Health & Beauty

Different Strokes for Different Folks: Kimberly-Clark Listens Carefully to the Needs of Its Many Customers

Posted: September 27, 2009 by
Ron Romanik

According to Kimberly-Clark's corporate boilerplate summary, about one in four humans on the planet reach for and trust one of Kimberly-Clark's brands every day. Its consumer brands are such well-known names as Kleenex, Scott, Andrex, Huggies, Pull-Ups, Kotex, Poise, and Depend. The Kimberly-Clark Health Care brand, however, may be an even more robust institution, serving medical professionals the world over with literally thousands of products.

The responsibility for managing the Health Care brand rests on the shoulders of a relatively small team of managers and designers, called the Health Care Global Packaging Team, led by Alan Shuman in the Kimberly-Clark Health Care headquarters in Roswell, GA. Right now, Kimberly-Clark is in the middle of a far-reaching strategy of brand refinement and product and packaging updates in both health care and consumer categories.

Under Shuman's direction, the Global Packaging Team stresses ethnographic work in the field to learn how products and packages are actually used. In the real world of health care, the hectic and uncontrolled environment puts stress on the time of the clinician and the functionality of packages. After close observation and several rounds of prototypes and several rounds of testing in the field, the team becomes satisfied that they have addressed all the needs of the end-users. "We're not designing our packaging as much as our customer is designing it," Shuman emphasizes.

A system is born

One part of Kimberly-Clark's latest design strategy developed from confronting the fact that health care packaging can have a number of "customers" that touch the product along the way. The important information on each package is different depending on the customer—buyer, manager, stocker, or clinician. Plus, the FDA has a say on the type and size of specific information, the marketing department wants to emphasize advanced or new features, and the brand manager needs to present the global brand consistently.

Shuman's team took a step back and looked at all the information that needed to be on a typical Kimberly-Clark Health Care package. "We have different customers, so we have different needs for our packages," says Shuman. "We realized there was really no centralized way we were organizing the information." In order to marry functionality and aesthetics, though, the Kimberly-Clark team learned from consumer packaging that too many colors and too many photos often detract from the functionality of the package.

The efficient and elegant solution developed through trial and retrial (and retrial, etc.) was a zoned approach. The new system's design approach is called "KIMZONE," and it offers positive product ID for fast, easy selection of size, color, and appropriate use for each customer in the chain. The glove box shown here is one of the first product lines to apply the system, which will soon be applied wholesale to thousands of Kimberly-Clark product packages.

On the package, the color-coded "selection zone" is designed for quick, easy reference and product identification for clinician, product user, or selector. This highlighted area catches the eye first, and has proved invaluable to clinicians in the often rushed, chaotic environment of the hospital. The "information zone" has all the other important information needed to select the right product for the job at hand. Kimberly-Clark also developed shorter, easier-to-understand names and product descriptions for the new packages.

The clearly organized zones also aid in product stocking, materials management, organization, and inventory access. This design is based on customer input from around the world, gathered through focus groups and online feedback. It is a system—not a template—and there is flexibility built into the system. For instance, the most important product ID information that should be in the color-coded zone might be one set of information for gloves and another set of information for gowns.

Delivering the goods

Amanda DePalma, director of Global Strategy Marketing at Kimberly-Clark, points out that with the success of the Global Packaging team's initiatives, the branding for health care products and consumer products are taking cues from each other. She believes that the different arms of Kimberly-Clark are better served with open communication lines. For instance, it is now a given that the Global Packaging Team is involved integrally at the very beginning of any new product development.

DePalma also sees great advantage in going into the field to learn about how customers actually use the products and packages—and how they view the Kimberly-Clark brand. She admits that the consumer brand positioning strategy would be shortsighted not to complement the positioning of health care packages and medical devices, and vice versa.

In recent projects, DePalma feels Kimberly-Clark has witnessed a number of best practices that can be applied across consumer and health care products. She was impressed with the way the Global Packaging team took a step back, didn't make any assumptions, learned by watching, and brought a system together for a consistent premium look.

DePalma has come to believe the delivery of product out of the packaging is of primary importance, and product and package should be developed simultaneously to achieve maximum functionality in the most efficient way, business-wise. The final touch is making the package intuitive to use, whether it is health care or consumer packaging. "We've really streamlined the information on the packaging," stresses DePalma. "It speaks volumes about what the packaging team is actually doing."

Getting to the right solution

The Global Packaging Team is now colocated with brand development and communications at Kimberly-Clark, and they all work closely with brand managers. The general brand approach is communicated from the top down to managers, but each brand manager has a lot of authority on where the brand can go. Shuman says they always take a step back to ensure consistency start with the question: "What is our brand going to look like?"

Another recent project that helped crystallize the systematic package design approach was the KimVent* 24-Hour Oral Care Kit. This product is used in hospitals to prevent pneumonia by controlling (all day and all night) the colonization of bacteria in the mouth and teeth of a patient.

In real-life hospital situations, time is of the essence. Fumbling around with packaging can be time-consuming and frustrating, and the Oral Care Kit included nine separate sub-packs to be used during a 24-hour regimen. "We realized that a big part of this product was the packaging," DePalma explains. "The goal was to design something that is truly flexible."

Shuman and his team discovered that there were longstanding paradigms in the category—maybe for no other reason that they were longstanding. Nurses truly have a desire to cure their patients, and often medical devices frustrate that desire. Nurses have many duties, and one is tracking patient compliance (that the product is actually being administered correctly). "We learned that if you make the product easy to use, then compliance and protocol will follow," says Shuman.

Shuman's team even got package design input from sales up front in this project. They learned that in a chaotic hospital environment, small gains in order can make a big difference to nurses. Shuman's team was hopeful, and thought: "We can design packaging to bring some order and flow to their lives." Shuman recalls: "We wanted to make the package work as hard as it could."

Space is always a premium at hospitals, and the outer package of the KimVent* 24-Hour Oral Care Kit serves as a "carrying case" that provides several storage options, several ways to carry, and several bedside orientation possibilities. The kit becomes a portable work station where the nurse, if interrupted, can temporarily store items again in the thermoform trays of the sub-packs.

Color-coding helps identify the correct tool for quick use at the bedside, and the carton holds the smaller packs neatly in place, sitting upright, even until the last one. Color-coding also helps a nurse keep track of compliance, as a quick glance can confirm whether patient or nurse is keeping up with the regimen. With the success of the Oral Care Kit, now Shuman's team asks about every new project: "How can we drive compliance through ease of use?"

Lessons of research

"Where possible, we always start with the customer," says Shuman about the research and development aspect of the Global Packaging Team. They try to immerse themselves into the environment where the product and package are used. They will ask a number of nurses, for example, to teach them how to use one particular product.

After the team witnesses all the challenges of using a package or product in the field, they summarize all the needs the packaging will try to fulfill. "That's where the fun begins," says Shuman. "We challenge the team to step out of the constrained world we usually live in and try out some of the 'What-if's.'"

The team's individual designers do not just propose ideas, they flesh out complete concepts. The goal is to get back out to the customer as soon as possible with ideas, even if they are crude prototypes. "The important thing is to give them something to react to, so we can better define what benefits are most important to the customer," Shuman explains. Sometimes, the process will mean four or five rounds of taking prototypes back out into the field. Shuman admits that other types of research data can be insightful, but data can't always get to the same insights as some of the "a-ha's" they get from watching customers use packaging.

In practice, Shuman's team uses many types of research, both internally and externally. "What I've come to believe is that there's no single best type of research," he says. "The key is to determine what you want to learn first. What business question are you going to answer with this research? What is it you're hoping to learn? What decisions are you going to make with that information?"

DePalma says that the new packaging and new products such as the Oral Care Kit have been received well by all their "customers." The Kimberly-Clark Health Care sales teams are fans because of the response Oral Care Kit packages are getting in the field. The KIMZONE package concept has also had an immediate reaction. Usually, packaging changes are disruptive to the end-users. In this case, according to Shuman, customers were saying, "Wow, you've highlighted what I need," and asking, "When can we see these packages?"

Shuman says it was interesting to witness how some of our paradigms were blown out of the water with the new Kimberly-Clark Health Care packaging. "We blur the line between what's product and what's package," Shuman emphasizes, characterizing the new approach at Kimberly-Clark that promises even more functionality, ease of use, and patient compliance. "We think it is really the tip of the iceberg."

DentaBurst Portable Teeth Cleaners Leverage Kimberly-Clark Color Burst

The new DentaBurst product from Kimberly-Clark offers fresh flavors of mint (green) and cinnamon (red) and unique packaging that is portable, fun, and functional. Kimberly-Clark markets DentaBurst Freshening Teeth Cleaners as an effective way to clean teeth and freshen breath on-the-go. Each DentaBurst is individually wrapped in a thin protective pouch that is smaller than a credit card. Twelve individual pouches fit into a paperboard "secondary" package, with curved sides and a recloseable tab, which is then inserted into a display package for retail.

"We wanted it to be more of a carrying case," explains Stephanie Earley, market manager for the DentaBurst brand. The secondary case has a metallic sheen and a radiating textured pattern, and was provided by MeadWestvaco Health & Beauty Packaging using their Accents® Dimensional Coating process on a mylar-laminated SBS board. The case is made to be durable and portable for storing in a purse or pocket and fun to use, so consumers will add DentaBurst to their daily routine. Unlike mint or gums, DentaBurst Freshening Teeth Cleaners which feature Kimberly-Clark's "finger glove" technology that allows busy people to remove plaque and freshen their breath anytime and anywhere.

Jeremy Gauger, packaging technologist at Kimberly-Clark, is part of the Innovation Design Group made up of industrial designers and packaging engineers that developed the primary and secondary packaging and sourced these components. Gauger explains that the DentaBurst packaging concept was first born as 2D concepts by designer Joe Cesa at Kimberly-Clark's office in Roswell, GA, then converted into 3D reality and brought to market by the package technology team. The display package and corresponding graphics were designed by Voxgrafica in Redmond, WA, and the display package was produced at Rock-Tenn Company. On the front is a close-up photo of the product in action on a woman's teeth, and the back has "Directions," which amount to two line drawings. "We've had a lot of latitude as far as what we could do," says Gauger.

Earley explains that a great deal of focus group research went into refining the packaging to match the consumer experience. DentaBurst combines two experiences—flavor (mint or cinnamon) and cooling—and Kimberly-Clark wasn't happy until research subjects said: "This visually represents what I'm feeling."
The product is currently available in the oral care aisle at leading retailers and includes packaging designed to capture the attention of consumers. Earley says the size and the radiating burst are eye catching so the consumer can easily find the product. "We had to be very careful to create something that stands out but doesn't get too far from oral care," Earley says.

Aside from the current two single-color designs, DentaBurst will soon introduce new graphic motifs for the secondary carrying case. Research shows the Gen Y-ers are accustomed to carrying many accessories—like phones, music players, etc.—so adding another small accessory like this case fits into that lifestyle.