopper marketing?
MS: We’re very fortunate because we have very strong brands and the categories we compete in are basic essentials, so we have an enhanced opportunity to leverage our shopper marketing in these times. If you go back to that path of purchase—how do you pick an outlet, navigate the store, make a decision—a lot of research suggests that 40 to 70 percent of purchase decisions are made in store. One of the things that we’ve been doing some research and developing hypotheses on is, “Are consumers actually doing even more research before they go into the store?” [If so,] it’s important for us to get on [their] list even prior to them making an outlet decision. That’s one behavior that’s diminishing in-store marketing, but from a holistic point of view, we need to be focused on, “Do they focus on our brands and make a list before they even get into the store?”