SINGAPORE: FMCG giant Procter & Gamble (P&G) has succeeded in turning around the fortunes of two of its beauty brands in China by deploying the power of consumer empathy, according to a leading executive at the company.

Speaking at the recent QUAL360 APAC conference in Singapore, Subhadra Sethuraman outlined how SK-II, its Japanese luxury skincare brand, and haircare brand VS Sassoon were both struggling to connect with Chinese consumers.

As P&G’s Associate Director of Analytics and Insights for Home Care and Oral Care in Asia, Sethuraman knew that the company was at the forefront of analytical and behavioural research, but the human element appeared to be missing.

“It is not the techniques and the tools we use that make what we do truly great at discovering insights and ideas,” she said. “It is truly the humans behind these tools and techniques which make all the difference in what we bring to the table.”

(For more, including how P&G aligned its brand values to its Chinese consumers, read WARC’s report: P&G’s SK-II and VS Sassoon tap emotion in China.)

A transformative moment for P&G, as it examined how to boost flagging sales of its VS Sassoon brand, came with the realisation that target consumers liked photos which showed not just a model’s hairstyle, but also her accessories and full outfit.

The result was the Moveable Shape campaign that saw a VS Sassoon salon pop up in downtown Hong Kong at the end of last year, showcasing the brand's look of the season from a collaboration between a VS Sassoon creative stylist and fashion designer Alexander Wang.

Complimentary haircuts were offered to consumers at the salon while the brand's styling products were used on hair models in a high fashion model parade.

SK-II also presented a challenge. “When we did a lot of testing, we found that we were number one on a lot of efficacy dimensions, but consumers could not connect to SK-II. They did not connect with the brand,” Sethuraman said.

“The team felt that our understanding of the consumers was very impersonal. It was only skin deep, it was only about skincare, it was not about her life,” she added.

Consequently, SK-II embarked on an ethnographic study, talking to Chinese consumers, parents and friends, and magazine editors who were shaping social and media opinions to truly understand SK-II’s female consumers.

The insight led the beauty brand to realise that aligning its brand values to its Chinese consumers meant it had to go beyond championing the changing of skin to something far more profound – that of enabling consumers to change their lives.

It led to the Marriage Market Takeover campaign, which sought to address the social pressures faced by single Chinese women, who are sometimes termed “sheng nu” or “leftover women”.

Sethuraman said the campaign, which this week won the Grand Prix in the 2017 WARC Prize for Asian Strategy, helped to build the business “tremendously”.

“This has more importantly started a complete social conversation in China about what it means to be a young woman and what women need to be valuable. They don't need to be married to be valuable to society,” she said. “This is the power of empathy in qualitative research when it is done well.”

Sourced from WARC