The plan is to market where the consumer is: the media that they consume, the way in which the consumer wants to interact. That’s the plan in a nutshell, explains Rahul Asthana, in an easy and open manner that belies the size of the task entailed when you’re a senior director at consumer goods giant Kimberly-Clark.
Two billion people use Kimberly-Clark products every day. And given the scope of their business—covering baby and childcare, feminine care, family care and adult care—the potential in the region is sky high, regardless of its rapidly changing and varied demographics.
Asia has the highest number of babies born each year: 16 million in China, 26 million in India, 10 million in Southeast Asia. That’s big news for the babycare division. At the other end of the spectrum, countries such as Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Singapore have rapidly ageing populations, so adult care is exploding.
Then there are the billions in the middle, all of whom invariably require some combination of feminine products, nappies and tissues—among other KC merchandise—throughout their lives.
What’s the key to keeping such a huge array of consumers satisfied? Asthana says KC’s underlying success has come from its mission to be more than just a seller.
“Now, obviously we’re in the business of selling products and making profits,” he admits. “But the most successful brands are those that have a higher purpose than just selling the product. I find that a lot bigger, and very liberating.”
For Kimberly-Clark, that means tapping into what it means for its consumers, overwhelmingly women, to buy and use their goods. Asthana says his division’s marketing strategy is geared to developing close, meaningful relationships with mums and families, be it digitally or otherwise.
“We’re not locked into a particular approach; it’s really market dependent. It’s about understanding the customer journey,” he explains. “You look at the data accordingly and then develop the right content and strategies to engage. That’s how we’re doing it for all our brands.”
Flexibility is vital for Kimberly-Clark’s marketing strategy to succeed. It doesn’t take an expert to note that a young woman between 16 and 22 probably consumes different media for different reasons compared with a first-time mum—or someone over 65.
But what really matters to Asthana, is building a strong one-to-one relationship with a consumer, particularly in his world of baby and childcare.
“The starting point, is defining the user-journey as sharply as possible,” he says. “We have some great data to show that, especially in Asia, when a woman becomes pregnant, her consumption of traditional media dramatically decreases and her consumption of digital media dramatically increases. A lot of that is to do with why she’s consuming the media.”
With insights such as these and many others, Kimberly-Clark builds a personalised image of a consumer, and can then interact with that individual accordingly, both online and offline. It then becomes a delicate balance between meaningful engagement and effective sales, without damaging the relationship.
“How do you integrate the selling in with the engagement? You need the conversion. In the old world, it used to be on one side, ‘these are the ways I’m going to engage my consumer’, and on the other, ‘this is how I’m going to sell’. But online means those lines are really blurred. Every point of engagement is an opportunity to sell, and vice versa. So it’s really about forming that one-to-one relationship, and really engaging as if you’re engaging just with her, and not the whole demographic of, say, first-time mums.”
It is a different world to when Asthana began his career, joining Procter & Gamble in 2000 after university in India. “You were basically developing stuff for television back then, maybe a bit of print and radio, and then you were selling through physical stores,” he recalls. “You used to spend six to nine months developing a campaign, get it really perfect, spend all of your production budget and then launch. Your learnings on how the campaign was doing would come six months later.
“Now it’s completely different. You need to just do it, get it out there, and make it better as you’re getting feedback. You need to be able to react. You can’t spend 95 percent of your production budget at launch anymore. You have to hold some of it back so you can make changes.”
Asthana also welcomes another aspect of the digital revolution that some brands see as a potential issue: greater consumer choice. “Typically, we find that when consumers have increased choice they make a commitment to you. We have enough data show that the longer the relationship with a consumer, the more you can get from a top-line point of view and the less it costs from an acquisition point of view. The earlier in the journey that you can get the consumer to commit to your brand, the higher the ROI.”
One of the most significant changes between then and now, Asthana says, is the role of the consumer. The internet has democratised choice and purchasing to a paradigm-shifting extent, and marketers need to build their roles and offerings entirely around this revolution. “We need to move much faster to keep pace with the consumer,” he states simply. “It’s interesting, 15 or 20 years ago, the agencies moved the fastest, and they would drag the client kicking and screaming into the future, and then the consumer followed. Now it’s probably completely the reverse; the consumer moves the fastest and we’re all running to catch up.”