Design Thursday: Escaping the Commodity Trap

Imagine that you just got a new job as a brand manager at Kimberly-Clark. That’s the good news. The bad news? Your first assignment is to think up ways to grow market share for Kleenex, a product so commoditized that its very name veers into the generic. Yikes!

OK, so there are pink boxes and blue. Little boxes and big ones. Pop-up tissues, and ones that lie inert in their box. Tissues with virus-fighting properties and tissues that let you fend for yourself against marauding germs. And then…and then….uh....


Luckily, the folks in Dallas are a lot more clever than this paper products- imagination-challenged writer. Their latest inspiration? Why, innovating by design, of course.

According to Tony Palmer, the company’s enthusiastic CMO, the brand’s resurgence started last November when the company launched a new oval carton (available, as you might expect, in nine stylish patterns.)

Based on AC Nielsen data, the Kleenex Holiday ovals helped grow the facial tissue category by double-digits during the 2006 Holiday season. KleenexmasRZ.jpg ( Stay tuned for the latest in the merry intersection of snowflakes and snot-nosed children in October. ) Here's a little preview picture...

As if that weren’t thrilling enough, in February Kimberly-Clark added another twist: MyKleenex Tissue, a way for consumers to customize their own boxes with photos of their loved ones, their dog, their vacation pictures, their wedding snaps,
their pimped up cars, their favorite picture of Brad Pitt, whatever makes their hearts go aflutter when they feel a sneeze coming on. Just upload a picture onto their site, www.mykleenextissue.com, KleenexwedRZ.jpgtinker with background colors and trims, and voila! A box of tissues good enough to give as a gift.

The product’s been moving off the shelves like gangbusters, according to Palmer, although he refused to divulge precise figures. And it’s all been via word of mouth, or word of blog, like this.

In its latest iteration, the company will now process large orders. So, just think of the possibilities: the whole third grade soccer team, the entire Kappa Kappa Gamma pledge class, the Knights of Columbus, the Cinncinnati chapter of the AFL-CIO, the Red Sox's starting line-up, all of Opus Dei, the G-8, the National Security Council. Herb Allen could stuff them into goodie bags after his retreat. The possibilities boggle the mind. And the implications for other mature product categories are obvious. When the question is "How can I expand my market?", "by design" is often the answer.

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