From the dentist’s office to customers’ devices.

How Sunstar digitalized its entire marketing strategy.




Employees: 4,000 worldwide
Etoy, Switzerland

96% increase

in tool adoption during the first six months of COVID-19 lockdown



After hitting a plateau in the B2B sector, Sunstar wanted to expand into the B2C market. The challenge: The brand had almost no digital presence.

The European market for oral hygiene products is extremely heterogeneous.

COVID-19 meant a restriction on direct customer contact, as dentist and pharmacy visits were limited.


Sunstar shifted to digital marketing technologies. Adobe Experience Manager allowed trade marketers with no previous experience with CMSs to manage their sites quickly.

Sunstar relies on a “controlled autonomy” approach: centralized and standardized technology that empowers local marketers through steady enablement, the use of Adobe Target for A/B testing and personalization, and assets localized to fit markets precisely.

With Adobe Campaign, Sunstar could stay in contact with its customers, built relationships and keep the dialog flowing, despite contact limitations.

Innovation as the basis for success

Fair warning: Challenging a running system might irritate those around you. Kelly Hungerford, for her part, got quite a lot of puzzled looks in 2016 when she, at that time still working as an external consultant, presented Sunstar Europe’s management with a seemingly absurd question at the time: What if dentists’ offices were shut down tomorrow and our sales teams couldn’t visit them? Fast forward to the year 2020 - that is exactly what happened.

Fortunately, Sunstar knew a thing or two about innovation. It all started in 1932 with Kunio Kaneda. The young entrepreneur founded Kaneda Keitei Shokai “Kaneda Brother’s Company” to manufacture and package bicycle repair glue in a tube and then realized that this container would be perfect for toothpaste. This started an oral hygiene revolution in Japan in 1946, and with this first toothpaste, the beginnings of Sunstar’s Oral Care business were formed. The successful merger of the American business J.O Butler Company and GUM brand made Sunstar a success story and an industry leader.

From B2B to B2C

But even an industry leader will eventually hit a plateau. In 2016, it was difficult to imagine a dentist’s office without Sunstar products. Dentists and pharmacists happily recommended its products to their patients. Overall, however, the company was grappling with how to leverage the promise of digital with their traditional trade roots to ignite new growth across Europe. So after decades of B2B heritage, Sunstar decided it was time to deploy a B2B2C approach.

This venture came with its very own challenges, given the diversity of the European market. While Germans rely heavily on drugstores when buying oral hygiene products, the Dutch and Italians take to the supermarkets. In Sweden and Poland, on the other hand, dental care products are only available in pharmacies and drugstores. This results in different communication strategies. The crux of the matter is that many consumers today are best reached online, but Sunstar Europe affiliates were hardly present online.

“There was a website, but it was more like a static product catalog,” recalls Hungerford, who is now Director of Digital Transformation Strategy and Services at Sunstar. “In fact, until 2018, there were no digital marketing technologies at all; sales activities were carried out primarily through sales reps.” Starting from there, Hungerford set out to make the European branch of Sunstar fit for the digital future as well as for B2B and B2C communications. There, the “ACHIEVE” initiative, a multi-year digital transformation initiative, was launched.

When it comes to digital transformation, culture is key

Simply implementing the proper technology wouldn’t change anything for the better. To really see progress, corporate culture had to adapt to the new technological landscape and new ways of collaborating. Given that many marketers had never worked with digital marketing tools, they were initially somewhat hesitant. Adopting new technology requires acceptance.

Sunstar Europe created a joint venture approach between communications and marketing technology to “co-lead, together, by doing”: joint business-technology presentations, join business-technology labs, and a business-technology visit to the EMEA Adobe Summit in 2019, which helped EMEA marketers see that their new digital marketing tools would not only create new possibilities but – regarding Adobe solutions – be intuitive and easy to use. And with COVID-19 entering the scene, empowered marketers mattered most.

“The year 2020 was a big challenge for all of us; first and foremost, of course, socially and in terms of health. But for us, 2020 was also, admittedly, a total boost,” Hungerford tells us. “Social distancing and lockdowns made it abundantly clear that digital business is vital to the company’s success.”

So, it's fitting that Adobe Campaign launched in early 2020. Throughout the year, personalized email campaigns and newsletters enabled Sunstar to stay close to its customers by conveying time-relevant information on stock and delivery, as well as simply opening a new channel of communication to stay human and connected. It was an opportunity for digital marketers across EMEA to understand first-hand how effective email communication can be in building trust and loyalty. And even if trust itself cannot be expressed in figures, the number of newly won customers certainly can. Whereas Sunstar only had 1,700 GDPR-compliant subscribers at the beginning of the year, they turned the corner on 50,000 B2B contacts – a growth rate of 2,400 percent – by Q3. Not surprisingly, Sunstar had already exceeded its 2020 goals by the beginning of December. In the meantime, digital marketing tools have become an integral part of the company's strategy.

Focusing on customers

Even before this transformation, Sunstar had some successes under its belt: When the company launched Adobe Experience Manager in 2018, its websites were purely static product catalogs. That same year, however, the first two dynamic websites went live, and by the end of 2019, the company were already running 25 websites in 13 languages – a record time. The most important lesson was not to focus on the product but, instead, on the customer. Prioritizing consumers and their needs makes all the difference in the highly-competitive B2C market.

“When we launched in 2019, we would rely on intuition to decide where to place a call-to-action button. But for a long time, we couldn't see whether most customers agreed. Thanks to Adobe Target, today, we have definite proof as to where each element has to be positioned.”

Kelly Hungerford

Director of Digital Transformation Strategy and Services, Sunstar Group

Enter Adobe Target. Sunstar relies on the tool for A/B testing, among other things, to measure exactly what resonates with customers. “In the past, we would rely on intuition to decide where to place a call-to-action button. But for a long time, we couldn't see whether most customers agreed,” recalls Hungerford. “Thanks to Adobe Target, today, we have definite proof as to where each element has to be positioned. In fact, the tool has spared us from some bad investments. In 2020 alone, we scrapped seven or eight planned – and costly – customizations because the data we collected said otherwise.”

Keep it centralized

Even the best targeting is ineffective without compelling content behind it. When Hungerford began planning ACHIEVE in 2016, Sunstar was operating under a highly decentralized approach. However, what seemed to make sense based on Europe’s heterogeneous market resulted in extremely inconsistent brand communication. Hungerford pushed for a highly centralized content production approach. “It's a bit like watching a tortoise and a rabbit. At first glance, they seem completely different, but they both feed on lettuce. The lettuce is the link,” Hungerford explains. “At Sunstar today, our communications department can provide 80 percent of the content, and local teams and agencies tailor the remaining 20 percent to their particular market.”

This allows Sunstar to serve the entire European market with a small, streamlined team. Their most important allies in campaign execution: the EHQ communications team, which is responsible for brand consistency, the digital marketers across EMEA, who localize the content for their campaigns, and Adobe Campaign Standard for execution.

Sunstar Europe has a strong, streamlined approach to asset distribution: centralized asset creation, standardized templates, workflows, and services ready for replication across the region. This allows marketers to launch their campaigns with minimal setup, saving time and budget and granting Sunstar more time to concentrate on what's important: its customers.

Partners for small and mid-sized brands

When it comes to strategy and implementation, Hungerford doesn’t only rely only on integration partners for good advice and support. Sunstar also trusts Adobe Consulting Services (ACS) as a reliable partner in all matters regarding the digital marketing tools they use. “When it comes to using top-notch digital marketing tools, global players like Adobe often come to mind, but with a high price tag. The impression that Adobe technologies are vastly too expensive for mid-sized brands isn’t 100 percent accurate,” says Hungerford. “Marketing automation technologies take the burden off marketers in mid-sized companies with small marketing and IT teams, allowing them to compete with big brands. Adobe has a plethora of services for varying budgets, and our customer success manager helped us find the right solutions during COVID-19. From the self-serve Adobe Experience League to working with Adobe Consulting Services (ACS) or the Digital Strategy Group (DSG), all these services played a role in helping us at Sunstar learn on the go, fast-path solutions, audit and correct our operations, and develop a North Star roadmap for the next phase in our transformation journey.”

And in that regard, Hungerford is on the right track with the ACHIEVE initiative. After the brilliant successes in Europe, the next stage has already been set: The North and South American markets are to follow suit in 2021.

“Marketing automation technologies take the burden off marketers in mid-sized companies with small marketing and IT teams, allowing them to compete with big brands.”

Kelly Hungerford

Director of Digital Transformation Strategy and Services, Sunstar Group

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