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How Kimberly-Clark Reshapes Its Marketing to Fit a Digital World

April 9, 2014

One of the biggest problems facing marketers today is falling behind the consumer. The migration away from the interruptive model of communications, and the evolution into digital technologies and platforms, makes for a very different marketing game, one in which the consumer is king. Yet, the transition into a different way of operating has been hard for most marketers.

Despite the growing investment in digital marketing, marketers are still clinging to methods and models better suited to analog TV advertising.

“We don’t think in terms of digital marketing,” says Clive Sirkin, the chief marketing officer of Kimberly-Clark KMB +0.12%. “We think in terms of marketing in a digital world.“

Most companies and agencies still look for a TV idea, and then, another group executes the digital. At Kimberly, they are looking for an idea that solves a business problem regardless of the platform. They have, in fact, changed their creative brief toward focusing on a solution to a business problem.

Asked how the role of marketers is changing, Sirkin believes that best marketer in a digital world would be the marketing technologists, people with heavy digital DNA and technology acumen. Kimberly already employs a few of them, which it integrates with the marketing groups. The fundamentals of marketing are always going to be the same, he points out, but it’s a question of how one activates the fundamentals; and currently there’s a need to marry understanding of technology to marketing.

While Kimberly-Clark’s marketers are undergoing a rapid transformation in terms of their skill set, many agencies, especially big agencies, are lagging behind the realities and challenges of the new marketplace. Because they steer away from specializing,  they appeal to the lowest common denominator and they hire generalists and not tech savvy talent. Another problem is that because of the holding company structure agencies operate within silo’d verticals, and the client has to manage integrated marketing communication. “The economics of that structure are prohibitive for me”, says Sirkin. Not unlike most CMOs that I talk to, he is frustrated by the inability of the holding companies to drive better collaboration among their agencies.

Kimberly-Clark believes that content creation should be native to the digital channel that reaches the audience. Which could be a problem. The economics of marketing in a digital world, if all content has to be native, could be prohibitive. Sirkin agrees that it’s a challenge. “The single biggest thing that I got to solve, and which probably a lot of other people haven’t solved, is how you scale content in an economic way.”

The challenge of transitioning a company’s marketing model in an age of vast proliferation of content is three-fold: improving cycle time, because of the demands on the approval process; maintaining quality across all the various content forms; and managing brands in an age in which marketers have less control over their brands.

That is a challenge because when marketers had control they could manage brands consistently, but when one has less control, consistency of marketing is harder to achieve among different platforms.

The reason companies are so slow to adapt to the digital age is that investment in the status quo is so huge that it is hard to reform organizations that are used to behaving in a certain way. Even when they see that the world around them is changing, organizations are invested in the status quo. Sirkin credits the support that he is getting from his management and the board for his being able to effect the transformation of marketing at K-C.

Source

"How Kimberly-Clark Reshapes Its Marketing to Fit a Digital World." Avidan Strategies, 2014.

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