Marketing Unilever Ecommerce

How behavioural insights and cardboard boxes are core pillars of Unilever’s shopper marketing


By Seb Joseph | News editor

November 18, 2016 | 6 min read

Unilever is flipping the way it monitors shoppers to focus on their behaviours whereas before those insights would’ve prioritised demographics and left it ill-prepared for how the “cardboard box is changing shopping”.


How behavioural insights and cardboard boxes are core pillars of Unilever’s shopper marketing.

That’s not to say that demographics don’t matter, it’s just that the ubiquity of mobile could give advertisers a more complete view of faceless shoppers should they successfully unravel the data.

And there lies the rub; Unilever is all too aware it doesn’t own rich shopper data and has subsequently broadened the remit of its insights team so that they’re trying to unpick the behaviour behind the data it does get. Keith Sleight, global shopping insight director, summed it up as a move from “answering questions by providing data [to marketers] to being thought provoking”.

Core to this shift is successfully grounding strategies in knowing the emotions, cultural context, reasons for purchase that drive the same person to shop at different times, at different retailers and with different budgets. Sleight believes the change will make it easier for Unilever to spot trends in how people shop both online and offline. Not so that one channel can replace the other but to spot the shared behaviours between them and how they in turn influence people’s purchases.

“What we’re observing [from tests] is very consistent behaviour in the sense that how people shop is very much influenced by the [physical] store," added Sleight at the Omnishopper International 2016 conference, pointing to the challenge of understanding the post-purchase rationalisation.

Knowing how to exploit a person’s tendency to persuade themselves through rational argument that a purchase was a good value is what many retail marketers crave and has pushed Unilever to focus some of its behavioural tests on gauging the influence recommendations, user reviews or algorithm-induced posts have on purchases

“It should be easier to understand post-purchase rationalisation because we have all these smart devices that can track us as we move around as well as our browsing history and what we’re discovering is that we can learn a lot by watching,” explained Sleight.

“Computers are becoming more influential [on purchase decisions] and algorithms are changing what we are consuming and buying. We already see that with Amazon when the goods going into your shopping basket are now being influenced by recommendations by peers and suggested by algorithms.”

To tap into that sphere of influence, Unilever is working to deliver “content with commerce”. Effectively, it means refining its own content to meet shopping behaviours, whether that’s around shopping sites, search results, social media recommendations or even how people are using their mobiles in-store.

“We like many in this industry are struggling to link the offline world to the online world,” admitted Sleight, who fears that the subsequent explosion of services like mobile click and collect and devices like Amazon Echo, could push many marketers to bet on the biggest opportunities at the expense of the more innovative one.

“My fear is that we isolate and end up focusing in on development because there’s so much influencing shopper behaviour,” mused Sleigh. “At Unilever we’re taking the time to try and assess the new sources of information that is available to us and one that we’re definitely doing a lot of exploration around is ratings and reviews.”

One test it conducted in India saw it analyse the sentiment of reviews for one of its products found that many shoppers were concerned with whether it was fake. This then allowed Unilever’s marketers to tweak content to reassure customers what they’re purchasing is genuine and in a broader sense those insights reinforced how in India trust is the biggest motivational driver for getting people to stores.

Cesar Montes, global chief intelligence officer and chief of strategy for Geometry's EMEA business, of which Unilever is part of, said: It's not just about looking at touchpoints to activate or shelves. It means understanding the right mix of emotions, cultural context and what is driving choice. This is how things [in shopper marketing] are going to evolve in the near future."

Sleight concluded: “What we’re observing is that there are very consistent behaviours between offline and online channels. People’s behaviours online are very much influenced by the store because we see that when some goes into a store then that has a direct impact on what they visit online and how much they’re prepared to spend.”

Question marks remain as to how big direct-to-consumer can be for businesses like Unilever, when the path to purchase their goods is often defined by the retailer rather than affixed to a brand. While this is arguably true of most western markets where FMCG sales have long hit saturation point, supermarkets never took off in eastern markets. It’s meant that local businesses are Unilever’s biggest threat in these regions and is why shopper marketing, particularly if it can tap the advent of mobile commerce in the east is a key priority.

Marketing Unilever Ecommerce

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