Unilever shifts focus to customer-owned data in bid to boost trust

Unilever says it is adapting to the “titanic shift” towards people owning their own data by adapting its approach to marketing to drive trust, relevance and added value for consumers.

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Shawn O’Neal, vice-president of global data and marketing analytics at Unilever highlighted three trends that are going to change marketing and its relationship with data during the CtrlShift Personal Information Economy conference yesterday (8 December).

First is the introduction of the EU’s long awaited General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which becomes law in early 2016. Second is the impact this will have on “anxiety and people’s desire to have their own data and their own way”.

Thirdly he highlighted the rise of ad blocking, “which on top of the other two trends completely shifts the way in which media works”. These trends are having a profound effect on the business’s long-term outlook.

“The economy for media [and everything attached to it] is about $4 trillion, that makes it the fifth largest economy in the world. We’re about to change all the rules and all the ways in which marketing is done in a matter of years through legislation, trends and fundamental tools that are going to come around.

“If that’s not a reason for us to pay attention I don’t think I can come up with one,” he said.

Levelling the playing field

O’Neal admits he is envious of today’s data-rich businesses such as Google and Facebook, as well as insurers and banks, but reckons the shift towards customers owning data will level the playing field.

“We’re literally out casting the line every day just to get limited amounts of information,” he said. “In my opinion the three trends are resetting the playing field and the robustness and accessibility [of personal data] across the entire population of the world.

“When the individual owns it and can monetise it for their own gain it changes the way in which we have access as a corporation, a government entity or any acting group of people. That’s a humungous benefit and we’re all going to benefit from that as human beings and as organisations.”

O’Neal doesn’t have any interest in using data to sell direct to consumers, however.

“If you look at the next generation of competition in FMCG it isn’t the product. The product is extremely important, don’t get me wrong, it’s important that it works, it smells right and is well packaged but today that is not competitive advantage. Any guy with a garage can go out and get distribution, advertising, products made – he can do all the things an FMCG does,” he added.

“The next level of competition in the universe of FMCG is the relationships we have with consumers. Relevance, trust and on-going value add to their lives beyond the product itself.”

Shawn O’Neal, vice-president of global data and marketing analytics, Unilever

Consumers want control

Considering 89% of people think they should be in control of the way companies collect and use data about them, according to a YouGov survey for BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, it’s a move that other businesses would be wise to review.

Some 64% of adults are not happy about the way their data is handled but don’t feel there is anything they can do about it. By contrast just 26% say they understand that companies need to collect data about them in order to provide them with services, and are generally happy with how it works.

Indeed, just 19% would be happy for a company to collect personal data without their full knowledge in return for discounts or a more personalised service.