Unilever’s Conny Braams departs, here’s what she leaves behind
As one of the FMCG giant’s most influential marketers, she spearheaded notable sustainability and DE&I campaigns and oversaw increased investment in AI and machine learning.
Conny Braams departs the FMCG giant after 33 years
After just over three years in the chief digital and commercial officer role, Conny Braams is to say goodbye to Unilever after a noble 33 years.
Braams, who took over an adapted version of the top marketing role from predecessor Keith Weed, has been on the Unilever Leader Executive team since January 2020. Her appointment to the position followed a broad, international career at the company where she previously held several notable roles including executive vice-president (EVP), middle Europe; and EVP Foodsolutions Asia, Africa and Middle East.
At a time when the category and Unilever brand alike have come under fire for advantageous purpose marketing, Braams has steered it through a pandemic, economic downturn and global uncertainty.
Steering Unilever through Covid-19
Just three months into the job, Braams was hit with the rest of the world by the turbulence and uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic. While other businesses suffered losses, Unilever credited its “resilience and agility” for a 1.9% growth in sales. Braams played no small part in this.
“The strategy I had put in place only became more relevant. The future came forward by a couple of years and accelerated this end-to-end digital transformation of our business,” she told The Drum at the time.
For her efforts, she was awarded the 2021 WFA Marketer of the Year.
Defending the purpose agenda
In January 2022, Unilever found itself in the firing line of investor Terry Smith. He slammed the brand for being “obsessed with publicly displaying sustainability credentials at the expense of focusing on the fundamentals of the business”.
But Braams hit back at the criticism, saying “There is no question in our minds this is the right way to go and to continue on this journey.“
“Purpose is one of our levers for success. First of all, it’s truly an accelerator of growth – not just from a correlation perspective but causation. But it is not a replacement for a good product and that’s where it sometimes goes wrong. Brands are chosen for their value and values. It starts with value and you need fantastic products – products that are delivering superiority and quality at the best price. And if you deliver that, then values come on top of it as an accelerator.”
She pointed to Hellmans and Dove, which at the time were up by 11% and 8% respectively from 2021.
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Renewed ESG commitments
Following the model of the WFA’s ‘Planet Pledge,’ under Braams Unilever began a renewed commitment to sustainability messaging in advertising.
Then in 2022, it debuted a new organizational structure that saw purpose embedded across the five categories of beauty and wellbeing, personal care, home care, nutrition and ice cream, with according managers assigned.
Braams said it was in response to consumers’ rapidly changing needs: “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.”
Since then, Unilever has gone on to develop a new program that sits at the “intersection between marketing, technology and sustainability” where it rewards people for viewing ads promoting sustainable behavior.
“We use short videos to tell sustainable stories about our brands, and then we reward consumers for engaging with it,” Braams told The Drum.
“And what we’ve seen from the pilots that we’ve been doing is that it, first of all, builds brand power, which is really important. But also, it really changes behavior.”
Unilever’s chief exec Alan Jope said of Braams’ departure: “I am very grateful for Conny’s excellent leadership of our digital, marketing and commercial agenda over the last four years, and for her impressive contribution to Unilever over three decades. As CDCO she has helped to transform our company into a future-fit, fully digitized organization.”
She will depart in August. Her successor is yet to be announced.