Unilever’s new state-of-the-art R&D hub in Shanghai is using live-stream data, local insights and AI tools to speed products to market for Chinese consumers
Forward-looking policies, fast and affordable internet access and an entrepreneurial outlook that has nurtured a third of the world’s unicorn start-ups worth $1 billion have all played their part in shaping China’s flourishing digital economy.
According to McKinsey, in the space of the 15 years from , the country’s e-commerce transactions have grown from 1% of the world’s total to more than 40%, outpacing the US, Germany, France, Japan and the UK.
Official figures put the country’s internet penetration at . It has 940 million internet users, 740 million online shoppers and 805 million confident online payment users. Add to these figures the rapid development of new digital technologies such as AI, 5G and the internet of things, and it’s no surprise that the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology predicts that by the digital economy will account for half of China’s GDP.
To meet the emerging needs of the country’s digital transformation, Unilever China recently announced a joint project with Alibaba’s Brand Databank and the School of Management at Fudan University.
The three-way partnership aims to use Alibaba’s data capture and analysis skills along with the research expertise of one of China’s C9 elite universities to create an integrated digital ecosystem and talent pool to help China deliver on growth.
Co-creating a digital ecosystem
Alibaba has more than 500 million active shoppers. Its Brand Databank is part of a suite of marketing tools that allows brands to measure consumer interest in their products and track campaigns and advertising success on different sites in its ecosystem. This analysis can then be used to segment and build tailored content to achieve better results.
“Using data to drive business is the core of digital marketing. Through strategic co-operation with Unilever, we aim to help businesses implement digital transformation and cultivate digital talents,” says Alibaba’s CTO Platform Data Product Leader, Bo Mao.
‘We are thrilled to work with Alibaba,” adds Jun Fang, Digital Hub VP of Unilever China. “And we hope that the new inspiration brought by this collaboration will help move the digital transformation platform forward, leading to digitisation in the industry and nurturing leading digital capabilities.”
Cultivating future-fit digital talent
But having technical and digital know-how is only one part of the story. “Excellent digital talent needs to understand both technology and business,” says Daphne Xiao, Human Resources VP of Unilever North Asia. Unilever will work with the School of Management at Fudan University to ensure its students are able to develop both technical expertise and management skills.
Alongside offering students internships to apply their digital skills in real-life business situations, Unilever will help shape course material to ensure that it resonates with industry needs.
Professor Yimin Sun, Associate Dean of the School of Management, Fudan University, sees the combination of practical guidance with cutting-edge academic and technological advances as a win–win. “The cultivation of compound talents requires a solid curriculum and contact with the real business world, and Unilever provides such a platform,” she says. “At the same time, teachers can also benefit from this co-operation, to understand business practices and extract new teaching and scientific research material to improve their teaching skills.”
Talented students who complete their internships with Unilever may also be offered the chance to begin their career there too. “China is currently a global leader in digitalisation,” says Rohit Jawa, Executive Vice President, Unilever North Asia. “We will seize this opportunity to build an enterprising digital workforce to accelerate and strengthen the digital transformation in China. To be future fit, digital talent is our most important resource,” he concludes.
Our Hefei site in China has become our second facility in nine months – alongside the Dubai Personal Care factory – to join the World Economic Forum’s network of Lighthouse factories, shaping the future of manufacturing through digital technologies.
We are partnering with beauty and personal care start-ups in China to create a new ecosystem of enterprise, co-creation and collaboration.