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The Sensodyne Story


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Sensodyne, Glaxo SmithKline Consumer Healthcare’s sensitive toothpaste, has had a sensational run in India so far, emerging the top brand in its category and a 150-crore business in just three years.This feat is even more admirable given how the odds were stacked against Sensodyne: Colgate and Hindustan Unilever almost entirely controlled the oral care market; only 17% Indians knew what tooth sensitivity was against a global average of 33%; GSK Consumer had the baggage of one failed oral care launch — Aquafresh — before it; and, just 4% of Indians visited dentists. Clearly, Sensodyne’s success credentials globally were not going to be enough to make it big in India.

G Venkatramani, general manager, sales, at Glaxo Smith-Kline Consumer Healthcare India, and Rahul Bibhuti, general manager (marketing) – oral care at the firm are behind the most successful FMCG launch in recent years. Venkatramani,is a post- graduate in economics from Loyola College, Chennai. He worked with Nestle, Gillette and P&G before joining GSK five years ago. Bibhuti is an alumnus of Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies and he worked with Dabur before joining GSK Consumer. 

In the early days of Sensodyne’s launch in 2010,the oral care market was almost entirely controlled by Colgate and Hindustan Unilever. When two big players occupy 95% shelf space in a category, the challenge for GSK was how to make their new brand visible. GSK had to do a whole lot to convince retailers that Sensodyne was not a medical brand. Now, in less than three years, the brand has overtaken Colgate Sensitive despite the latter having an eight-year head start, and Sensodyne is already the fourth largest brand in GSK Consumer’s portfolio after Horlicks, Boost and Eno.

While Venkatramani spearheaded Sensodyne’s sales, Bibhuti was responsible for bringing it closer to Indian consumers. GSK tested the brand for a year on four parameters — taste, dentist associations, retail presence and what type of advertising would work. They had to be nimble, agile and do course correction along the way.

First, the product had to be adapted to suit Indian tastes. The country is among a few markets where the foaming and fluoride level had to be increased. The firm tested four flavours including the original and spearmint, and the localised, fresh mint one scored over the others,

The fact that dentists used to recommend Sensodyne even before its launch helped. Also, this was a time when premium personal care products – in areas such as skincare — were gaining traction in the Indian market, and some people were already buying imported Sensodyne.

Yet, the challenge was huge. Shopper communication was the biggest challenge. GSK had to create shelf solutions to make the product noticeable in the first place as sensitive toothpaste as a category was non-existent in modern trade.A lot of time was spent explaining to trade what Sensodyne was. Previously this category was confined to chemist channels. GSK wanted  to make it big in general trade.

Here, GSK Consumer got some valuable support from salespeople of Saravana supermarkets, a family-run retail chain in Chennai, who pushed the new toothpaste brand in their outlets and also shared their best practices with the internal sales team of the British consumer goods maker.Some trade firsts the GSK team did for Sensodyne included putting up shelf highlighters or displays at counters that stood out, and converting bay flags, or the space between rows, into stocking units. The company backed these trade moves with stark, in-your-face advertising for Sensodyne. A this wasn’t a sartorial product GSK could sell on taste, in came a studious young woman and a practicing dentist to coax consumers to address the ‘short sharp pain’ in their teeth with Sensodyne toothpaste. Since Indian laws do not permit doctors to endorse brands, a dentist was brought in from overseas.

All these moves have paid off as Sensodyne sales numbers have beaten GSK’s expectations. The ‘sensitivity matrix’, or people aware that pain in teeth is sensitivity, in the country has increased to 32% from 17% in two years, and that category’s contribution has gone up from 4% to 9.5% of the overall oral care market. GSK Consumer says Sensodyne has 27% share of the . 500-crore sensitive toothpaste category, and 3% of the overall oral care market estimated at 6,000 crore. Sensodyne has added two variants since its launch — Repair & Protect and Parodontax toothpaste for bleeding gums.

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About Keerthika Singaravel
Engineer,Investor,Businessperson

5 Responses to The Sensodyne Story

  1. chitti18 says:

    Great to know sensodyne beyond ads. Thanks!

    • Creating a category,that’s really something!

      • chitti18 says:

        yup, especially, when it’s already dominated by big brands – like David taking on Goliath.

        Same could be done on Branson’s matter as well. same could be achieved.

      • Yes indeed.

  2. florinobeada says:

    Reblogged this on Constantin Obeada.

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