In February 2020, no one expected toilet paper to be the next big news story. Least of all Josh Blacksmith, senior director of global consumer relationships and engagement at Kimberly-Clark, parent company of Cottonelle. “Toilet paper ended up at the center of the COVID-19 crisis in a way that none of us could have anticipated,” says Blacksmith.
But with a holistic view of every customer, the team at Kimberly-Clark quickly realized that people needed more than hygiene products — they needed reassurance. So, the company rolled out #ShareASquare, an omni-channel campaign aimed at calming the fear of shortages and fostering community spirit by encouraging people to “share a square.” The brand pledged that for each example of toilet paper sharing its customers posted on social media, Cottonelle would donate $1 to United Way, a coalition of charities working to help communities in need.
In an impressive display of agility, the team at Kimberly-Clark went from approving the idea to delivering a fully produced campaign over the course of one weekend. So how did they pull it off? According to Blacksmith, it took three things:
Empathizing with and understanding consumers’ needs
Pooling the company’s resources
Communicating directly with Cottonelle’s market in a time of need
To find out what other consumer goods companies can learn from Kimberly-Clark’s success, we asked Blacksmith to join us for a webinar. Here are some of his tips for leaders who want to deepen their engagement with consumers in an uncertain world.
In March, as U.S. toilet paper sales soared 112% on the previous year, the team at Kimberly-Clark were working hard to meet demand. But they also saw an opportunity to connect with consumers in a more meaningful way, by addressing the fears behind ‘panic buying.’
“We were working to ensure that we could start to shift the paradigm from consumers stockpiling toilet paper, which we saw all over the news, to really starting to stock up on generosity,” explains Blacksmith.
Kimberly-Clark wasn’t the only consumer goods business to find itself short of in-demand products, or well-stocked but unable to sell via usual channels. But like many companies, it realized that consumer experiences don’t always need to revolve around products. “Ideally, we’re creating ways for our brands to play a role with consumers that extend beyond the functional product attributes,” says Blacksmith.
Because the team made an effort to listen, he explains, Kimberly-Clark was able to speak to its consumers’ needs in a time of crisis.
“That consumer relationship starts to give us an opportunity to not only develop a deeper consumer understanding,” says Blacksmith, “but to think about cross-brand or portfolio opportunities. And with that, there’s greater incremental lifetime value.”
For Kimberly-Clark, continuing to build out a comprehensive single view of the consumer is of utmost importance. According to Blacksmith, Salesforce s helps enable that ambition by uniting systems on one platform, including Marketing Cloud, Commerce Cloud, and Service Cloud. “The connectivity between these systems, with the consumer at the center, gives us the ability to make sure that we’re building a seamless experience for this consumer in a way that historically we’ve not been able to.”
“Consumer packaged goods companies in general, and Kimberly-Clark included, have become very dependent on retail customer relationships,” says Blacksmith. But the dawn of direct-to-consumer marketing has changed all that. “We’re starting to value [direct] relationships just as much as we always have our retail customer relationships,” he adds.
Like almost everything we’ve seen in the last few months, the panic-buying phenomenon was a fast-moving crisis. And as a leader in the consumer goods market, Kimberly-Clark needed to address it rapidly. By analyzing social media interactions and buying behavior to get an up-to-date, comprehensive view of its consumers’ fast-changing needs, the company could respond to the crisis in real time.
Moving forward, Blacksmith says Kimberly-Clark will continue this direct engagement as it broadens the focus from retail sales and acquisitions to reacquisitions, ongoing engagement, and loyalty — in short, the comprehensive consumer journey.
However, Blacksmith is careful to stress that retail and direct-to-consumer marketing don’t need to be mutually exclusive. “There are really great ideas and models we’re exploring to give us the ability to get the transaction-level detail, that one-to-one consumer understanding, that you strive for in a direct-to-consumer model — but still embrace the best of retail scale.”
“I think that our journey’s only getting started,” he continues. “As we continue to put the consumer at the center of everything we do, it just opens up so much potential.”