Focus On

Improving customer experience through meaningful content

By Elizabeth Akass, Editor, Engage Business Media

Unilever explains how it navigates the nuanced and ever-progressing world of marketing whilst ensuring that trust and quality remain its top priorities across all products and content.

Founded in 1929, Unilever has grown to become the parent company to over 400 brands across a wide range of sectors, and thus is one of the world’s largest consumer packaged goods companies and one of the world’s biggest advertisers today. Charlie Clinton, the Data and Innovation Manager at Unilever, summarises: “It’s a company with a very broad footprint, including all sorts of brands that you would see on your supermarket shelves.”

Clinton explains the two main problems many marketers face regarding their relationships with customers in the inter-media digital age. The first is fragmentation: “A study released a couple of years ago by the IPA has shown that fundamentally we still need to reach all of our category buyers to drive the most effective advertising, but we live in a world where consumers are increasingly fragmented.”

He continues: “Those consumers have access to products that deliver against very specific needs for them.” He gives some examples, such as vegan or sustainable products, or products that leave out certain ingredients. “The challenge for brands is maintaining the scale in your advertising while making sure that the different consumers are seeing the messages or the products that are most relevant to them, which just adds a new layer of complexity to the media planning process.”

Clinton says the second main issue marketers face today is the “ever-leakier bucket”. “There’s a common metaphor which is that our brand is a leaky bucket that we are trying to fill with consumers, and through just everyday life consumers are filtering away. Whether it’s their life stage that changes; they move; the shops near them starts selling different products – whatever it might be – it’s inevitable that the bucket will eventually empty if the brand doesn’t keep filling it back up.”

“The new reality though, with the fragmented media landscape, the vast increase in advertising, the existence of Google and ‘search’ in general, allowing consumers to find things when they want them, the existence of e-commerce, which allows access to a vastly wider range of products than they ever could have reached before – all of these factors mean the drain away from this bucket is happening faster than ever before.”

So, how does Unilever navigate these hurdles? Clinton explains: “It’s about making sure we have new activities in place which are maintaining the brand’s visibility in those channels and competitiveness in those channels between campaign bursts.”

Clinton works in the beauty and personal care category of Unilever; specifically, within the hair sector. He describes the publishing website Unilever created, All Things Hair, that features all of the company’s hair brands within the context of “genuinely helpful content” for its visitors. “It is primarily about making sure that we are visible and we are competing in searches, so when consumers are looking for information on anything to do with hair styles or particular hair needs, they are finding All Things Hair.”

He emphasises that the advice provided on All Things Hair is intended to be sincerely useful to consumers. “This is not just about inserting our brand into conversation; it’s about genuinely supporting the consumers’ new behaviours and helping them find what they are looking for in a way that is beneficial to them and is beneficial for us.”

He notes that this approach has proven successful in increasing the company’s “general level of visibility” between campaign bursts. “On average, last year we were getting around 1.5 million visitors per month on our different All Things Hair sites around the world.”

Clinton relates this approach to Byron Sharp’s How Brands Grow, in which Sharp discusses the need for brands to have physical availability, being present on as many shelves as possible so the consumer can physically access your product as easily as possible, and mental availability, being at the top of your customer’s mind, traditionally through mass advertising.

However, Clinton says that in today’s media landscape, brands have had to navigate fulfilling a new availability need. “This is digital availability: it’s a blend of being findable on the shelf, and being discoverable in ‘search’ whenever the brand might be relevant. It is a new focus area for brands that cannot be ignored, or you will find that there is a gap in your marketing efforts.”

Furthermore, Clinton highlights the need for brands’ approaches to marketing to focus on improving trust and transparency with customers. “I think we all know that as the digital revolution has gained pace and data has become more and more available to brands, there have definitely been some major missteps. The statistics released at the beginning of this year by Credos showed that since 1992 trust in advertising has dropped from 48% to 25%. This shows the significant problem we now have.”

He continues: “Given that context, it’s more important now than ever for brands to hold themselves to a very high level of accountability in terms of what they do with consumer data: how they gather it, how they use it, and how transparent they are with what they’re going to do with it. If we want to get consumers’ attention again then we have to start by being honest with them, though we also have to go further.”

Clinton references research conducted by Havas, a global communications group, and the six pillars of content they defined: “Inspire, entertain, educate, inform, help, and reward”. He says: “Havas has shown that content that does one of these six things drives better business performance and provides a better experience for the consumer. We have to start adding value to consumers’ lives in a way that we haven’t necessarily always been doing.”

He says that he is implementing these pillars at Unilever to ensure that the content produced is “fit for purpose” and “has meaning for the consumer”.

Clinton finishes by explaining that Unilever has recently launched a new tool to continually develop and improve its customer service and engagement. “This is a digital hair profiler, in partnership with tech start up Helloava, which is the first one we’ve created in Unilever driven by  machine learning to ensure that when a consumer answers a certain number of questions on the All Things Hair US website, the programme will search through hundreds of Unilever products to find the right combination for their specific hair needs.”

“That’s just the first step in terms of building that relationship and helping the consumer with their hair through personalisation, and ensuring that we are adding value into the consumers’ lives.”

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