Kimberly-Clark Explores The Next Big - And Smallest - Things In Consumer Tech

LAS VEGAS -- Many brand marketers make the annual pilgrimage to CES in search of the next big thing. On Monday, a team from CPG giant Kimberly-Clark and its agency Mindshare saw what could well be the next smallest thing -- a promising new technology that operates at the molecular level, but has the potential to alter the entire world of consumer marketing.

“This is a relatively medium fat cheese,” Damian Goldring told the K-C team watching as he demonstrated SCiO, a handheld sensor capable of analyzing any form of physical matter simply by scanning it -- in this case, a platter of cheeses he had just purchased at a local supermarket here.

Goldring, the chief technology officer and co-founder of Israeli company ConsumerPhysics, was one of a dozen tech start-ups hoping to win an annual competition organized by K-C’s Digital Innovation Lab (D’Lab). Goldring then moved on to other forms of matter, correctly scanning random over-the-counter medications, but experienced a real-time tech glitch while trying to identify another product category: soft drinks.



Waving SCiO over a cup of Pepsi, the device mistakenly identified it as Coke on several tries.

On a molecular level, “the differences between Coke and Pepsi are relatively small,” the Israeli engineer explained to a panel of ad executives, whose careers are premised on differentiating products among consumers. An audience comprised of an interdisciplinary team of K-C marketing, research and engineering executives began to titter and blurt: “Coke won the Pepsi challenge,” “Maybe it’s the [brand] power of Coke,” “Maybe Pepsi is selling Pepsi in Coke cans,” etc.

Despite the cola flaws, the K-C team began brainstorming possible use cases of SCiO for their brands, including applications that could sense the molecular composition of feces or urine in ways that would ostensibly create new product benefits for consumers of K-C’s Huggies and Depend lines. Other K-Cers mused on the possibilities of scanning surfaces for germs and microbes that might create new consumer benefits for its family care products such as Kleenex, Scott and Viva.

That brainstorming process, said Hugh Jedwill, who runs D’Lab and organized the event, was a big part of what the KChallenge is all about -- getting K-C’s teams exposed to innovative entrepreneurs to unlock new ways of thinking and marketing K-C’s products and brands. After Monday’s judging session, he said, the K-C team was hosting a cocktail party for all the startups participating so that individual members of the team could interact, exchange thoughts and possibly begin pursuing their own project ideas with the innovators.

That’s part of the reason K-C invested in D’Lab in the first place, explained CMO Clive Sirkin, noting that big marketing organizations have to foster innovation both internally and externally if they want to remain competitive in a rapidly changing world of consumer technology and experiences.

Like SCiO, some of the most innovative technologies showcased during the challenge were from Israeli companies.

Avishai Shoham, CEO of Evoz, demonstrated versions of the company’s remote monitoring technologies, including a baby monitor parents can use to track their infants while they’re sleeping, crying, eating, etc. The technology, which can also be used to augment an infant’s environment, controlling thermostats, lighting and even playing lullabies, could have significant applications for K-C’s baby and childcare products. Shoham demonstrated a makeshift example of how the technology could be used to monitor the inventory of diapers in a Huggies diaper box and enable consumers to automatically order and replenish their stock when it got low.

Yaniv Makover, CEO of semantic data analytics company Keywee, showed how the company’s technology could be used to fine-tune K-C’s content marketing mix to ensure that the right audiences were served the right content through Web publishing and social media channels. Importantly, he demonstrated not just how to target content to the most relevant audiences, but to the ones that actually purchase a product.

Most of the companies participating in this year’s challenge were more developed, later stage companies, which was a departure from last year -- the first year of the KChallenge -- when the company invited early stage startups to pitch.

Jedwill said that was intentional, even though the 2014 challenge proved successful, yielding not one but three deals that are finally poised to come to market sometime this year. But at least one of the more promising ventures grew out of a band, if not a garage band. Interlude, the brainchild of Israeli musician Yoni Bloch, demonstrated a powerful new interactive video platform enabling viewers to effectively tell their own stories by seamlessly selecting different variants of the video’s content as they viewed it. Importantly, the experience happens without any of the herky jerky buffering that has historically plagued similar attempts at interactive video versioning by other developers.

JJ Schmuckler, CEO of brand partnerships at Interlude, said that’s because the platform’s technology effectively pre-loads much of the content a user might want to view before they actually selected it, which creates the seamless viewing experience. He described how Interlude’s technology could be used to educate and inform consumers in retail locations, giving an example of how it could help young women looking for information about feminine hygiene products such as K-C’s Kotex line, which might otherwise be a “self-conscious” process.

Schmuckler’s presentation generated some of the greatest enthusiasm from the K-C team, but instead of seeing the technology as an application for in-store, retail environments, they saw tremendous potential for using it for television campaigns instead.

“It has research applications,” one K-Cer said, noting that the backchannel of data from consumers selecting which video paths they wanted to view would represent a goldmine of consumer insights. “I’m so pumped up," he added.

Another K-Cer gushed about potential “CRM” applications of the technology, noting, “We can help educate customers to buy products.”

Another saw the “gamification” potential of the technology to create a more rewarding and engaging experience for consumers viewing K-C’s TV and video content. “I don’t see this living in brick-and-mortar retail,” said one member of the team,” adding, “it’s screens.”

But at least one K-Cer revealed another important human aspect of the startup pitch process, noting how likeable and charismatic Interlude’s Schmuckler was in his presentation.

“I actually liked him, and that’s really, really important if we’re going to work with people,” she said.

Staging the challenge on the day before the official opening of CES served another purpose, Jedwill explained, noting that it got the juices of the K-C team flowing and opened their minds to other potential technology opportunities they might be seeing later this week on the CES exhibit floor.

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