Keith Weed: Here’s what won’t change in marketing in 2017

If marketers think more about treating consumers as people, they will find meaningful ways to make an impact in 2017, says Unilever’s chief marketing and communications officer.

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I’m penning this sitting in a pub opposite King’s Lynn train station in Norfolk, waiting for my sons to arrive from London for a weekend in the country. Yes, I am still a part-time taxi driver.

And as I sit here, half an ear on the conversations around me (because I am, like so many marketers, hugely curious about people – even nosy), there is one overriding theme to the topics being animatedly discussed around me: people.

READ MORE: 2016 Year in Review

The power of a majority of people making their voices heard at home and abroad against a perceived disconnected leadership, and the ensuing political consequences.

The selfless generosity of people opening their homes to others who are being forced to flee from theirs, whether through environmental or political chaos.

And people everywhere connecting, sharing, and caring.

Results are clearly showing us the benefits of putting people, not stuff, first.

Why am I telling you this? Because it’s easy to forget in the Snapchat-filtering, BuzzFeed-memeing, banner ad-creating, Instagram-storymaking world of a marketer today that despite the speed of change around us getting faster and faster, some things are an absolute analogue constant.

So thank you, Friday night drinkers of King’s Lynn, for reminding me that for marketers, there are some things that just don’t change. And here they are.

1. Put people first

It sounds obvious in a profession built on providing people with things that either they need or will make them feel good, or hopefully both. But somewhere around the 1980s I think marketing got lost, and consumerism in its most rampant form became the name of the game of marketers and advertisers. It put stuff first, rather than people. And it fell into using lazy stereotypes and clichés in advertising to make that stuff sell.

At Cannes Lions this year Unilever launched a commitment to remove the portrayal of unhelpful stereotypes from its advertising, alongside a call to the industry to join us in the journey. We want to redress the portrayal of role, appearance and personality throughout our advertising, particularly when relating to women. It’s a big, but critically important, shift to make.

READ MORE: Unilever issues rallying cry to the marketing industry to ‘unstereotype’ gender portrayals

So far, we have been extremely encouraged by the feedback that we’ve received from both our internal teams and the wider marketing community. And importantly, early results are clearly showing us the benefits of putting people, not stuff, first.

2. Build brand love

Which marketer worth her salt isn’t aiming to build a brand that people can’t live without, a brand that people will independently advocate for? Trust and purpose play a huge role in this and there is a huge economic opportunity here for business to contribute to society. People want to engage with brands that understand them, that speak to their concerns and anxieties. Brands that are responsible and purpose-driven.

As advertisers we need to understand that the drivers of sustainable purchasing are trust and social norms.

As one of the largest commissioners of market research in the world, Unilever wanted to understand this opportunity further, so we undertook a study of 20,000 adults across five countries. We have known for some time that consumers talk about purchasing sustainable products, but we also know that people try and look as good as possible in market research.

So do they walk the walk? Do they buy as they claim to? We compared what people said to their till receipts and the size of the prize is huge. A third of consumers surveyed already purchase on the basis of sustainability and 21% are at the tipping point, saying they would purchase more sustainably if they saw more cues – on packaging, in advertising and so on. Those 54% of consumers are a potential market opportunity of $2.5trn.

READ MORE: ‘Consumers are putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to sustainability’

What’s the magic ingredient that moves consumers from saying they will, to actually doing so? It all comes back trust. As advertisers we need to understand that the drivers of sustainable purchasing are trust and social norms. Consumers need to trust the people who make the product. And they need to feel it is a purchase that is valued by the people they care about. But they don’t necessarily want to buy new brands. They want the brands they know and love to be sustainable.

Unilever’s Sustainable Living brands – products that are contributing towards a more socially and environmentally sustainable planet through packaging design, sourcing and lower emissions – grew 30% faster than the rest of our portfolio last year. So we’re pretty sure it’s starting to work.

3. Unlock the magic

The final thing that has not changed is the need to unlock the magic. In fact in today’s intensely cluttered world, breaking through has become ever more important. We need great content to do this, content that is mobile-first, in the context, in the culture, in real time. Content that pioneers ways of connecting and building relationships, content that allows us to think in terms of individuals, not aggregates.

Marketers have always been pioneers. Our challenge now is to use that spirit to get ahead of the consumer and connect in meaningful ways that create impacts. I’m convinced of the centrality of mobile and the power of the individual to create brands that win here. In other words, thinking about what people really want and giving it to them – and that just hasn’t changed.

Back here in King’s Lynn it’s time for me to pack up my musings and move on. And as if I needed a reminder of the crazy world we are working in, I was just accidently involved in a ‘mannequin challenge’ video, the latest craze sweeping social media (I am towards the end sitting in a blue jacket taking a photograph on my phone of the event unfolding).

At the time of the year when everyone starts to think about the importance of the people around them, let’s keep that in mind as marketers. To quote my old friend, former Havas CEO David Jones, it’s not about marketing to consumers, but mattering to people.

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  • Martin Ballantine 7 Dec 2016 at 10:44 am

    I just upchucked a little.

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