In my last post, I discussed how value could be created by making relatively small innovations to existing products or processes. That’s what happened with the invention of Colby cheese in Colby, Wisconsin. But in other cases, value is created by recognizing a use for something that already exists – and then driving that value proposition home.
That’s what happened in a small town less than 100 miles southeast of Colby back in 1925. During World War One, the paper company called Cellucotton Products Company in Neenah, Wisconsin created a material it called “Cheesecloth UGG” for use in gas mask filters. After the war, it sold the material for use as small disposable towels to remove makeup . The firm called the towels Kleenex, and sales were so-so. But in 1925, the company’s head researcher convinced the head marketer that Kleenex could be positioned a different way.
You can imagine the conversation: “What people really need are disposable handkerchiefs. Everyone gets colds and sniffles, and no one wants to carry around a germ-laden piece of cloth in their pocket.” Apparently the marketing department was convinced, and by the ‘30s, Kleenex had firmly become the disposable handkerchief.
From the beginning, the company did the right things to build brand value. It defined a unique value proposition. It protected the name with a trademark. It developed a logo and advertising to support the concept.
Today the Kleenex trademark is owned by the Kimberly-Clark Corporation. Products under the Kleenex brand are manufactured in 30 countries and are sold in over 170. The mark itself has become so well known that it runs the danger of becoming a generic term.
The Kleenex history illustrates two important attributes of any successful brand: it needs to be both relevant to the customers (people suffer from colds) and differentiated (unlike linen, these handkerchiefs were cheap enough to be thrown away after one use, and in doing so, customer would need to buy more). The brand isn’t created by building the product or by naming it. It’s created by recognizing, focusing on, and communicating the value it brings to its customers.