LONDON: Consumers still want to "buy from companies they know and trust," but are increasingly able to interact with brands, requiring a transformation in traditional communications practice, says Unilever's chief marketing officer Simon Clift.

As previously reported, Clift expects social media to become a crucial marketing tool as the medium develops, but has also suggested that advertisers and agencies are struggling with the transition.

Because most consumer packaged goods firms have "built their businesses around the 30-second television spot," Clift says they now face the challenge of "figuring out what will happen next."

The fact consumers can also use social media to "talk back" to brand owners essentially also means the "whole basis of marketing" has changed. 

While this give brands the opportunity to "join the conversation," it carries the attendant risk that web users "who have very small budgets can subvert your company's image."

Unilever is therefore "extending a toe into social networking," but is taking a cautious approach, based on the realisation that consumers "determine the conversation," meaning the best thing to approach is simply to "be transparent."

The company is also looking to make its corporate profile a "bigger part" of its overall strategy, and has started featuring its logo in brand ads in the UK.

While the Unilever brand used to "manage itself", Clift says the consumer goods giant will now use it to talk about "bigger issues like sustainability and corporate responsibility."

Data sourced from Forbes; additional content by WARC staff