It's clear the FMCG giants want to tap into start-ups while The Unilever Foundry, for example, is a meeting place for Unilever executives with problems they want to solve and start-ups that have great tech and ideas that might just be the solution. FMCGs are also looking at building more direct relationships with customers, whether it's a site showing parents how to get school uniform cleaner or, in the case of today's news, an Uber for people's cleaning requirements.
It will come as little surprise that the Unilever Foundry was the connection point between its cleaning brand, Cif, and the Helpling app. I have to confess that I had not heard of the app before, but apparently it is the Uber of cleaning. You need some cleaning done, so you book an insured cleaner or cleaners to come round and help you out.
I have to say, I think it's a brilliant tie-up between the two. Cif will obviously have the huge reach of a Unilever brand with, no doubt, labels prompting buyers to download the app and let someone else put in the elbow grease to get the kitchen and bathroom gleaming. And, of course, when you come to book, they are like to be using the Cif products that were made available to you at checkout.
Presumably there is some scope for a furniture polish brand, a disinfectant brand or a "shave and vac"-style product to get involved too? One could imagine if Unilever went beyond a pilot and invested in the app, or even bought it, as it did with Million Dollar Shave Club, that a future service would bring a range of Unilever products with them. Sounds like a good way of ensuring you are offering a good service and, at the same time, selling a lot of cleaning products.
This surely must be the way that major brands grow. They're under huge pressure to spend less on advertising and marketing and use saved budget wisely. One can imagine that getting involved with how your products are used, beyond just selling them, must be the way forward. Perhaps a dog-walking service is in the pipeline for the owners of Winalot, or perhaps those packets that claim to grow a beautiful lawn could come with an offer of a specialist to mow and trim your grass, to save you the trouble. One can imagine Persil offering a pickup and takeaway laundry and ironing service.
So for me, this is a big one to watch. Unilever has already been involved in delivering mayonnaise and personalising marmite jars through start-up products. That's all about fulfilment. The promise of Million Dollar Shave Club is getting involved with the final use of the product. That surely has to be more exciting than simply delivering direct because it not only provides the goods, and increases sales, but it broadens brands from nouns, the things we buy, into verbs, the things we do. That's an exciting new territory in anyone's language.