Unilever readies new customer insight panel

Unilever is inviting consumers to help shape the future direction of its brands, marketing and products by setting up a customer panel, a move that comes as it warns that 2012 will be “difficult” in its end of year trading update.

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The FMCG company, which owns brands including PG Tips, Dove, Lynx, Marmite, Flora, Persil and Ben & Jerry’s, has set up “At Home with Unilever” in a bid to glean more insight from consumers and drive the future of the business in line with customer demand.

Consumers would be expected to take part in at least one activity, such as a survey, per month as part of the panel. The panel will be run by Unilever in partnership with research firm Join the Dots.

Unilever already runs a Facebook scheme called Unilever VIP which asks Facebook fans about their preferences, opinions and responses to new products and marketing for its brands.

In return, users accumulate loyalty points and are receive rewards such as free Unilever products, VIP cinema tickets and the opportunity to win cash prizes for contributing.

Unilever reported a 6.5% rise in sales in 2011, just short of internal estimates on full year performance. Turnover increased 5% to €46.5bn (£38.6bn) in the year.

Unilever increased its advertising and promotional spend by €150m (£124.6m) to €6.2bn (£5.2bn) during the year, although this was fractionally down as a percentage of sales.

CEO Paul Polman talked about the need to make the right decisions for the long-term health of the business “however difficult they may be in the short term”.

He says: “In 2011 we have made significant progress in the transformation of Unilever to a sustainable growth company despite difficult markets and an unusual number of significant external challenges. Whether it be our focus on the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, the extension of our brands into new markets with the associated up-front investment, or the actions to remove unsustainable cost burdens from our structure, we are doing the right things to strengthen Unilever for the longer term.”

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