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Featured Speaker Interview with Marianne Zappone, Colgate-Palmolive

Marianne Zappone Worldwide Director of Home Care R&D at Colgate-Palmolive discusses transparency challenges and developing products that are designed to meet consumer needs.

How is Colgate-Palmolive reacting to the call for transparency?

We see the call for transparency as two-fold. First and foremost, we have the regulatory aspect given the California and New York requirements for next year, requiring greater transparency for ingredients on their lists. Secondly, and equally important, is the consumer is craving for information. With the internet, information is readily available and people are eager to know what's in the package, but also the story behind the products. What are the ingredients? What is their function? Where do they come from? Colgate is focused on both; first by using Smartlabel to share our information with consumers via our website, and also using the package to highlight our ingredients and give more information about our products and our ingredients.

What would you like to see happen in the future as the industry moves towards becoming more transparent?

There are three things. First, it would be very useful and important to have some standardization in the regulatory environment from state to state, and I'm sure that's true for most manufacturers. It has become very challenging when you sell nationally to have different regulations in each state. So either standardization from state to state, or federal guidelines that supersede state regulations would make life much easier for all consumer products companies.

Secondly, I think it would be very useful to have standardization in definitions. Perhaps following an ISO standard or something like that, so that all of the consumer product companies are speaking the same language, so we don’t confuse the consumer.

Finally, I’d like to see consumer products companies engaging in an active conversation with our consumers in a very positive manner, to add context to the discussion about our products and our ingredients without being defensive. This would help us educate the consumer and give them accurate and appropriate information.

What are the biggest industry challenges?

There are three main challenges that I see. First, from a total industry standpoint, we need to gain - or actually regain consumer trust. For some non-obvious reason, consumers tend not to trust cleaning products anymore. And it's not necessarily from any one action. I think part of that is because, as people have been looking for more information, we as an industry have abdicated our role in providing that information, by not engaging in a conversation. Because of that, other organizations have filled that void and provide information that may or may not be accurate from a scientific standpoint, and may or may not have context. So that creates fear among consumers, and we need to regain that trust so that they understand that they don’t need to fear our products.

Secondly, from a marketing standpoint, one of the big challenges as the message grows bigger is how to communicate multiple messages clearly either on your package, in 15 second advertising, or at the point of purchase. Because there are a lot of messages, and a lot of information that we want to share with people, it’s very challenging to do that in a very small environment and have clarity of message.

Finally, from a technology formulation standpoint, there are an increasing number of concerning ingredients to the public, many of which are preservatives, which consumer product companies are actively working to remove from their product. The challenge becomes, especially for preservatives, to define alternate materials that are compatible with your product and that are efficacious.

When developing a product, how to do you balance consumer needs with strategy and science?

First of all, the consumer need comes first - because if there is no consumer need, then there is no reason for the product to exist. Secondly, after we have identified a consumer need, we work as a cross-functional team, from a technology / supply chain / commercial standpoint to really define a formula and a package that meets the consumer need, while also taking into consideration what will be beneficial for our business. Something that we can manufacture, and is also attractive to the consumer - not just from filling their need, but also from the sizing and pricing standpoint.

What does Colgate-Palmolive hope to achieve and what can we see happening over the next few years with regards to the future of cleaning products?

At Colgate-Palmolive, we want to achieve an authentic dialogue with the consumer – initially via Smartlabel and through social media. We want to help the consumer understand who we are, what our products stand for, and what they do. Looking towards the future, I see a very large continuum of users, because you still have a large base of consumers who are looking for affordable efficacy and are not necessarily that engaged in understanding more about their products.

However, at the other end of the spectrum - which is still growing - you have a large number of consumers who are looking for more natural or more sustainable products with more information, but also with more pricing flexibility. We will need to meet the needs from both ends of that spectrum and the in-between.

Additionally, the craving for more product information will continue– beyond just the ingredients and what they do. If people don't get that information for manufacturers, they're going to get it from other sources which may or may not be accurate. We need to continue to grow in that dialogue across the industry, and that is going to be a challenge for consumer product companies because it is a resource intensive action. You need the time, money and resources of Commercial, Communication, and Technology teams to really engage in that dialogue with consumers. But it’s something we need to do - and as an industry, we are going to have to potentially rebalance our resources to fill that gap, and meet that need.

What are you looking forward to most about the conference?

What makes me excited is to engage in discussions about how we interact with consumers as an industry. It’s not an area that we've had a lot of comfort with overall. We've been very good at telling people things, but not as good at actually having a discussion with people. But we need to do that so other people do not fill that void. And additionally, it will be great to see all the other consumer product companies as well as suppliers, manufacturers, and etc. altogether to engage in that type of discussion.