In a recent Marketing Daily post, “Disrupting A Once-Staid Category, Kotex Builds A 'Menstruation Machine,'”Sarah Paulsen, senior global creative and design director for Kimberly-Clark's adult and feminine care brands said, "The goal is to demystify periods to help reduce stigma. And we wanted a fun way to show how little people know about the way menstruation works.”
Kotex has been hard at work creating conversations about menstrual health for over a decade. It has helped to dispel a myth I often hear about word-of-mouth marketing: that it works only (or best) in “exciting” categories. Not true. Word of mouth also works for everyday products and brands in categories like children’s products, beverage, and beauty products -- as well as women’s personal care products.
Starting an Unlikely Conversation
In 2010, Kimberly-Clark launched a new tampon brand, U by Kotex, and made a bold decision to change the conversation about this traditionally staid -- and quiet -- category. Advertising and marketing in the category had long been based on breezy images of snow and euphemistic language about “freshness” and “protection.”
Kimberly-Clark executives believed that society’s unwillingness to talk honestly about vaginal health and menstruation was a serious matter, with the potential to lead to bad health decisions and outcomes by teenagers unable to get the information they needed. So the company decided to change that.
“Right from the start, we believed it was about word of mouth,” Kimberly-Clark’s Jay Gottlieb, vice president of adult and feminine care marketing told me and my co-author when we profiled U by Kotex in “The Face-to-Face Book.” The strategy worked commercially, as well as achieving its goal of starting a conversation that lasted a decade, as Kotex continues to engage young women to make menstrual hygiene a talkable and shareable subject.
Offline Conversation is Very Different from Social MediaKotex’s decade of success with driving a conversation about feminine hygiene is a strong reminder that WOM can work for any brand in any category.
There are two sources of misunderstanding that WOM is only for “exciting” categories: (1) that WOM is really a synonym for social media, while overlooking the huge volume of daily WOM that takes place offline (whether face-to-face, text, IM, email or video chat)and, (2), that offline and online are mirrors of each other, when in fact they are fundamentally different from each other. A recent analysis of offline versus online WOMshows that social media buzz about brands is very concentrated. Technology (44% of all brand buzz on social media is about tech),media and sports are the "big three" that account for nearly 80% of all brand discussion in online.
Offline, WOM conversation is more evenly distributed over a wide range of categories. Retail and apparel brands lead the list with 16% of the chatter, followed by technology (13%), food/dining (11%) and beverages (10%).
In other words, online data does not always accurately reflect people’s offline behavior. Word of mouth is not channel-neutral. As we have shown elsewhere, each is important at driving business results, but one is not a mirror on the other. Do not look only at social media for inspiration or as a guide for creating a successful social brand. A focus on one at the expense of the other is at best achieving half the results and could possibly lead to incorrect decisions. Successful brands need strategies to drive both offline and online word of mouth.
The 100-year old Kotex has demonstrated that any brand which puts its mind to it can tap the power of word of mouth. As Kimberly-Clark’s Paulsen notes, “it's about continually testing and learning.”