Ed Keller's commentary published on June 7, 2021 in MediaPost "How To Become A Word-Of-Mouth Maven"
Recently MediaPost published a piece, Disrupting A Once-Staid Category, Kotex Builds A 'Menstruation Machine,' that described the Kotex brand’s partnership with YouTube creator Simone Giertz who built a menstruation machine to dispel universal confusion about how monthly periods work.
"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," says Sarah Paulsen, senior global creative and design director for Kimberly-Clark's adult and feminine care brands.
In fact, Kotex has been hard at work creating conversations about menstrual health for over a decade. And in doing so, it has helped to dispel a myth I often hear about word-of-mouth marketing – that it works only (or best) in “exciting” categories like technology, cars, restaurants, travel and movies. 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
Back in 2010, Kimberly-Clark was launching a new tampon brand, U by Kotex, and made a bold decision to change the conversation about this traditionally staid – and quiet – category. To the extent people were talking about menstruation at the time, it was generally limited to private whispers between mother and daughter, sisters, or among one’s closest girlfriends. Advertising and marketing in the category had long been based on breezy images of snow, white purity 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. And they decided to change that.
The crucial idea behind U by Kotex was that feminine protection should not be a taboo subject. Not only should women feel comfortable talking about it, but the category could even become fashionable. The packaging and applicators would be colorful, and its marketing would break the cycle of euphemistic advertising and communications about the category. Tampons would become acceptable topics for conversation. The launch campaign was designed to encourage honest conversations and to provide essential health and how-to-information to young women.
“Right from the start, we believed it was about word of mouth,” Kimberly-Clark’s Jay Gottlieb, VP of adult and feminine care marketing told my co-author Brad Fay and me when we profiled U by Kotex in The Face-to-Face Book. And it worked, both commercially as well as achieving its goal of starting a conversation --ne that lasted a decade, as Kimberly-Clark continues to engage young women with entertaining, creative and educational content to make menstrual hygiene talkable and shareable.
The brand is increasingly trying to bring young men into conversations about periods, too. A new brand video launched in Brazil, for example, shows a young boy passing a Kotex back to the girl sitting behind him in class, according to the MediaPost article.
Offline Conversation is Very Different from Social Media
Kotex’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. It is not just for those that are in high consideration categories or limited to brands with Super Bowl sized ad budgets.
And yet, I hear this misconception often. This may reflect two sources of misunderstanding: (1) that word of mouth 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) offline and online are mirrors on each other, when in fact they are fundamentally different from each other.
A recent analysis of offline versus online WOM shows that social media buzz about brands is very concentrated, with technology now leading the way (44% of all brand buzz on social media is about tech), and together with media and sports, these "big three" account for nearly 80% of all brand discussion in social media.
Offline, word of mouth 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 reflect well people’s offline behavior. Word of mouth is not channel neutral. One cannot automatically generalize the results from online to offline. 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.”