Below is the verbatim transcript of his exclusive interview with Anuradha SenGupta in Cannes. Also watch the accompanying video.
Q: We are talking on a day when we hear that Unilever has just announced huge broad-based restructuring of its business. Instead of categories like home, personal care and food, you have added refreshment too. How does that impact your work, and marketing function?
A: The rational behind is still the same with main focus on growth. We made a greater focus on our categories to ensure that we have greater expertise and a greater driver behind our brands. For me and the marketing function, we are going to be very much the glue that brings the whole of the marketing organization together and focus on the expertise and driving our marketing high.
Q: In India when we talk to Hindustan Unilever, there is this conversation from brand development those guys are brand building and that brand building is handling the local business and is responsible for sales in that area, whereas the innovation and what brands will come in is the function of development. How is this structure going to be impacted by this re-organization and what does this mean therefore for people who are working with you?
A: It doesn’t change at all the brand building and brand development. This is an organization where we can get the equity development expertise and the innovation and brand design etc and the brand development and then being really close to the local consumer.
At the end of the day, our business is built in one purchase at a time and one use at the time. So, we are going to be very close to the local markets, but also we are going to be at the leverage of the expertise of Unilever’s brand development skills across the markets. So the brand development and brand building are the main obkectives.
Q: What is the difference between the way you approach consumers in the emerging markets and developed world?
A: It’s very good question and you are right by saying that you are clubbing it altogether, you can’t is the answer. So we don’t club is altogether. We look at not even by country, but then we also look at consumers in clusters by their lifestyles. In fact a 14-year-old boy has more in common across Mumbai, Sao Paulo and Beijing than across the demographics in just, say, Mumbai.
So we are looking at cross sections people. This is the reason why I was saying about brand developments enables to look at target audiences, it appear, across areas. So we look at people in particular lifestyle segments. So things they engage with and then from that develop brand propositions for them.
Q: I find it interesting that most consumer goods companies are putting in a lot of effort to emphasize their commitment to the societies they belong. We heard Paul Polman speak often enough of sustainability and how it goes beyond just the environment and but looking at the environmental impact your businesses are having and yet, how does this become a differentiator for companies like yours because whether it is you, P&G or Nestle, everybody is talking the same language when it comes to the corporate brand that is being put forward and has being used to leverage product brands on?
A: Firstly, it’s great that big businesses are engaging sustainability agenda. I want the more here because we have got some big challenges in this world. Big companies taking part in missions to help the environment paves the way for betterment as challenges of the world rise. We will see more companies coming on board and more companies having sustainable mission.
Two things differentiate us: one, our DNA- the sort of values empowered by Unilever back from the late 1800s, with Lord Leverhulme and him building a company based on strong societal connection is very much in the DNA. It’s very comfortable to have a trajectory for us. Second, it is the different way we are looking right now at an environmental footprint is widely due to consumer use.
So, we are not just looking at the piece, we looking after the manufacturing and offices. We are looking at consumer use at consumer disposal and that whole life chain, the whole value chain piece is a differentiator.
Q: Do you as a marketing head for Unilever see the corporate brand as being integral to the marketing of your product brands because clearly there is a lot of effort to create and promote the corporate brand identity?
A: Absolutely, it’s a good question. The change in digital world left companies some what sort of behind the brands and it was hard for consumers to really engage with what is the brand behind the brands. Now in the digital world you can easily research very quickly and find out what is the company behind. So people are more interested.
People want companies like us to be transparent and they want to learn more about Unilever. So we are promoting the Unilever brand more. But it’s more trying to explain to a consumer who is this company behind the brands that you know now.
Q: Does it make a difference to the consumers when they are actually making purchase decisions?
A: It does. So the building of trust and confidence behind the brands in all the tests we have done have shown is a positive thing.
Q: Give me a sense of how you are looking at traditional media because television especially in the developed market seems to be doing very well?
A: Television is very important to us and will be for a long period of time. In fact the term traditional and digital is an unhelpful term and it’s one we all use. But traditional pulls together TV and cinema and radio and print and then on the other side on digital you have got mobile and search and e-commerce.
So these terms in themselves are helpful, but also unhelpful and when you look inside that you find the TV is still very important and will be and also not just TV, video. So if you think about it, what is TV? It’s a moving picture on a square screen. Actually if you think about it whether that’s going to be on your computer, on your mobile device, on iPad, it’s still a moving picture and the whole video form is something that consumer is engaged with significantly.
Q: You have talked about the fact that you see brands as media properties, you want to tell us what you are doing with the examples of some brands and how that has worked for Unilever?
A: Yes, it’s a new area that we are experimenting in over the last sort of year or so. The model of we call paid, owned and earned and so paid is buying advertising on TV or search whatever owned is our own site. So this is Unliever.com or Axe.com and then the earned of course is a whole social space.
So in that middle piece what we are trying to do is find ways of engaging consumers and building content and in that we are creating partnerships with people who are engaged with our brand, so actually Axe in itself is an interesting brand.
But if I go then say down to Latin America we have Axe mobile phone. So we are using the brand as a way to engage with consumers and give consumers benefits and services beyond just the products that we sell.
Q: You have said that Unilever you would like to be ahead of the consumer. So that when they get there you are already there. Over the past year since you have been at the head of this function, do you think the job has become or the function has become more complicated or less complicated? More or less challenging?
A: The whole marketing area is incredibly exciting and it’s very challenging. It’s a great time to be in marketing because there are so many options. But you are completely right, you need to be sharp and keep ahead of all the changes. So I have teams who are going at sort of two speeds really: one, being competitive today and then other’s team worrying about how we are going to be competitive tomorrow.
Q: This is over USD 3 billion worth of marketing spend, isn’t it?
A: Yes. We are not short of resources. What we are like everyone else short of over opportunities and ideas etc and I am very greedy in that area. So I am trying to find new ways to innovate in this space. So you will continue to see us innovating.
Q: You can’t tell us about the new things?
A: When you see them you will recognize them.