Unilever CMO Keith Weed on the future of marketing

Horizontal segmentation, the sustainability tipping point and winning by doing good – Unilever CMO Keith Weed discusses the future of marketing.


Unilever’s chief marketing and communications officer Keith Weed is never shy in expressing his opinion on the changing nature of marketing and the role marketers and brands should be playing. In a briefing with reporters at Cannes Lions 2015 on Tuesday where the FMCG giant announced a partnership with Vice that will see it co-create content for the broadcaster’s new female-focussed channel Broadly, he offered his thoughts on the future for marketers and brands.

‘In the near future all purchasing decisions will be based on “is this good?”’

“If we go back just 5-10 years people used to talk about my world. In Sao Paulo they wouldn’t talk about the river at the end of the road they would talk about the dust from the building next door or that their water tastes a bit funny and it’s sure to be something to do with the building works. Then it was ‘my world’, my family and my neighbors. Then, about 5 years ago, ‘our world’ and then in 3 years or so people have started talking about ‘the world’. It could be the internet and connectivity. I have been England in the middle of nowhere and on a farm they’ll be talking about crop prices but also the impact of weather and climate change.

Also, people are increasingly more aware of climate-related big weather disasters. It makes people think – maybe we are doing something to our planet. We’re seeing this across the world. In the spirit of seeing the future first that’s why I’m really investing in building the Unilever brand to be that trustmark for sustainability.

The sustainability ‘tipping point’ has been reached

Why should you pay more for a product that people have done something with that they should have done away? If there two products, tea for example , and if you go to the supermarket and have a choice we have now reached a tipping point. If they see the Unilever brand and conclude it’s better for society and be part of a better solution then why wouldn’t you buy our product?

People often say what’s the business case for sustainability? I’d love to see the business case for the alternative. Show me how destroying the planet is good for business. Give the business case for that.

‘The future is horizontal segmentation’

You have to engage a whole generation around the world. There are more similarities with a young guy in Shanghai with one in Mumbai than with them and their parents and their grandparents. We look at the world, in terms of what are we going to do in India and cities in India, for example, in terms of geographic segmentation whereas in a joined up internet world we’re seeing horizontal segmentation across the world

One of the big things is the 1.9bn millennials, or 18-35 year olds or whatever you want to call them. There’s this whole group of people coming through and it’s a great mistake if marketers conclude that when they become 45 with big mortgages they’re going to be the same as the 45 year olds today. They’re going to have less hair and they’re going to be a bit greyer but they’re going to have the same attitudes [as they do know]. For us it’s absolutely necessary to understand this huge target audience and it’s exciting and necessary.

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