Unilever’s Conny Braams drops marketing from title ahead of operating model shake-up

Unilever’s Conny Braams is expanding her role to include global sales. It comes ahead of the FMCG giant ushering in a new operating model, which will put day-to-day marketing responsibility in the hands of category heads.

Braams was previously chief digital and chief marketing officer. She has now dropped marketing from that title to become chief digital and commercial officer, a move which Unilever said reflects how “the convergence of media, entertainment and commerce has blurred the lines between marketing and sales.”

“And no, before you ask, we’re not dropping marketing. We’re adding sales,” she said as she confirmed the shake-up at the World Federation of Advertisers conference in Athens today (April 7).

It came into effect April 1 as Unilever prepares to usher in a new organizational structure that will see five new category managers put in place for beauty and wellbeing, personal care, home care, nutrition and ice-cream.

Among the roles of these category managers will be overseeing the marketing, taking charge of everything from brand strategy to campaign execution.

“It’s a big change for Unilever to be organized in this way,” Braams told The Drum earlier this year.

“The real reason we want to do it is to create more speed and agility. Consumers are changing rapidly, new channels are coming up and competition is coming fast. So we’re stopping the organization working in a matrix between geographies and categories and making sure that if you’re responsible for strategy then you take it all the way to execution.”

While marketing remains a core part of her current role, she told The Drum she will act as more of a guiding presence to these category managers as they make the call on where investment should be directed, helping them connect the dots to the other parts of the business.

“I’ll bring the outside in and make sure we’re on top of the trends that we’re seeing. I’ll make sure the business groups are acutely aware of the latest in gaming, influencer marketing [and] the metaverse, and making sure we still benefit from the one Unilever scale and capabilities while also allowing the differences needed in these groups.”

Unilever’s new model is set to come into play in June.

Warning on web3

Braams also used her speech at the WFA event to call for collective action to ensure people are put first in the next iteration of the web.

“This is not the first time the advertising industry is coming together to discuss opportunities driven by the evolution of the internet. It’s not our first rodeo. As we begin to create and invest in the next environment where people spend their time, and their money, we need to be clear on what we are building and what we need to prevent – among all the hype – to make sure people don’t have an experience that is riddled with scams,” she said of the so-called web3.

“The challenges and concerns of consumers today will only be amplified in an environment where personal data becomes more personal. Regulation alone is not enough. Self-regulation alone is not enough. Self-restraint alone is not enough.”

She called for regulators, governments, advertisers, technology companies and people to create a decentralized, safe and trusted environment online.

“The currency in web3 is not crypto, the currency is trust. Web3 cannot be a mistake that the next generation pays for ... To put it into context, the founders of the future companies for web3 are girls in Year 5 today. We have a window to act, to avoid the need to react. Because in the end it’s people, not technology, that will measure the success of our efforts.”