Q&A: Marc Mathieu, Senior vice-president of marketing, Unilever

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Marketing Week (MW): How do you use creativity in the Unilever brand-building process?

Marc Mathieu (MM): Creativity must start with strategy and be visible from the very beginning. To achieve stand-out, we must build ‘spiky’ brands that swim against the tide, that have a point of view. Without creative human understanding, you’ll end up with a brand that is difficult to differentiate.

MW: Everybody interviewed for this feature used the word ‘human’ when describing creative business processes. Why is it so key?

MM: Humanity, creativity and magic do not come from an organisation automatically, but the people within it. The role of the organisation is to create a platform and framework to unleash this inspiration.

MW: Hasn’t that always been the case?

MM: Because of digital, we live in a world that has become fundamentally social by design and where the human factor becomes central. Watch the news. People are shaping the world. They’re also shaping marketing, brands and products. This requires people who are human beings first and marketers second to do marketing for people who are human beings first and foremost and not just consumers.

MW: How can creativity be allied to the marketer’s use of data?

MM: It’s about moving people from ‘only measurement’ to ‘also judgement’. When people work with the expertise and knowledge but also use instinct, intuition and inspiration, they are able to use their judgement to allow some controlled risk taking.

MW: When economic fear and uncertainty set in, most people retrench and look for something that offers absolute proof like data and numbers. How do you combat that?

MM: When you put marketers and finance people together, you discover the power of numbers. Without marketers, numbers can tell you a truth. With marketers, numbers can also tell remarkable stories. The better the two disciplines work together, the more compelling those stories are. If this kind of creative input is going to be ignited from one place in the organisation, then it makes sense to be marketing but I believe it is critical that it lives across the organisation.

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