Financial Times – Kimberly-Clark competition helps to boost online engagement

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Science fact: the SCiO scanner can analyse food, plants and medications
View the original interview on ft.com

US-based consumer goods company Kimberly-Clark has invested in a number of start-ups in an effort to discover technology that would inspire customers to change their behaviour.

In 2013, the maker of consumer household products such as Kleenex tissues, Andrex toilet paper and Huggies nappies set up a digital innovation laboratory (D’-Lab) to scour the globe for likely contenders. The company is based in Irving, Texas, but the virtual D’-Lab team is split between Chicago and Tel Aviv, Israel.

Mayur Gupta, the company’s global head of marketing technology and innovation, says marketing has moved on from the brand-led days when toilet tissue was “soft” or detergent would “wash whiter”.

“Marketing is now customer-led and customer-driven. What matters is our ability to give them what they need even before they know they need it, rather than push our own ideas in their direction, as we used to,” he says.

Moreover, customers want a seamless and consistent experience. For example, if they shop online and get a coupon, they expect to be able to walk into a retail store and use it, says Mr Gupta, though at present “that often does not happen”, he admits.

Digital technology is crucial in putting customers in touch with products, yet, Mr Gupta acknowledges: “No single solution meets all the needs of marketing, including data, customer relationship management, ecommerce and mobile.”

One way D’-Lab finds start-ups to work with is by staging a competition at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) which takes place in Las Vegas every January.

Last year’s winner was a video creation application called Sympler, which lets people express themselves through a video and music track customisation tool. It was used in a commercial programme for the company’s Kotex feminine hygiene brand, and an artist community was invited to create music videos and post them online.

“People could express themselves through this type of content, and we became more relevant,” says Mr Gupta.

Other D’-Lab ideas on show at this year’s CES included SCiO, designed by Tel Aviv-based Consumer Physics. The handheld sensor can analyse the make-up of physical matter, such as food or medicine. It can scan surfaces for germs and microbes, and might offer consumer benefits for family care products such as Kleenex, Scott and Viva.

Evoz, devised by the Los Altos, California-based company of the same name, is a platform that can monitor a baby, play lullabies and control thermostats and lighting. It can also track the amount of nappies in a Huggies dispenser and automatically reorder when stocks are low.

Another application, Interlude, created by Yoni Bloch, an Israeli musician and self-proclaimed tech geek, supplies an interactive video system that lets viewers select which parts of a video they want to watch. For example, a women in a store or viewing online could discreetly look for information about feminine hygiene products. Interlude the company is headquartered in New York.

“Online video is already driving ecommerce sales,” says Mr Gupta. “We are only a step away from replicating that experience on television.”

With interactive video, for example, you can pause an advertisement and click for further information, while data tracking will allow the company to see which parts of a video consumers chose to view.

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