Faced with challenges from new disruptor brands around the world, FMCG giant Unilever is having to “play two games”, according to outgoing chief marketing and communications officer Keith Weed.

“Our marketing and our brand structure always evolves, we’ve adapted as the world’s adapted,” he told WARC in an exclusive interview. (For more, read the article in full: Unilever’s Keith Weed: The secret to smart localisation and prioritising sustainability).

In the past Unilever has been successful by ensuring it has remained close to local consumers in markets from India to Indonesia.

“We have brands which are stretched across the world based on universal truths – but we’ve always adapted them to local markets,” said Weed. “What has changed is this ability for smaller brands to act in a more agile way because of technology.”

They’re able to offer “real niche propositions to sizeable groups of people”, he explained, with products and brand positioning closely tied to hyper-local cultural insights. At the same time barriers to market entry are lower, thanks to ‘pay as you go’ marketing in social media and direct-to-consumer business models.

“This is a challenge for a company like Unilever because we’re going to have to play two games,” said Weed.

“We are absolutely interested in those large brands serving consumers around the world with universal truth. These are important, and they connect people.

“But equally, we’re going to have to manage a portfolio of smaller brands that are agile and more niche in their approach.” That portfolio is being built by both acquisition and launching its own brands.

As part of adapting brands to local markets, it’s essential that brand purpose also reflects the prevailing culture, he added.

“The definition of beauty between Thailand, Indonesia, and Philippines is hugely different. It’s very easy for someone sitting in Europe to say ‘Asian beauty’. No, no, no – not Asian beauty. Not even Southeast Asian beauty!”

Unilever has people who look across markets to find universal truths around challenging the myths in the beauty industry, “which of course exist everywhere – but what that myth might be when you land in a particular country is different”.

Two and a half billion people use a Unilever product every day, Weed said, but in reality “there’s no ‘one and a half billion’ people; they’re individuals and you have to understand those individuals and serve them accordingly”.

Read more of Keith Weed’s conversation with WARC in which he discusses his successes and failures during 35 years in marketing, what Unilever has learned from DTC models and the future of FMCG.

Sourced from WARC