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Colgate-Palmolive tech chief: It’s a ‘very exciting time’ to be in industry

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

Colgate-Palmolive is investing in oral care and personal care innovations that stretch into adjacencies, including beauty [Getty Images]
Colgate-Palmolive is investing in oral care and personal care innovations that stretch into adjacencies, including beauty [Getty Images]

Related tags Colgate-palmolive Innovation Oral care Personal care Beauty Research and development

International personal care major Colgate-Palmolive is heavily focused on fast-paced, consumer-driven product innovations, marking a very exciting time to be in industry, its chief technology officer says.

Back in March this year, at the online Consumer Analyst Group of New York (CAGNY) 2021 conference, Colgate-Palmolive announced a shift away from traditional line extension innovations to a design-led approach​ that considered user experience and consumer trends from start-to-finish. Patricia Verduin PhD, chief technology officer at Colgate-Palmolive, told attendees the transition marked a “huge change”​ in how the company approached research and development.

Two months later, at the Goldman Sachs 2021 Global Staples Forum last week, Verduin why Colgate-Palmolive was taking this fresh approach.

Trust and user experience – ‘growth is driven by people’s emotions’

“Back in the day, growth was driven by market accessibility. You delivered trustworthy product in as many markets as you could, and you were good to go,”​ the chief tech officer said.

“And I think the concept of trust still really holds true; it’s still a really important factor in terms of gaining loyalty for our brands, but growth is driven by people’s emotions, by offering unique solutions for pain points and delivering wonderful user experiences,”​ she said.

Colgate-Palmolive was now, therefore, focused on providing new user experiences, improved sustainability profiles, better product design and more functionality, Verduin said.

“The agility and speed that we are delivering innovation is unlike I’ve ever experienced before, and we’ve had to really rethink a lot of our processes. So, [it’s a] very exciting time to be in our industry.”

Verduin said the company was also upping innovation efforts in adjacent categories, like beauty.

CO. By Colgate takes oral care ‘squarely into the beauty segment’

CO. By Colgate, for example – an oral beauty collection launched in Ulta Beauty stores across the US recently – proved the company was taking a “more expansive”​ approach to innovation, she said.

“That’s not just a toothpaste in a box, it’s a line of products which really puts oral care squarely into the beauty segment. People take care of their skin. We want them to have that same kind of thought when they take care of their teeth.”

Innovations like this, Verduin said, centred on “beautiful products, beautiful design [and] beautiful user experience” ​and, indeed, were more premium by design.

Asked if Colgate-Palmolive was taking a more premium approach with its innovations, she said: “We’re absolutely looking at premiumisation, but from a standpoint of offering the consumer premium experience (…) Any time we offer a consumer a premium experience for a premium price, you’ve got to deliver.”

The company was focused on ensuring premiumisation went beyond just the look and feel of a product, she said.

Learning to ‘pivot’ and respond to real-time consumer feedback

Verduin said as Colgate-Palmolive continued its push to innovate faster and more broadly across and beyond the oral care and personal care categories, ‘pivot’ had become an important in-house word.

“So, we launch these products and (…) the further out you go, the more you have to read the market. So, analytics become incredibly important because you need to read the market real-time when you’re launching, you need to really understand: (…) what are your Amazon star ratings? Or (…) how are the consumers reacting? And then you need to pivot.”

Packaging, formulas, openings, flavours – any of these product aspects might require slight adjustments based on real-time feedback, she said, so it was important to track post-launch consumer feedback.

“You have to pay attention to what you launched and keep revisiting it until you get it right, particularly as you go further out in the adjacencies,”​ she said.

Colgate-Palmolive had shifted market testing to a more targeted approach to help this, Verduin said, and was working with data analytics to shorten innovation and product update times.

The challenge, she said, was combining these market innovations, test lines and product upgrades with continued mass market, high-speed production of existing products and lines.

“You still need speed and efficiency, but there’s another set of the supply chain organisation that needs to be small-scale trial adaptive – test-and-run type of things, 10,000 units, get it on the market, see what happens.”

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