How a Magic Toilet Transformed Kohler's Digital Strategy

Potty Training Video for 'Touchless' Toilet Strikes Nerve With Parents -- And Marketer

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Mommy blogger Elle Walker was prepping a new "What's Up Moms?" video blog when Kohler came calling about its new touchless toilet technology. The company's research found that parents looking for a less germ-y experience for their children could be a key target for the product.

With full creative freedom from Kohler, Ms. Walker chose a subject relevant to her current parenting situation: potty training. The resulting "How to Potty Train Your Kid in 5 Seconds" was inspired by her own family going through the process with her toddler daughter. The video, that shows parents using Kohler's touchless toilet retrofit kit to create a "magic toilet," has garnered more than 3.3 million views since its mid-June launch. (Ms. Walker has a track record of scoring video hits with parents; her What's Up Moms' parody of Iggy Azalea's "I'm So Fancy" made into "I'm So Pregnant," logged 5.9 million YouTube views.)

The online video is part of a larger Kohler touchless toilet campaign including TV and print. The touch- free toilet TV commercial, created by Arnold, New York, ran on network and cable in May and June and used the themeline, "In life there are some things you want to touch, and some you just don't." More TV advertising is planned for later this year.

But it was the charming video that captivated parents -- and caused Kohler to reexamine its digital marketing strategy. It generated "significantly more engagement than any other content we've created," said James Sandora, Kohler's director-global digital strategy and management, leading to "some very compelling conversations inside our organization," he said. "We've changed the perception of how content should be created, and how we intend to create content in the future."

It was an awakening of sorts for Kohler, which is highly reliant on traditonal advertising, that it needs to up its game with more (and more creative) digital content. "We're an organization that has been very successful through traditional means of marketing and advertising," said Mr. Sandora. "Looking into the future, we're seeing a customer who is not only clearly more digitally savvy, but also a lot more digitally engaged. … What that means for us is that we have a customer that expects really great things from us and we've had to make the extension from traditional marketing and leverage it into digital."

Kohler is already a leader in ceramics manufacturing with a 9.7% market share, just behind American Standard Brands, which has a 10.9% share of the estimated $2.5 billion industry that includes porcelain bathroom fixtures, according to IBISWorld.

Privately-held Kohler's revenue is projected at $238 million this year, estimated IBISWorld, an increase of 12% over 2013. That's way up from the recession-oppressed years of 2010 and 2011 when revenue hovered around $200 million.

Kohler doesn't sell direct to consumers so measuring direct sales effects are difficult, but the Magic Toilet has moved social engagement needles. Purchase intent registered via social media, for instance, has gone up, Mr. Sandora said, defining that as people talking about the video and sharing it with the general sentiment, "This is great content and now I want to buy this [product]."

Oh, and in case you're wondering, Kohler got an email this week from Ms. Walker; her toddler is now successfully potty trained.

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