‘Raise the floor and the ceiling’: Unilever on its ‘integrated approach’ to training

Unilever’s top marketer Conny Braams says marketers must be given the opportunity to use their new skills on the job immediately or training will be wasted.

UnileverUnilever’s chief digital and marketing officer Conny Braams said brands must “raise the floor” for marketers to ensure they are well prepared for future opportunities, while also “raising the ceiling” for digital specialists. 

“The more advanced you get it will be more about being digital, not doing digital for the sake of digital,” said Braams at the Festival of Marketing: Fast Forward yesterday (8 June).

At Unilever, Braams said she is still “experimenting a lot with digital”, which requires an element of “trial and error”. But in order to do this effectively, the team has to be fully fluent in the latest technology and that means ensuring all marketers have an understanding of digital and that specialists continue to raise the bar and keep learning.

“We need to raise the floor for all marketers – and they might be doing [just] a bit of digital – but at the same time you need to raise the ceiling for the specialists. Where the floor is and where the ceiling is changing rapidly over time,” said Braams.

We just need to make sure however we upskill marketers, we give them the opportunity to use it at the same time.

Conny Braams, Unilever

In order to achieve this, Unilever is taking an “integrated approach” to training, which Braams explained could mean a specialist marketer working with external agencies to gain new skills, for example.

Over time she expects the separation between general marketing and digital to be less apparent, but this will require “continuous efforts” in training.

“We’ve also said that actually if we don’t do it [train staff], we don’t do justice to all the people within marketing and the wider organisation because you need to be trained and upskilled, otherwise you don’t have a future-fit skill set and that is really important.

“That job will never be finished so we need to consistently and constantly evolve,” said Braams.

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Training framework

Unilever has developed a “huge” curriculum for marketers to follow to ensure they are constantly learning, but also using their new skills so they become embedded.

“Every career will consist of experiences and it is a bit of a beehive, that is why we believe 70% of upskilling is always done on the job,” explained Braams.

“We can all identify with this – you go on courses, you’re really interested in it, but a year later you haven’t used any of it and you forget it. So, we just need to make sure however we upskill marketers, we give them the opportunity to use it at the same time.”

Braams noted there has been a big shift in digital learning, with employees spending longer dissecting the curriculum and “way more time upskilling themselves in the different components of digital that are actually relevant for their specific job”.

Convergence of ecommerce and entertainment

One area Unilever is particularly focused on is ecommerce, which will remain a “key channel” after accelerating during the pandemic and an area its marketers must be fully competent.

“We’ve upped our game enormously in ecommerce, obviously not just in the selling – often people think of it as just a sales channel – but actually also as an innovative channel with regards to specific value-dense products,” she said.

“[We are] creating a portfolio that is really fixed for ecommerce, but then also creating the content.” In addition to a hero image, for example, Unilever is spending more time ensuring it has the right videos and the right information on sustainability.

Braams said it is also about “using ecommerce channels for media and media channels for commerce”. She described this convergence between the two as a “hugely interesting field”, but warned “I already see how much it will require of everyone to be digital and not do digital” in order to be effective.