Unilever’s Marc Mathieu on why it wants to work with ‘the start-ups that are reinventing marketing’

Unilever is today (22 May) launching a new start-up programme in the Unilever Foundry that offers start-ups access to mentorship, investment and its brands. Unilever’s senior vice president of global marketing, Marc Mathieu, talks to Marketing Week about why it set up the programme, its objectives and staying on top of trends as the marketing industry rapidly changes.

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Marketing Week: Why has Unilever launched the Foundry?

Marc Mathieu: What we have been doing with Unilever Ventures [the company’s venture capital arm] over the last few years is investing in start-ups both on the product front and the marketing front. Over the last couple of years we have put a focus as part of our “Crafting brands for life” on pioneering and experimenting more to respond to this constantly changing world driven by technology.

That is what led to the Go Global [start-up incubator] platform, to expand our reach and take several of our brands and partner them with some of the start-ups changing marketing. Now we want to scale it up.

MW: What will happen to Go Global now?

MM: Go Global is a great platform but it is limited, a more significant investment – $100,000 whereas the Foundry is $50,000 – and it is centrally curated by us together with Unilever Ventures.

Based on the successful initiatives we have already done with start-ups we said let’s scale it up and make it one platform, that Go Global will be part of, to enable start-ups and our brands to actually connect with one another.

MW: What are the main objectives of the Foundry?

MM: We have three dimensions. The first is really to help our brand marketers tap into the start-up ecosystem and actually pioneer new solutions. We are not interested in demoing things that stay in house. It is about deploying them and seeing the results. This experimentation and encouraging people to accept the risk of failure is one of the huge benefits we see in this.

The second one is this mentorship programme – creating a relationship between marketers and start-ups by offering to help them with their marketing, their branding, their product definition challenges. It also gives our marketers the ability to immerse themselves with the entrepreneurial world, to bring more agility to the way our marketers work.

This whole process gives us this ability to scout and identify start-ups that we could want to partner with or invest money into.

MW: How will you measure its success?

MM: The aim is to create more agility, more experimentation in the way we do marketing at scale. Therefore ideally each of our brands will have one project that it will constantly put out into this entrepreneurial community.

10 years ago we didn’t work with the Facebooks or the Googles of this world. It took us a little bit of time. There is an immediate benefit in tapping into that ecosystem of entrepreneurs that are reinventing marketing fast in real time. The long-term aim is to be able to work very early with the start-ups of tomorrow that will make a real difference in how marketing is done in the future.

MW: What is in it for start-ups?

MM: What we offer them is the scale of our global brands. This is a great way to get momentum behind a product and for us to help them define the next iteration. If the start-up has already raised Series A, has enough people in the team and a product they have tested, it can stretch them further towards the future.

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