Unilever's Keith Weed: brands with purpose deliver growth

Keith Weed, Unilever's chief marketing and communications officer, tells Nicola Kemp why sustainability is the only reliable business model.

Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan has become a benchmark for enlightened marketing. Will achieving the targets it sets out also drive an increase in your products’ market share?
Keith Weed: Our brands have an exciting and fundamental part to play in our sustainable growth agenda. They are used by two billion consumers a day and are in homes all round the world.

We know that consumers increasingly want brands with purpose – and that purpose delivers growth.

Just look at some of the insight: responsible-consumption products will account for 70% of total grocery growth in the US and Europe over the next five years (according to Boston Consulting Group). In the US alone, responsible-consumption products have grown about 9% annually in the past three years.

We also know that sustainability is particularly important for the millennial generation. For our brands, we are seeing particular growth in sales for those that have built purpose and sustainability into their brand mixes.

Some great examples include our brand Kissan. We moved [over] to sustainably sourced tomatoes and helped propel Kissan to become the number-one ketchup in this category in India. And if you look across our portfolio at brands with a clear social purpose – such as Lifebuoy (with its hand washing agenda), Dove (with its important work on self-esteem) and Domestos (with its sanitation program, building toilets in developing markets) – they have all grown consistently over the past four years.

Consumers are asking us to help them live more sustainably and we can do this.

Changing consumer behavior is at the heart of achieving these goals. What role is marketing playing in shifting consumer sentiment?
Unilever’s Project Sunlight, which we launched in 2013, very much sits at the heart of this. Through this movement, we have connected with 100 million consumers who say living more sustainably matters to them.

In 2014, the program heard directly from young people across the world [about] their vision for change. In the UK, we partnered with Oxfam UK’s Poverty Program on the #clearaplatetodonate campaign to address the issue of hunger by donating more than half a million meals to families in need.

Across India, Indonesia, and Brazil, the focus of Project Sunlight was water, sanitation, and hygiene projects. And it will continue to engage with people in a tangible, relevant way and raise awareness of social and environmental issues.

There’s never been a better time, either: 2015 is a crucial year on the global stage, with talks to agree sustainable-development goals to improve people’s lives around the world and, later in the year, to find a binding deal on tackling climate change.

It’s about taking people along the journey with us and empowering them to be part of the change they wish to see. And, of course, social media is a key platform in this.

Do you worry about appearing to preach to your customers and therefore alienating them? Some consumers would question why the brand they buy has the right to dictate the length of their shower. What would you say to that?
For us, this isn’t about preaching, but more about encouraging small steps toward a positive, more sustainable way of living for consumers.

Innovation is a core driver of this: we can help through the way we design our products – and we have seen positive responses from consumers.

We haven't patented our packaging-reduction technology, so others can use it too.

For example, our compressed deodorants – the same amount of product but in a smaller can – use 25% less aluminum and half as much propellant gas, so they have a reduced environmental footprint, are lighter and more portable. Or take Comfort One Rinse, which uses two-thirds less water, or dry shampoo that does not require any water. They conserve water, but also meet consumer needs – 2.8 billion people live in water-deprived areas today and that number will only increase.

So, we believe that the demand is growing and people are looking for ways to enable them to live more sustainably. Why would you not buy a product that works really well and also does good?

Ultimately, we are raising awareness of global issues, providing people with a sustainable solution, and it is their choice as to which brands they want to buy.

This article originally appeared on Marketing, PRWeek’s sister title at Haymarket Media. Read the rest of it here.

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