Unilever Rides The Wave Of The Latest Marketing Trends

by Duncan MacRae

Keith Weed, Unilever CMO, discusses how his brand has focused on sustainability, influence and advertising to achieve success.

There are lots of exciting things happening in marketing right now. The concept of sustainable products has particularly caught the public’s imagination.

Do people buy products because they’re more socially and environmentally sustainable? I think over a period of time you could say it was a smaller group but certainly what we’re finding now is that it’s a bigger and bigger group are growing in this area.

Tipping point

We’ve done a piece of research in countries across the world trying to identify if there is really now a tipping point happening. I don’t know whether it’s social media and people talking about sustainability, or whether it’s all these weather changes you see going on around the world but there is a real shift. And we found there’s 54 per cent of people would buy a product if it was socially and environmentally sustainable. Of course, they won’t buy a product if it’s more expensive and inferior in its performance. I think a lot of environmentally positioned brands have been exactly that. You pay a premium price and then you get a product that doesn’t really clean your clothes. No, this has to be for a parity price, a parity performance and product and in addition you should offer products that are more socially and environmentally sustainable. And, in doing that I think we can really start moving forward this agenda.

Some people would say “great but is this selling products”. People will always ask if this is really selling products and I think this is where we have some really exciting news.

If we look at our sustainable living brands – our brands with purpose in our portfolio – and analyse them at a growth level in 2015 these brands grew faster than they did in 2014. Showing that our brands are already accelerating in this area. But more than that, they delivered early half of our growth. In delivering nearly half of our growth this is now having a meaningful impact on Unilever. Even more interesting than that, they grew 30 per cent faster than the rest of our portfolio. So for those of you out there who think sustainability is just about future proofing a business and maybe you’ll get some eco efficiencies out of it as well I’d say no. Our top five brands are now sustainable living brands. These are brands with purpose, brands that matter, brands with real meaning. People are engaging with them and engaging with them at scale.

I very much believe that marketing is a fantastic investment for businesses. Brands differentiate products. Brands have real value. It’s brands that engage with people, not the products. Of course, the products have to be great. They have to be better than the alternative, but with the brand you create something, which is unique and special and differentiated. At Unilever we very much believe that marketing is an investment. Over the years we increase our advertising spend year in year out to build our brands. We really believe in advertising. One of the biggest challenging in marketing right now is that the advertising world is getting cluttered. There are lots of messages all around us. The importance to break through that clutter is getting higher and higher. And it’s creativity that will break through that clutter and get your brands noticed.

I think one of the exciting thing nowadays is the use of influencers. Influencers have always been around. We’ve been engaging beauty editors to help sell skin care brands, for example. But what’s available now is technology to do this at scale. This is basically influence on steroids and we can take celebrities or power users, searching for them by category or location. Who is particularly relevant to the topic? And we can find a whole list of influences we can target. What that enables you to do is magnify your campaigns. It’s a better way of co-creating brands.