How Open Innovation Led Clorox to a New Product Line

By Julie Donnelly |  May 21, 2014

Jackie Amemiya’s team at The Clorox Company had a big idea: create a new category of cleaning products geared home caregivers for the elderly, a forgotten market segment. But Amemiya, a Director of Research and Development at the cleaning products company, quickly realized that Clorox’s existing innovation approach wasn’t going to cut it. At a session at the recent Front End of Innovation conference, Amemiya described how the $5.6 billion company retooled its research and development model to bring 20 new products to market, fast. The result was a new line called Clorox Care Concepts.

Amemiya said the company had experimented with open innovation before, but bringing this set of products to market was a milestone, in terms of Clorox’s level of engagement with consumers, health care professionals, retailers, and even government agencies.

The Clorox team started with three questions:

  1. “What’s needed?” (Consulted consumers, retailers and internal partners)
  2. “What’s hot?” (Consulted advisory boards, venture capitalists and startups, industry experts)
  3. “How to develop it?” (Consulted stakeholders including government agencies and suppliers)

Next, Amemiya said, the group identified a drill site, a specific idea, and an execution plan.

  • Drill site – Baby Boomers are aging and want to stay at home, health care costs are rising, caregivers are exhausted but want to provide for their loved ones.
  • Idea – Caregivers co-creating with us to solve their needs, retailers sharing their visions.
  • Execution – Partner with groups that have mutual interests and reinforce each other’s goals.

Amemiya said that the old process would have sought to validate the idea with external input, such as a focus or test group. But she said this demographic is notoriously hard to reach. After all, they are are often working full-time, as well as taking care of an aging parent. They don’t have time for focus groups. The new process is based on co-creation with partners, including consumers, an outside advisory board of experts, retail partners, and influencers. This led to the creation of an online community of hundreds of caregivers. The Clorox Care Concepts website features product information to familiarize consumers with this new category of products. But it also includes education and tips about caregiving, and blogs from influencers in the caregiver community.

Amemiya shared five tips about using open innovation to launch a new product category.

  1. Adopt the right mindset. Amemiya said to ask yourself, “Does the mindset help launch the product?” In the case of Clorox, she said the internal mindset was too narrow. The company needed to open up its process at an earlier stage of development, and connect with stakeholders in order to lower barriers and bring something different to market.
  2. Know where to play. “You have to look to grow using core capabilities,” she said. The brand is already a leader in cleaning products both at home and in the hospital, Amemiya said, so at-home caregiving was a leap that made sense. The company already was familiar with the EPA and FDA guidelines necessary to create “clinical grade” products, as well, which helped give them a head start.
  3. Create multiple paths. Amemiya says if you ideate to a specific solution, that is often a dead end. You have to use ideation to create a number of paths. In this case, the key was not to develop a specific product or products, but to address the needs home caregivers have.
  4. Find partners who know more than you. Clorox’s partnership with Healthwise, a provider of health content and patient education, was key in supplying caregiving tips on the new site. Clorox also partnered with two caregiver organizations, Caregiver Action Network and Family Caregiver Alliance. The leaders of these organizations contribute blogs and other resources to the online community.
  5. Don’t forget about the retailers. Retailers may be wary about a new product category. Shelf space is at a premium, and in this case, education was part of the product positioning. Amemiya said it was important to involve retailers early to identify and address possible resistance.