Natasha Chen, MBA ’94:
A brush with new cultures
For Natasha Chen, a walk down the
toothpaste aisle is usually a research trip.
As general manager for Colgate-Palmolive
in Hong Kong, Chen is constantly on the lookout for better ways to appeal to the potential buyers
of her company’s lineup of products. Most often this means poring over sales data, or brainstorming
marketing ideas with her staff, but sometimes it can be as simple as sizing up the competition
stacked on the shelves and watching how consumers shop in her local neighborhood supermarket.
Before Chen took on her current position in October of 2009, she was the marketing director for the company in Guangzhou, China for almost three years. Chen says Chinese consumers today are considerably different than they were even five years ago: “The whole country’s on its own planet of growth. People generally have a little more money in their pockets than they used to, and are keenly interested in both trying new products and improving their personal and beauty care.”
This is truest of what Chen calls “the fingertip generation,” the young people who get most of their information via their computers and cell phones. Not surprisingly, Colgate- Palmolive has been marketing aggressively online in China, the world’s largest Internet market. In the last few years, for instance, the company sponsored many online programs, including a successful make-your-own-Colgatevideo contest. Earlier this year, in Hong Kong, the company promoted its new 360 Acti-Flex Toothbrush by offering a Facebook application that allows visitors to zap bacteria and add goofy smiles to pictures of their friends.
At the same time, Colgate-Palmolive is
reaching out in a different way across both
rural and urban China, spreading information about oral hygiene, and donating products, as part
of their Bright Smiles, Bright Futures campaign, which has now reached beyond 120 million
school-age children, since its inception in China in 1993.
A native of New Orleans, Chen says she, her husband, and three-year old twin daughters love their new home: in its vibrancy, density, and diversity, Hong Kong reminds her quite a bit of New York City, where she began her career as a product manager nearly fifteen years ago. Her many roles within the company, she says, has provided many rewarding creative challenges, but maybe the greatest perk has been the way she’s been challenged to see the world in broader terms.
“I’ve just loved the opportunity to understand more about different cultures — to be more open. I think it’s the direction the whole world is going.”