Find a Truth: Unilever’s Marc Mathieu on The Next Era of Marketing

Find A Marketing Truth

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Posted: January 13, 2015 | Engagement Marketing

I’m now about halfway through a series of conversations the Economist Intelligence Unit had with six marketing pundits who have shared with us their thoughts on everything from the changing roles of marketers, new ROI metrics, and the power of authentic, continuous relationships. And I hope you’ve found these as insightful and helpful as I have.

This week, I want to share a recent conversation with Marc Mathieu, SVP of Marketing at Unilever. He explains that while marketing used to be about creating a myth and selling, it’s now about finding a truth and sharing it. And to that I say amen. Technology, Marc explains (and as we all know), has changed the way people communicate, making it more open and real-time. Thus, the onus is on us to understand and embed it into our marketing strategies and approach. A few of other things that really resonated with me:

  • Vast Changes: The pace of change in our world as marketers is moving at warp speed—Marc observes that his day is now filled with topics that were nowhere near his agenda just 3 short years ago. This feels self-evident because we all live this as marketers every day, but it is a staggering fact when you pause to reflect on it academically. NO other function is transforming at such a rate.
  • A Marketing First World: The business needs the marketing function, and that need is growing. Marketing should be looking at trends in society and helping to evolve the organization’s vision, strategy and plans while at the same time staying true to the purpose of the brand and the company. Moreover, marketing should be the ones helping to define the purpose.
  • Make the Inside Reflect the Outside: Marketers have a responsibility to ensure that the inside of the corporation reflects the changes that are happening outside the company. Especially when it comes to technology, the pace of change among consumers is often faster than the changes inside the organization. We need to modify our outreach based on how the outside world is changing. And at the same time we need to bring those external changes into the corporation.

I encourage you to read the full interview with Marc as he discusses how they translated these beliefs into a new initiative for Unilever, Project Sunlight. And as always, for more great stuff, visit www.marketo.com/next-era.

Economist Intelligence Unit: Marketing has changed a lot in the last five years. Let’s go out to 2020. Where is marketing heading?

Marc Mathieu: I can answer the question by describing how I spent my time today. For perhaps a quarter of the day I spoke with people about data and data strategy. I spent a couple of hours talking about artificial intelligence. I also spent a couple of hours talking about start-ups and how they’re changing marketing. After we finish this conversation I’ll be talking to people about smartphones and how they’re changing business and marketing. That’s my day today.

Three years ago none of these would have been on my radar screen. I would not have spent a lot of time on data or marketing platforms or artificial intelligence or start-ups. I think it says a lot about how vast the change is. To me it proves that marketing is changing at an incredible pace and the biggest driver is technology—how we connect with people, learn from people, connect with entrepreneurs and follow everyone.

EIU: Three years ago we had mobile, we had social media and we had a tremendous amount of data, so I’m not sure how that’s a change.

Marc Mathieu: The trends existed, but they didn’t permeate the everyday life of the marketer. And marketers were not necessarily looking at ways to embed them at the scale they are today. Three years ago those were pilot programs. And mobile existed, but now we use mobile to think about developing personal relationships with people at a scale that enables a company like Unilever to actually connect to a large group of consumers. The scale wasn’t there to be very useful to an organization like Unilever.

Share the truth

EIU: How is the shift from the creative side to data and platforms going to change the job of marketers like you?

Marc Mathieu: Our strategy is around sustainability, transparency and trust. And that’s enabled by changes in how people communicate, which technology has made more open and real-time. Today, and even more so a few years in the future, we can build a direct relationship with people by having a conversation with them.

There’s a quote I like: “Marketing used to be about creating a myth and selling; now it’s about finding a truth and sharing it.” We’re looking for ways to share a truth, to invite in the audience and let them take ownership and share it with others. You see that in our Project Sunlight campaign. We created a command center where for several weeks we had two or three people from each of 12 to 14 agencies, plus marketers who publish, analyze, listen and edit. The conversation is dynamic and in real time. The marketers can respond to the interests they see building.

Admit you don’t have all the answers

EIU: You can’t sell a myth in an age where everybody sees everything—where social media makes communication completely transparent. It sounds like Unilever sees transparency as an opportunity.

Marc Mathieu: We have an initiative to double our business while reducing our environmental footprint in order to have a more positive social impact on society. We recognized that in some areas we knew exactly what we would do and in others we needed to figure it out along the way. We admitted that. We acknowledged that we were leading in some areas, but in others we had a long way to go.

In Project Sunlight, we interviewed ordinary people in the form of a social experiment documentary. We sought people’s reactions to discover truths as opposed to creating advertising to promote a self-serving point of view.

EIU: Do you think marketing is going to become more important as a source of differentiation outside of the consumer goods industry?

Marc Mathieu: I don’t think marketing’s importance is specific to particular industries. People expect truth, transparency and real-time engagement and communication. That puts a huge responsibility on marketing to be able to understand those trends and embed them in the marketing strategy.

But it also gets to the heart of the business strategy. The business needs the marketing function, and that need is growing. Marketing looks at trends in society and helps evolve the organization’s vision, strategy and plans while at the same time staying true to the purpose of the brand and the company. Marketing also helps the organization become more open to ways to deliver on the purpose outside the specific products you sell while at the same time being very clear about what is part of the purpose and what is outside the purpose. A lot of the work I’ve done at Unilever has been around ensuring that each brand has a clearly articulated purpose and connects to sustainable living practices.

Make the inside reflect the outside

Marketers also have a responsibility to ensure that the inside of the corporation reflects the changes that are happening outside the company. Especially when it comes to technology, the pace of change among consumers is often faster than the changes inside the organization. Think of how Facebook and Twitter and Google have changed our personal lives.

EIU: It sounds like you’re saying marketing has a responsibility to ensure that the organization reflects the markets they are selling to. So if consumers are using Twitter, if they’re on Facebook, then those are also important trends to incorporate into the organization as well. You are bridging the gap between the lives of consumers and the lives of people in the organization.

Marc Mathieu: We need to modify our outreach based on how the outside world is changing. And at the same time we need to bring those external changes into the corporation. Those are the two big trends.

EIU: Could you take a crack at defining engagement marketing? What does it mean to you?

Marc Mathieu: It means developing a personalized relationship with customers in a way that yields a high degree of utility at every moment, depending on their needs, moods and mindset at that moment. One of the reasons brands like Google and Apple are so relevant today is because we engage with them all the time. With Google, I’m on solid ground: search, Gmail, Google Maps, Google Earth and so on. We engage with Google constantly, which results in a high degree of intimacy and makes it very relevant.

With Apple, it’s through the phone, the apps, the computer and the music. The brand is in front of me many times a day, but it’s not in my face. Apple recently removed the “I” so that it’s no longer iPad but Apple Pad and no longer iWatch but Apple Watch. So they’ve started to put the Apple brand in the core of the product brands. That’s how I would define engagement: It’s the personalized, conceptualized interaction touch that is relevant to me multiple times a day.

Define the product broadly

EIU: I can see what you’re saying with Google. But there are a lot of companies that you may need, but don’t need to interact with very much. I’m thinking of my insurance company, for instance. Maybe I interact with them twice a year. How do you apply engagement to organizations where the nature of the product is such that there are very few touch points?

Marc Mathieu: I would disagree with you about your insurance company. If it’s car insurance, you probably engage with your car twice a day if not more. Think about insurance in the context of your relationship with your car as opposed to the relationship with your insurer.

EIU: If you define the product broadly enough, in the context of how it is actually used, engagement is possible across a much wider range of interactions.

Marc Mathieu: Which is exactly why I spend a lot of time thinking about the role of platforms in the marketing of the future. Platforms can bring together the delivery of multiple products and services in ways that can help serve people’s needs. Think about the evolving business models of Google and Apple. Last year they were voted the number-one and -two brands in the world. Ask yourself the question, “What does that mean for my brands and marketing strategies?”

We developed The Unilever Foundry as a platform to connect our brand with marketing start-ups. We used to work with start-ups one by one, but now we have a system that enables us to work with start-ups at the scale of Unilever. It’s not a consumer-facing platform, but it’s still external-facing. It’s an ecosystem that is integrated into a network of Unilever brand vice-presidents, who are the people start-ups want to develop pilots with.

Sanjay served as Marketo's CMO for nearly five years, leading the marketing department through its worldwide expansion and IPO. He joined Marketo from Crowd Factory, where as CEO he was responsible for the strategic direction and vision of the company. Sanjay holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA in strategy and marketing from the Kellogg School of Management.

Read Sanjay's Blogs

How do you find your #marketing truth? @marcfmath of @unilever shares his thoughts: #engagementmarketing

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