Colgate Palmolive Harvard Case Study

Case | HBS Case Collection | June 2011 (Revised August 2011)

Colgate-Palmolive: Staying Ahead in Oral Care

by Rebecca M. Henderson and Ryan Johnson


In 2011, Colgate-Palmolive (Colgate) was the global leader in oral care, with a dominant market share lead in toothpaste and a growing presence in toothbrushes and mouthwash. However, the firm faced stiff competition with perennial rivals P&G increasing their focus on the oral care and emerging markets where Colgate had traditionally been untouchable. To defend its lead Colgate attempted to cover all fronts, leveraging brand equity, fostering close relationships with dental professionals, innovating in underutilized markets, using its global network to quickly move products to market and reinvesting steadily in its brand.

Keywords: Innovation Strategy; Brands and Branding; Product Positioning; Distribution Channels; Relationships; Competition; Competitive Advantage; Customization and Personalization; Health Industry;


Case Study


Colgate Precision Toothbrush Section C


Group 11

PGP 2011-13 Page 3

hand placed in high price niche segment offering aesthetic, therapeutic and cosmetic value,while others were placed in the mainstream segment for the masses.

Competitive Analysis

There is considerable fragmentation in the market and hence, there is severe competitionamongst the players. In order to get an edge, competitors, Johnson & Johnson, Oral-B, Procter& Gamble, and Smithkline Beecham, are offering promotions in the form of coupons, mail-in

refunds and discounts. The company’s competition may be analyses on the basis of stock

keeping units (SKUs) and on the basis of the price segments. The company faces toughcompetition in super premium segment from companies such as Oral-B, Reach AdvancedDesign, Crest and Aquafresh Flex. In addition, all companies spend a sizeable share of theirrevenues on advertisement, which adds up to the competition. Also, the players have beenfairly lenient in allowing other players to enter into the market, fostering competition. Playershave exhibited some slackness on their parts, by remaining ignorant to some of thetechnological advancements and shift in consumer behavior. As an instance, in 1988, Johnson &

Johnson introduced “new brush technology” only to phase it out by 1992. Hence there are

healthy competitions in the market.

Product Segmentation:

On basis of Price: Toothbrush industry is divided into mainly three segments on the basis of price: Value, Professional and Super Premium.Value brushes priced average at $1.29 accounted for 24% of unit volume and 12% of dollarsales on the other hand Professional brushes, priced between $1.59 and $2.09, account forcorresponding 41% and 42%. Super Premium brushes category emerged in late 1980s and by1992, its retail prices were between $2.29 and $ 2.89 and it accounted for 35% of unit volumeand 46% of dollar sales.

On the basis of attributes: In this, toothbrush differed by bristle type( firm, medium, soft ,and extra soft) and by head size( full/adult, compact , and child/youth)

Demographic Segmentation

:In this market is divided into groups on the basis of variables such as age, family size, family lifecycle etc. They are often associated with consumer needs and wants and are easy to measure.In 1980s, toothbrush industry had market on the basis of adult and child aesthetic. The childrensegment had variety of new products like brushes with sparkling handles, bugs and bunny etc.and later new products mainly focused on technical performance improvements.

Psychographic Segmentation:

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