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Clorox CMO Advocates for Conversations at the Center of the Future of Marketing

Published by Ed Keller December 07, 2018

Eric Reynolds, the Chief Marketing Officer of Clorox Company, is imagining a very different future for marketing—where marketing campaigns rely on “getting the right people to have the right conversations.”   

In his speech at the Association of National Advertisers conference in October, he also said “there will be more marketing, but it’ll be less obvious. It’ll be more inside people’s lives. People are going to be going to their trusted networks for information, not their traditional media.”Household cleaning category has no Conversation Commanders

In just those few sentences, Reynolds endorsed a kind of marketing that is a bedrock philosophy of my firm, Engagement Labs, which has invented the TotalSocial® platform to monitor both the digital and face-to-face conversations people are having about brands owned by Reynolds’ company, including Burt’s Bees, Pine Sol, and Clorox brand cleaning products.

Our work, which was recently published in the MIT Sloan Review, includes a collaboration well-known authority on marketing effectiveness analytics,  Dr. Koen Pauwels of Northeastern University.  We found that 19% of purchases are driven by consumer conversations, with about half the impact coming from social media and half from offline conversations, particularly face-to-face. As shown in the chart below, we found the greatest impact for technology products and beverages, but grocery items, like Clorox brands, also were heavily impacted by conversations.

The online and offline conversation channels are not at all correlated in most instances, so strategies to activate both are key. In addition, we find that one-quarter of the impact of advertising on sales occurs by causing consumers to talk about the brand. Or, as Reynolds put it, getting “inside people’s lives…. Going to their trusted networks.”


So how is Clorox doing in this emerging era of conversational marketing? The quickest way to answer that question is to look at our TotalSocial® TalkScape visualization that shows how brands perform on a quadrant chart where the vertical metric measures social media conversation performance and the horizontal measures offline conversation performance. Brands in the top right perform well in both venues and thus are called “Conversation Commanders.” 

TotalSocial TalkScape

In fact, the household cleaning category has no Conversation Commanders—thanks to below average performance in social media. It’s simply not a “sexy” category that wins much attention on social media platforms. But it is a category that gets a reasonable amount of offline conversation, helping to reinforce our long-held belief that it’s not just big tech or new cars that get people talking.  Everyday products do as well, if they solve people’s problems.

And the Clorox and Pine Sol brands do, in fact, perform better than most in their category. They far outpace competitors Ajax, Comet, OxiClean, Pledge, and Windex. The brands also beat Mr. Clean, especially online.  The only brands that beat Pine Sol and Clorox—and only narrowly, on one dimension—are P&G’s Febreze which has a higher online score, and Reckitt Benckiser’s Lysol brand, which has a higher offline score. 

The Clorox CMO has laid down a significant challenge for himself, as well as for marketers in general.  The first step in conversation marketing is to assess your brands’ current performance, and to benchmark against key competitors in your own category.  

Another opportunity is to look beyond one’s own category. Our research shows that that leading Conversation Commanders are brands like Amazon, Apple, Disney World, Dove, and Whole Foods—brands that are winning both in offline and online conversations.  It will be interesting to see if Clorox can achieve some of the conversation magic of the Magic Kingdom.  If it’s a priority of the CMO and he challenges his organization to create winning strategies that are consistent with this strategy, there is no reason why not.

Download the MIT SMR Article