Unilever puts sustainability at its core

23 July 2014
BOSTON: Unilever, the FMCG multinational, has combined its marketing and communication divisions to drive clarity and alignment of message as it seeks to double growth while promoting sustainability, its CMO has explained.

In an interview with the Harvard Business Review, Keith Weed said Unilever CEO Paul Polman tasked him with drawing up a strategy to double the business while also increasing the company's social impact and reducing its environmental footprint.

He did this by adopting a double-edged strategy – an environmental component called the "Unilever Sustainable Living Plan" and a new marketing strategy called "Crafting Brands for Life".

This required each brand to define its social purpose and articulate what the brand does to support the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, he said.

A further development included making sure all the company's global marketing and communications became aligned so that its corporate social responsibility (CSR) did not operate in a "silo".

"One of the first things I did was to move away from the old-style CSR mentality by effectively closing down the CSR department," he said.

"Instead, we wanted CSR to be an integral part of our business, embedded in everything we do, and so activities formerly isolated within CSR became strategic initiatives directed towards nutrition, water, hygiene, health and self-esteem."

Weed saw no contradiction whatever in trying to sell more products while simultaneously promoting sustainability.

He said the Crafting Brands for Life strategy is centred on thinking about people as individuals, not as consumers, and using innovative products to help people and to change their behaviour.

For example, its Comfort One Rinse brand is a fabric softener specifically designed to conserve water when rinsing, which appealed to people in the developing world when it was marketed as a way of reducing the amount of time they had to spend fetching water over long distances.

"The role of marketing as I see it is identifying those deeper human needs and providing solutions," he said. "Done right, that can address social, environmental, and business-growth goals all at once."

Data sourced from Harvard Business Review; additional content by Warc
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