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How Dettol Increased Sales by 86% Via Word-of-Mouth

Benjamin Leong
Benjamin Leong
February 3, 2016
2 min read
How Dettol Increased Sales by 86% Via Word-of-Mouth

When you think of advertisements, you generally think of cool brands. Like snazzy Apple ads. Quirky fashion labels. You get the idea.

Reckitt Benckiser (the company behind Dettol, the cleaning agent) isn’t generally a top pick for a “cool” brand name. But with a single, powerful, campaign, Dettol managed to reach 46% of their target audience and increase sales by 86%.

How did they do it?

1. Understand user behavior and nudge them to use your product in more ways than one

As pointed out by Charles Duhigg in Power of Habit, people tend to have particular behavior patterns. We always drink coffee in the morning, we always use Dettol to clean the floor. We don’t question these things much. But what if we did?

Dettol was initially sold only in huge bulky bottles, seemingly unsuited for daily use. In Nanjing, it was used mostly for cleaning floors and laundry, which limited possible consumer behavior.

But Dettol did its homework, and discovered the pattern of consumer behavior: people only used Dettol for the big things: like laundry day or floor cleaning. What about other possible behavior patterns, like using Dettol for small, everyday things?

It took that opportunity and adapted its products to fit by producing smaller bottles of disinfectant. These were packaged into small “experience kits”, with a leaflet of tips on new, small ways Dettol could be used in everyday life.

dettol kit malaysia

It was an amazing success. The campaign quickly created another powerful reason to buy Dettol - and with it, intent to purchase doubled from 21% to 42% in Nanjing.

All it took was to nudge consumers in behaving just slightly differently.

  • Realise what’s missing: How could your product adapt to cover that new important behavior pattern?

2. Use “influencers” to get word-of-mouth, while saving your advertising bucks

TV and print ads might work, but they’re expensive. Dettol opted for a cleverer method: influencers.

Influencers are ordinary customers that will help spread a good word about your product for you. Each influencer is given some form of incentive (samples, prizes) to tell their larger circle of friends about your product, with their word-of-mouth replacing the need for expensive TV advertisements.

dettol kit influencers

By engaging influencers, your advertising dollar gets exponentially more mileage. Not only that, because word-of-mouth comes from friends and acquaintances with relatable stories, they are a lot effective (and much cheaper!) than traditional ads.

How did Dettol create such a powerful influencer campaign?

  • It identified people who might be strong influencers. Get people with access to your target audience! In Dettol’s case, they looked mainly for local women on particular lifestyle sites, or with extensive social media networks.
  • It gave them incentives to spread the word. They gave samples to the influencers, and created fun games where advocating the product to friends earned them points and possibly prizes.
  • It identified its top influencers. Knowing what kind of people tend to be good influencers is important for your next campaign! Keeping track of top influencers also allows you to reward them well.

3. Know your social media and use it to find influencers to spread brand awareness

The Dettol campaign also tapped on the networks provided by platforms like Weibo and tencent, allowing an even greater reach. It was also on social media and online sites like VocalPoint where they scouted for their potential influencers.

People who are “friends” on social media sites tend to also share similar interests. Chances are, if your product appeals to someone, it also appeals to most of their Facebook friends. With just a simple “share”, your product could reach tens, or hundreds, of like-minded potential customers.

dettol weibo linda chung

Dettol found this out when their social media campaign resulted in an 86% increase in sales for a fraction of the cost of traditional ad campaigns.

What can we learn from this?

  • Social media links like-minded people. That’s why sites like Facebook are popular: they help link you with friends who think alike. This is fertile ground for good word about your product to spread.
  • Strong influencers can be found on key online sites. Influencers tend to be well-connected and can easily reach many people. Look for active users on relevant online sites.

A recap:

A small bottle of Dettol doesn’t seem much, but its adoption and success was driven by a powerful word-of-mouth advertising engine.

Even if you think your product isn’t exciting, word-of-mouth can still help you get your message out. Do this by focusing on:

  • Behavior: Research and realise what potential behaviour patterns are untapped.
  • Use influencers: Identify potential influencers, incentivise them, and reward them.
  • Social media: Ideal ground for strong influencers at a much lower cost.


Read next: They’ll Remember You Forever: 90+ Examples of ‘Made To Stick’ Principles in Marketing

Benjamin Leong
Benjamin Leong

Benjamin is a current undergraduate majoring in politics, philosophy and economics. In his spare time he debates, coaches debaters, and wonders how to survive a nuclear war.

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