Brushing up on oral care
Toothbrushes are core to our oral care business with their design being an important factor in improving and maintaining oral hygiene.
The importance of partnerships
We sell over 200 million toothbrushes in 20 countries. Yet, since they tend to be an impulse buy, they must look good as well as deliver exceptional performance. All our design and manufacturing is carried out through partnerships. Unilever's VP R&D Oral, says, “We pride ourselves on having the most innovative manual toothbrush portfolio on the market. This would not have happened without our external partners.”
The process of partnership is fundamental to success. It depends on how the design agency translates our ideas and consumer insights into products that combine aesthetics with functionality. Which is why their creative director will sit in on all our meetings. What’s more, we encourage them to work in close collaboration with mould makers and manufacturers to innovate together … and innovate quickly.
Speed is everything
Working with partners enables Unilever to move faster. With around ten times as many patents filed on toothbrushes as there are on toothpastes, we’ve found that one of the best forms of protection is getting to the market ahead of everyone else. You can be really challenging on timing with external partners once you’ve built up a close relationship. People now come to us with ideas because we are recognised as being the quickest to introduce a new piece of technology.
For our ground-breaking Signal Style Tech model, we partnered with leading Italian design house Pininfarina. Better known for its long-running collaboration with sports car maker Ferrari, Pininfarina was the perfect match to deliver excellence in creativity as well as exceptional performance. Inspired by the tools of professional dentists, the delicate yet strong design heralds a new generation of products.
Bringing the right people together at the right moment is crucial. For Signal Style Tech this meant collaborating with a prototyper to make a one-shot mould, as well as the manufacturer. At the same time, we drew upon internal expertise from testing groups, clinical evaluation, patents, safety and design professionals.
A spokesman for our Oral Care innovation team explained the strategy: “A fundamental strength of our approach to toothbrush innovation is the hands-on involvement of all key functions right from the start. With this and clear business leadership, our partners can trust us to take the right decisions at the right time.”