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Unilever Smartphone Dove

"Mobile is going to have a bigger impact than the Internet," Unilever CMO Keith Weed talks new brand strategy, sustainability and the power of mobile


By Stephen Lepitak, -

October 21, 2013 | 8 min read

Crafting Brands for Life has been the marketing strategy global consumer goods supplier Unilever has adopted in recent months as it becomes a company that aims to make a difference and affect change in the lives of its customers, as well as selling their products to them.

The strategy is being led by Keith Weed, chief marketing officer for Unilever, who, when The Drum catches up with him in the press room at Dmexco in Cologne, has already been for a three mile run, held a couple of meetings and delivered the keynote talk for the conference.All this and it’s only 11am. This is a man who travels the world constantly, and is literally always on the move.

Despite the constant demand for his attention, Weed is found to be an enthusiastic and breezy individual, who has also been heading up the company’s sustainability effort, which he needs no excuse to talk about.

“According to WWF we are living off two-and-a-half planets. If the world lived like Europeans we'd need three planets and if the world lived like Americans we'd need five planets,” he tells The Drum, explaining that his role was created to combine overseeing the marketing, sustainability and communications coming out of Unilever.

“Crafting Brands for Life was very much what that is all about,” he continues, “It's really trying to understand people's whole lives and if you live in the emerging markets, it is making this huge shift from rural to urban. People's lives are changing dramatically…for the first time with mankind we are urban more than we are rural. More people were living in towns last year than ever before and by 2030 the primary habitat of mankind will be slums. You put all of that together and we are a consumer business and we want to grow and serve the 2 billion extra people who are going to join this planet over the next few years, then we'll have to think about how we'll do things differently. So our marketing needs to take this on board.”

During his keynote presentation, Weed discusses different campaigns that made up the three pillars of the strategy; Building Brand Love, Putting People First and Unlocking the Magic.

A major factor of following the strategy is the use of mobile as a platform for message delivery, quite literally in the case of the ‘One Missed Call’ campaign for Indian detergent brand Active Wheel, which would deliver content to potential consumers by calling their mobile phones to provide entertainment, jokes and music.

“If you can get the company more consumer-centric then that is closer to putting people first. But if you are going to build brand love, we have to be where people are and people are spending more time in social and more time with their mobiles. People are anxious when they think they are being separated from their mobile and they are never more than a meter away from their mobile and that level of connection if very powerful if a marketer can get it right.”

As to how powerful mobile can be, Weed puts the platform into perspective, claiming that there are over 6 billion mobiles phones in the world, of which 2.4 billion are connected to social networks, meaning that life can be shared in real-time, which is opening up opportunities in emerging markets, describing it as “a jumping technology.”

He continues to discuss the Active Wheel campaign, and his visits to village homes in India, where people would guide him around their homes through the light emanated by their mobile phones. “There are more mobiles in India than toilets and toothbrushes,” he claimed, describing many of the towns in the country as a “TV dark area” which meat that mobile has become a solution to capturing their attention.

“Mobile is going to have a bigger impact than the Internet had. The internet shook us all up. I think that the mobile is going to shake us up all the more.”

Asked about the biggest complexity that digital has created for a global company such as Unilever, Weed believes that it is the “capability build” and the need for training and understanding for ‘middle managers’ who have been left behind by the speed of the digital takeover.

“If you want to stay in marketing then you have got to make sure that you are a great digital marketer and if you don't want to be that then now is the time to find a different career, as this is only going to become more so,” he states.

As for television within the marketing mix, Weed believes that it continues to be the driving force for marketers as they are still learning how to improve ROI from digital, but adds that the platform is less important than the creative.

“People talk about how it’s distributed, but if you have a bad bit of creative and you put it on mobile, social, search or whatever, it will be bad. The real challenge across digital to TV is to develop advertising with the end objective in mind. Upfront, the easiest thing to do is to talk about whether it is going to have a digital part, a social platform, a mobile platform, and design it into the brief. The industry has been saying it for years…I now believe that we are beginning to do it and that we're doing it reasonably well.”

This leads The Drum to ask about Weed’s views on programmatic buying, which he is positive about for its targeting achievements, helping drive buying power for brands reaching an interested audience.

“If you target the people who are more like the people who are buying your brands then they are going to be more likely to buy your brands and that is the type of exciting stuff that is ahead of us."

Asked whether real-time bidding is something that Unilever will aim to spend more on, Weed will not be drawn, explaining that the company is willing to experiment on anything before make any decision on future activity.

“You will find that we have done many firsts. We were the first to advertise on the iAd platform for Apple and we are still by far their biggest advertisers and some people will question whether they are good value for money. I can tell you they are if you use them well. What is value? Value is something you get for what you pay and certainly what we've found that by understanding and getting in early and working with engineers at Apple, we have been able to create very engaging iADs. But I could point across Facebook, Twitter and Google and that's more recognising that we should get into things early and learn and fail fast, if it doesn't work then I'd get out and look somewhere else.”

Time is drawing to a close with Weed, who, having spoken to marketing students at Universities around the globe, has another address in Germany, as he continues his plan to recruit ‘the greatest marketers in the world’. The Drum asks him its final question, as to what he finds most exciting about being a marketer in the modern age. This brings him back to the power of mobile, aided by social and data.

Mobile is exciting because it's always with you. It's exciting when social unlocks your ability to share what you're doing, what you're experiencing and what you like. But then to do it in a way that we understand the likes, the dislikes and the location of people. I don't need to know your name, but I know where you live and where you live is where your mobile is. The evening, where you go to work is this goes every day and in that way, understanding people can be fine n a way that really adds value. This is quite a personal thing. You can't start feeding people ads, because people will screen it out. What you have to do is give people real added value.”

And through Building Brands for Life, it looks as though Weed and Unilever aim to change and affect lives and attitudes in order to offer more than just perceived value for the many brands it sells around the globe.

Unilever's senior Vice President of global media, Luis Di Como discussed the strategy behind Crafting Brands for Life further during a talk at Ad Tech in August.

Unilever Smartphone Dove

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