AI toothbrushes and toothpaste that dares to love put a digital smile on Colgate Palmolive

Profile picture for user slauchlan By Stuart Lauchlan January 29, 2018
Summary:
Colgate Palmolive is upping its digital spend for both customer-facing activities and to optimise resources in the back office.

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Digital transformation is a significant challenge for businesses across all industry sectors of course and it requires clear thinking and commitment to execution to deliver the benefits.

So when Ian Cook, CEO of Colgate Palmolive is talking about his firm’s plans for increased digital investment, it’s not entirely surprising to hear him declare:

We have belief.

That includes belief in an AI-powered, app-enabled Smart Toothbrush unveiled a couple of weeks ago. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff was prone to brandish his very own connected toothbrush in public a few years back, so it’s not exactly a new idea, but this is clearly a big deal for Colgate.

Called the Colgate Smart Electronic Toothbrush E1, its built-in sensors detect its position in the mouth in 16 different areas, collecting real-time data which is then transferred via Bluetooth to your Apple smartphone. The AI capabilities then analyse more and more information about a person’s dental hygiene and the app can make recommendations on how to improve oral care. It even comes complete with a charging stand that includes a couple of games!

That’s the headline-grabbing, AI-compliant pitch, but there are other, perhaps more prosaic, digital investments that the firm is engaged upon, as part of its Global Growth and Efficiency Program. Here, it’s in large part about the need for speed in a fast moving competitive economy, says Cook:

Clearly, the way the world is moving, whether it's e-commerce, digital in general or local brands, we are committed to moving more rapidly. This is not just true around innovation; it's about how we go about doing everything in the company.

A case in point - and one appropriately tangential to the toothbrush innovation - is Colgate’s Dare To Love toothpaste, created in tandem with an e-commerce partner firm in China with the intent of targeting a younger demographic. Cooks says:

The Dare to Love toothpaste that we launched online in China did precisely that, took the Colgate brand to a younger female purchaser, and we use digital to do that as well. So it's not just message; it's who we are reaching with that message.

We created the product in a very short period of time, around 5 months. It was our largest and fastest-selling multipack on the 11/11 Singles' Day in China and the single biggest growth driver in our portfolio for this online retailer. Now interestingly, it has additional benefits. It brings us to a younger female millennial user with a higher wealth program. So the combination of our advertising and the offering itself sees us broaden our reach in terms of consumers.

Marketing the connections

There’s been a focus on digital marketing in general, he adds, with around 30% of total ad spend currently going on digital:

Our increased digital media investment and focus on faster, easier ways to test and improve the creative has led to significant improvements in return on investments over the year.

This has helped us increase our e-commerce market share leadership in toothpaste in the US…our e-commerce business, in general, was up just under 60% for the full year…E-commerce is another area that we'll continue to grow exponentially….it's developing people into the habit, and it's connecting with people in the digital world of the 21st century and all of the other channels in between.

In making those connections, Cook points to a major asset:

Our consumer engagement centers…are truly always on as we listen to what's happening in real time online, quickly engaging with consumers…These consumer engagement centers that we have in the US and China allow us to track 24/7 what the consumers are engaging in online and insert ourselves into that conversation with the brand.

Take Colgate, that is very iconically all about a smile, all about building a future, a brighter future for the people that use our brand. So we can communicate and has built capabilities to communicate in 3 seconds, 6 seconds or 30 seconds and make sure that the brand's message and brand recall gets through that very cluttered environment. So absolutely, we are leveraging social, and I think we are moving ourselves into the space with speed and agility to do that quickly when you see trends emerge and make sure you stay relevant to consumers.

There’s also work with SAP behind the scenes to improve supply-chain capabilities and resource optimization. Cook explains:

Our margins have been under pressure across our industry over the past year or so, and we know we need to push productivity aggressively….So through our funding-the-growth program, we are working to reduce these costs through many digital platforms interestingly to see us real time looking at what our logistics providers are paying for fuel, allowing us to economize, and at the same time, using new technologies, like Uber Freight, where we are a founding participant, to improve service and manage volatility.

We remain resolutely focused on maximizing our Global Growth and Efficiency Program to streamline our cost structure. The key, of course, is to focus on where we think we're going to be in the future and organize for that, so that we can meet those changes head on. For example, we, in the last 4 months, have just redesigned our supply chain organization to become organized by region while keeping the central capability, which allows us, again, to respond more speedily to local market need

We remain resolutely focused on maximizing our Global Growth and Efficiency Program to streamline our cost structure. The key, of course, is to focus on where we think we're going to be in the future and organize for that, so that we can meet those changes head on. For example, we, in the last 4 months, have just redesigned our supply chain organization to become organized by region while keeping the central capability, which allows us, again, to respond more speedily to local market needs while still leveraging at global scale and capability. The productivity is not just about cutting costs. We also think it's about simplification, which is a very big area of focus for the company.

My take

Much to smile about.