Like many other CPG companies, Kimberly-Clark is trying to become more agile, especially when it comes to identifying, evaluating and spurring innovation in areas ranging from new products to digital marketing. But the parent of brands including Kleenex and Huggies has been taking a different—and in some ways more aggressive—tack than others in the industry toward finding these new ideas and putting them to work.
Kimberly-Clark’s strategy is embodied in the company’s Digital Innovation Lab, which is focusing on open-source innovation with its second annual KChallenge startup challenge at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show 2015. The winner will get the chance to pilot a project with one of K-C’s global brands, a roster that also includes Depends, Scott and Kotex.
Originally a platform to showcase the latest high-tech TVs and consumer electronics, CES has broadened to engage other industries, including automotive, healthcare, entertainment and consumer brands, as the digital revolution invades every aspect of life.
brandchannel talked with Mayur Gupta (@inspiremartech on Twitter), the global head of marketing technology and innovation for Kimberly-Clark, about the 2015 KChallenge and how the company is trying to infuse digital innovation across its brands in partnership with entrepreneurs, developers and the VC community.[more]
bc: What have you learned from the first KChallenge that you’re applying to this second competition?
Mayur Gupta (at right): We have grown tremendously in the last 12 months since our first KChallenge at CES. Last year, we focused on a combined footprint of startups as well as a number of leading and strategic technology partners.
While we learned plenty from the experience, we still believe in an open innovation model that makes the world our lab. We can tap into the numerous sources of innovation happening all around us and make fast decisions.
This year, we are consciously focused on tapping into the startup community and venture capitalists. We have shortlisted a few in the last few months to come and showcase their unique technologies and capabilities.
bc: What can this process do for the Kimberly-Clark corporate brand as well as your product line and innovation pipeline?
Gupta: CES creates excitement and a focal point for the process because it brings our brands face-to-face with cutting -edge technologies both for our present and future needs.
It provides deep yet clear insight into how some of the leading data and technology trends are shaping up from healthcare, wellness and wearables to IOT and connected devices. We’ve already seen some great success with last year’s winners, and we are confident of exceeding that benchmark this year.
bc: Why have you chosen the model that is open to many kinds of innovation rather than the model that many other CPGs seem to prefer, which is to focus on helping mainly digital-marketing startups?
Gupta: It’s fairly simple for us, as we have never believed in the notion of “digital marketing.” As our CMO Clive Sirkin would put it, we believe in building brands in a digital world for a consumer who no longer differentiates between the physical and digital worlds. For our consumer, it’s all the same and she expects to seamlessly flow across them.
For our brands to engage and inspire consumer behavior, we need to elevate and innovate her experience seamlessly, breaking the artificial silos of channels and devices, leveraging data, insights and behavioral science in ways that has never been done before. An open model allows us to keep up with the pace of disruption and change in a way that responds to “her” journey instead of isolating it to specific buckets.
bc: The “big-to-small” partnership mentality is proliferating across major CPG companies. What have you learned from others that you can apply to your own?
Gupta: There is no doubt about the proliferation of the “big-to-small” mindset, especially when it comes to the agility and speed in making fast decisions and continuously pivoting yourself as an organization. However, we are not sure if there is any single brand that has figured it out. In many ways, we are all on the journey right now at different stages of the course.
We do believe that brands that are able to drive convergence by breaking the silos across organizational functions, data, technology, marketing skills, and most importantly the silos within marketing itself (digital, content, agile, search, email and so on) are the ones who will be successful.
A big reason why startups are able to deliver seamless immersive consumer experiences that solve actual consumer needs is because they are increasingly “consumer focused” and do not operate within these traditional silos.
bc: What are you learning at K-C that other brands might want to pick up on?
Gupta: I would offer that a quote from [tech entrepreneur] Marc Andreessen might sum it up best, “To be for disruption (innovation) is to be for consumer choice, for more people being served, and for shrinking inequality. It is not about invention or destruction, it’s about creating new products, new choices, for more people.”
— Lisa Nirell (@lisa_nirell) December 17, 2014