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Unilever Puts People First

Rob Master is thrilled to no longer find ads on his Facebook page about cures for baldness. After all, he has a full head of hair. Like any consumer, Unilever's vice president of media, Americas and Europe prefers advertising that is relevant to him, whether he's watching TV or using his mobile phone. "Messaging on the Web today is increasingly more targeted than even a year ago,” he points out.

“Television has also become sharper with its programming through cable networks that have established clear, crisp brands themselves. If I mention Fox News, ESPN, or Bravo, you know exactly what the programming is and the types of people watching. That sharper focus allows for greater targeting and better planning and investment decisions for marketers.”

Unilever's latest marketing strategy, "Crafting Brands for Life," represents a sharply focused effort to empower people to own and shape the company's brands. Master -- who will speak at the ANA Digital & Social Media Conference, July 14-16, in Dana Point, Calif. -- shares the philosophy behind the strategy, the latest macro trends, and how Unilever is elevating digital.

Q. Tell me about the thinking behind Crafting Brands for Life, and why it represents a change of direction for Unilever.

A. Crafting Brands for Life is a new marketing approach based on three guiding principles. Number one, putting people first -- not "consumers" or "shoppers" -- but real people, with real lives. Second, building brand love through brands that people can't live without. Lastly, unlocking the magic and passion of our brands. What excites us about Crafting Brands for Life is its simplicity. It puts people at the heart of what we do, focuses on building brand equity, and champions creative storytelling to break through. 

Q. Does the new strategy present any challenges?

A. Our greatest challenge is to stay at the forefront of the rapidly changing consumer and media landscape. Just think about the enormous cultural shift that has taken place with the likes of Facebook and Twitter; in a matter of years these platforms have transformed how people connect with family, friends, and even brands — yes, brands. What's great about Crafting Brands for Life is that it represents a framework, not a process, for us to embrace the world people live in today and tomorrow.

Q. How have the latest macro digital and social trends influenced the approach to your new strategy, not only in the U.S. but abroad?

A. There are a number of macro trends that shape the lens through which we view our media strategy. Two come to mind. The first is the concept of “video everywhere.” Now that consumers can access video across multiple platforms and devices, television scale is just not what it used to be -- in the U.S. and abroad, for that matter. To reach people at scale, we recognize the need to rethink the ways we create, plan, and buy to better connect our brands with the people who buy them.

Another interesting trend is the visualization of the Web. With sites like Pinterest and Instagram increasing in popularity, our culture is becoming more and more visually focused. Also, with so much information out there, people are drawn toward images rather than text. As marketers, we need to think about how our brands come to life within this environment.

Q. Unilever's digital ad spend continues to rise. How are you pushing the digital agenda at Unilever? Please provide an example or two.

A. Our leadership has truly embraced the digital world and Unilever's Chief Marketing and Communication Officer Keith Weed has done a terrific job laying out a digital strategy. A key part is raising the organization's digital capabilities with mentorship programs and immersion experiences for our marketing community. Additionally, we've invested a ton of resources behind a host of initiatives to elevate our digital return on marketing investment. Our Digital Data Mart, for example, tracks and optimizes how we spend our digital dollars and brings greater visibility and accountability to our investment. Unilever's emphasis on educating and investing has powered the success of our digital agenda, and it's exciting to know that we still have so much to achieve and learn. 

Q. What processes do you have in place internally to keep ideas and creativity flowing?

A. Creativity and innovation are non-negotiables at Unilever. We have many programs in place to empower team members. Our Quarterly Marketing Forums take place globally across the organization, where we have both internal and external speakers to inspire employees and make Crafting Brands for Life a reality.

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