CONSUMER PACKAGED GOODS & RETAIL INSIGHT AND INNOVATION: Kimberly-Clark leverages digital technology to add value for consumers and retailers

Kim Greenwood is the senior manager of virtual reality at Kimberly-Clark Corporation, a leading US-based consumer packaged goods maker focused on personal products. Compass spoke to her about how Kimberly-Clark uses simulation, virtual reality and other digital solutions to improve the experiences of its retail partners and consumers.

COMPASS:  What is the purpose of Kimberly-Clark’s Innovation Design Studio?

KIM GREENWOOD:  Kimberly-Clark’s Innovation Design Studio is a state-of-the-art facility where our retailers are immersed in possible versions of their “future store.” It is a way to showcase our product innovation and to prepare for future launches by blending virtual and physical store solutions. We also hold innovation events ‘on the road,’ bringing these services to our customers in their own facilities or other locations.

You don’t need a big center to use this capability. There’s no reason you can’t leverage virtual technology in a meeting with your business partner at Starbucks, for instance. It’s also important to note that the technology is quickly becoming available to business experts, not just technology experts. Our vision is to put virtual reality (VR) capabilities in the hands of our business and sales people, designers, and other functional roles within our organization. Virtual-reality technology is not as easy to use as a touch application, but it’s getting closer. In five years, VR should be readily available even on mobile devices.

What is the business value-add from this initiative?

KG: This initiative serves both Kimberly-Clark and our retail partners. Imagine the benefit of designing and testing concepts without having to physically build them. Because we are not limited by the constraints of the physical world, we can test many ideas and concepts to ensure we get the best solution, also saving time and reducing cost.

When one of our category analysts or shopper-insight experts is looking at the best way to engage a shopper in an aisle, they have to make a lot of decisions throughout their process. They start with what they think will happen, observe what actually happens, and then build it physically. By leveraging our virtual capabilities to visualize what the solution will look like and how it might work, we can actually test the decisions we’re making much earlier in our planning processes than we could when we built physical models. It streamlines our process, making us more efficient and increasing our probability of success.

Can you share an example where using VR has kept you from going too far down the wrong road?

KG: When we launched our “U by Kotex” product a few years ago, we worked with our brand and package design teams very early in the process to come up with different merchandising alternatives and in-store signage. We then brought it to life in VR to help them make decisions about what to test in VR, actual in-store tests, and mock-store scenarios. We ended up with a very successful approach. There’s no question you recognize that black packaging when you walk in the aisle. It communicates something that you never really saw in that area of the store before. It’s young, it’s fresh and it catches your attention.

Once we came up with those merchandising ideas and concepts, we put them into the individual store formats, explained the innovation, and explained how this might work in a retailer’s actual store using VR. Base on research we’ve done and insights we have, it really helps visualize what we think is going to happen from a sales perspective. It helps us and our retail partners understand what the impact on the shopping basket is going to be.



Are there other ways VR is being employed?

KG: It’s not only helpful in product launches; we do small projects as well. We can use VR to look at whether consumers will pick up on a new message or tab that’s on a package in the context of the shelf. When you look at a package on its own, you can focus just on it. But when you’re looking at a package on the shelf, it’s surrounded by hundreds of other products and your messages might be washed out. Are people actually seeing the information you want them to see? How can you get information to pop so that they can find what they’re looking for and get on with their day? Think about a mom who has three kids and is trying to get through the store because she has to get someone to soccer practice in 20 minutes. How do we, as a manufacturer, help that mom easily find what she needs and get it into her cart? From a retailer perspective, the worst thing that can happen is she can’t find it and leaves without buying it there.

How are you working to improve and expand collaboration with Kimberly-Clark’s retail partners?

KG: We are always striving to strengthen our relationship with our retailers. We want to be an Indispensable Partner – that’s a registered Kimberly-Clark trademark – who not only understands and drives growth for our brands and products, but also for the retailer in the categories that our products are sold in. We do this through new and actionable insights, industry-leading innovation, and world-class merchandising and shopper programs.

When our retailers want to partner with a manufacturer on a project or there’s something going on in the industry that they need more information on, we want them to call us. We try to ensure that by driving new innovation that defines what growth opportunities there might be for a retailer in that specific category. It’s what we call “Big I” innovation; it’s not just about products.

by Lisa Rivard Back to top
by Lisa Rivard