Unilever’s CMO speaks about making sustainable living commonplace
Speaking at the Marketing Society annual conference, and a year on from the launch of Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan, Keith Weed, Unilever Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, stressed the importance of foresight and the role that brands and marketing can play in making sustainable living commonplace.
“The role of marketing is to create sustainable growth which, in a business like ours, is consumer demand-led growth. But sustainable growth in a resource-constrained world is, for Unilever, not just about economic sustainability but also about environmental and social sustainability. We all need to grow our business not just for today, but for the generations to come,” Weed said.
It is estimated that by 2050 there will be 2.7 billion more people on earth than today; with urbanisation rising from 50% to 69%. By 2015, half the population of developing countries will live in urban areas: 0.6 bn of the 0.7 bn population increase in developing markets will be in urban homes, and 1.3 bn people will live in urban slums with increased hygiene needs.
This increased population and urbanisation presents opportunities for companies like Unilever, but as the company has made public its ambition to double its size whilst reducing its impact, it also presents challenges. The answer to how to grow a business while helping people and protecting the environment, said Weed, is with the consumers – and with the brands and companies that engage with them.
Weed warned, however, that the key to harnessing the power of brands to drive change is not in consumer insight. He said, “Great brands, and great companies, have always walked ahead of consumers. They have a point of view. They don’t just respond to current needs – what consumers say they want now - they anticipate what consumers will need, or might need in future, and they shape markets accordingly.
"As Henry Ford allegedly said, if he’d asked people what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse. It’s about imagining a different future and designing for it. I want the Unilever brand to be the quality mark for Sustainable Living.”
Just because a consumer can’t articulate a need or a worry doesn’t mean that it isn’t there, and that there isn’t a big opportunity.
For example, some of the countries which are the most important for Unilever’s laundry business, such as India, China and Turkey, are becoming increasingly water-stressed. One of the biggest uses of domestic water is laundry: currently people wash in one bucket of water and rinse with three; Chinese consumers rinse with five. To address this, Unilever developed a new technology and product – Comfort One Rinse – which delivers great cleaning performance with just one bucket of rinsing water.
“We are currently in challenging and volatile times – but they are also times of powerful opportunities and the best time to lead for a better future. Marketers have a key role here: if we take the lead, we can create sustainable growth. But it requires us to think and act differently, and develop new business models if we are to make the sustainable growth agenda mainstream. With sustainability as a source of growth and innovation, we can collectively make sustainable living commonplace,” concluded Weed.
+31 (0) 10 217 4000
100 Victoria Embankment
London EC4Y 0DY
+44 (0) 207 822 5252
Safe harbour statement
This announcement may contain forward-looking statements, including ‘forward-looking statements’ within the meaning of the United States Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Words such as ‘expects’, ‘anticipates’, ‘intends’, ‘believes’ or the negative of these terms and other similar expressions of future performance or results, and their negatives, are intended to identify such forward-looking statements. These forward-looking statements are based upon current expectations and assumptions regarding anticipated developments and other factors affecting the Group. They are not historical facts, nor are they guarantees of future performance. Because these forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties, there are important factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those expressed or implied by these forward-looking statements, including, among others, competitive pricing and activities, economic slowdown, industry consolidation, access to credit markets, recruitment levels, reputational risks, commodity prices, continued availability of raw materials, prioritisation of projects, consumption levels, costs, the ability to maintain and manage key customer relationships and supply chain sources, consumer demands, currency values, interest rates, the ability to integrate acquisitions and complete planned divestitures, the ability to complete planned restructuring activities, physical risks, environmental risks, the ability to manage regulatory, tax and legal matters and resolve pending matters within current estimates, legislative, fiscal and regulatory developments, political, economic and social conditions in the geographic markets where the Group operates and new or changed priorities of the Boards. Further details of potential risks and uncertainties affecting the Group are described in the Group’s filings with the London Stock Exchange, Euronext Amsterdam and the US Securities and Exchange Commission, including the Group’s Annual Report on Form 20-F for the year ended 31 December 2010. These forward-looking statements speak only as of the date of this document. Except as required by any applicable law or regulation, the Group expressly disclaims any obligation or undertaking to release publicly any updates or revisions to any forward-looking statements contained herein to reflect any change in the Group’s expectations with regard thereto or any change in events, conditions or circumstances on which any such statement is based.