K-Y Goes Out of the Box

At K-Y® we’re used to people avoiding eye contact with us, lowering their voices to a whisper, and blushing or cringing in our meetings. When the word “lube” comes up, it’s as if it’s illegal or profane.

But to us on the K-Y marketing team, we love talking about it—all of it. We try hard to desensitize others when talking about it. Because until people actually talk about it (SEX!!!!), we feel like we aren’t doing our job. After all, a healthy and fulfilling sex life has long been proven to be a crucial component for overall good health. It can improve mood, support the immune system, enable better sleep, lower blood pressure, and enhance connectedness in relationships.

It’s our job to ensure everyone understands six simple words: Sex is better with a lubricant. It just is. Regardless of who you are, your sexual orientation, age, frequency, etcetera, lube should be part of every encounter. It can lead to better intimacy, more sexual fulfillment, and more enjoyment between partners. Who doesn’t want that?!

But conveying these benefits to doctors and consumers hasn’t always been easy.

A brand in need of rejuvenation

K-Y is a 100-year-old brand, and it needed a face-lift after it was acquired by Reckitt Benckiser (RB). The equity with healthcare professionals, arguably the reason it became so widely used in the first place, had declined significantly, and trust with consumers had also wavered. 

The K-Y marketing team realized that the benefits—the most important part of the equity—was being overlooked by many women. There are so many times in a woman’s life when estrogen dips—and not just during perimenopause, post menopause, and breastfeeding. In their reproductive years, women have a dip in estrogen EVERY MONTH! Subsequent vaginal dryness can make sex uncomfortable, less than stellar, or, for some, painful.

The OBGYN connection

We knew that we would need more than just strong consumer marketing and direct-to-consumer campaigns to get our message across. We had to better engage OBGYNs.

Women look to their OBGYNs for healthcare guidance, but especially when it concerns something “down there.”  OBGYNs are the guardians of women’s health. No one is better suited to care for women at every stage of life.  They want to help, support, educate, and they want their patients to have a fulfilling sex life. But ensuring OBGYNs have time to actually discuss better sex is a problem. In reality, it’s pretty low on their priority list—not for lack of importance, but because there are other things to “check off” the list for insurance companies and primary health.

So unless a patient is brave enough to broach the topic, the conversation probably won’t happen. As a result, the concept of better sex remains out of reach.

Despite RB having a long and successful history with healthcare professionals in other categories, this time had to be different. We needed to let go of the traditional doctor detailing paradigm—or ways of explaining K-Y’s benefits to OBGYNs—to create effective disruption and get them to initiate conversations with their patients about more fulfilling sex. So, we established an industry first: a hybrid approach to reach modern-day physicians and nurses that maintains the benefits of face-to-face promotion but allows for flexible and less time-intensive conversations.

An industry-first hybrid approach

The solution was integrating face-to-face and “on-demand” virtual detailing into each representative’s capabilities, allowing the rep to engage with physicians based on their preference.

The concept of co-browsing and remote detailing was interesting to physicians, but there were obstacles to overcome. Speaking to two to three individuals over the phone to reach the physician could be time-consuming, not to mention numerous hang-ups. But after some persistence through the hybrid approach, remote representatives were able to communicate their value to the practice and their patients. 

The re-launch of K-Y to healthcare professionals, and therefore their patients, leveraged a modern approach to the healthcare professional creative. We used journal ads in industry books, patient education, coupons, product samples, and selling aids leveraging a trusted, reliable tone with an out-of-the-“box” visual for stopping power. A product guide and tester kit help the healthcare professional discuss the various K-Y options with patients and communicate how best to use them for the condition they are treating or trying to enhance.

Because we are available to physicians any time of day, and they can choose how and when to interact with us, the conversations are deeper and more meaningful. This evolved “on-demand” accessibility is what can make an OTC product successful. It’s not for every product, or every manufacturer. But for a high-awareness brand with trusted but forgotten benefits, the result is successful trial and conversion in a very cost-efficient manner. 

The RB culture empowered and drove this disruptive approach. Putting the healthcare professional and THEIR needs at the center of the paradigm showed the team how to create a solution AROUND them, one that felt truly customized and tailored, in stark contrast to what they typically experience in the healthcare industry.

About the author:

Johnelle Whipple is the U.S. Healthcare Professional Marketing Director at RB, leading the marketing strategy and activation across OTC, supplement, and sexual wellbeing categories. She has worked in the U.S. healthcare system for over 20 years, spending time at Merck and Johnson & Johnson where she gained experience in Rx products, nutritionals and nutraceuticals, supplements, vitamins, OTCs and skincare brands. 

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