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Kathryn Elenius

Hackathon with Kimberly-Clark

by Kathryn Elenius, Class of 2019 Monday, March 26, 2018

To state the obvious, online reviews are important to consumers. The star ratings, as well as the individual opinions, influence the decisions consumers make about brands. For the brands, however, the real question are: how do we leverage the information inside of reviews? With so many open-ended answers, how do we decide which data points to ignore? And what insights can we gain by aggregating opinions?

This is the question Kimberly-Clark hopes to help solve with IBM Bluemix. IBM Bluemix can best be viewed as a toolbox, with one whole drawer occupied by Watson and Watson-derived tools. During the annual Hackathon on February 23rd, Kimberly-Clark set up a group of Nielsen and Supply Chain students with their Amazon data for several products – primarily from Huggies and Cottonelle – to gather any new observations we could using the Bluemix Watson Discovery tool.

Kimberly-Clark leaders giving instruction to group of students for Hackathon

The Hackathon gave fascinating insight into three major areas: the importance of training your robots carefully, how to confuse Supply Chain students (and, conversely, how to utilize their knowledge), and the power of harnessing consumer habit.

One of Watson Discovery’s main skills is its ability to analyze sentiment, bucketing reviews into “positive,” “negative,” or “neutral”, allowing for observation of general sentiment trends over time. This sentiment analysis can be carefully refined and taught, but the student version we were given approached everything using the default settings, leading it to think that reviews that said “expensive” were all negative sentiment (even when they were praising Kimberly-Clark brands for being less expensive than others). Teaching Watson to understand what is and is not important to your brand is vital in getting a clear read of what’s happening.

The Nielsen students were mostly paired with students from the Grainger Center for Supply Chain Management during the Hackathon, which lead to interesting conversations. Some of these were simply amusing, like the confusion expressed by Supply Chain students for how long people could discuss toilet products (or that people would put Huggies on their dogs), but some proved to be a microcosm of what is likely a larger issue in corporations: the trade-offs between what consumers want, and what it is feasible to give them. For example, toilet paper rolls that don’t have a central cardboard tube appear to have a somewhat higher tendency to become misshapen during shipping than standard toilet paper, which led to many of the complaints for that product. Supply Chain students pointed out that to reduce the squished effect a non-minor amount of extra packaging would have to be included, the extra costs likely negating any benefit.

Group of MBA students working on Hackathon assignment

The most interesting insight to me, however, came primarily from observing pure sales data and double-checking it with reviews. There was a dramatic one-week spike in sales of a Kimberly-Clark product that correlated with Amazon Prime Day, and Amazon reviews from the same time period illuminated that many consumers were not aware that this product could be purchased on Amazon until they saw the Prime Day promotion. 

As Bob Loos, Global Director of Omni-Channel Analytics at Kimberly-Clark said several times, “effortless style takes a lot of work”. It looks like someday soon, machine learning will be fluent enough in English to help.