Brand fragmentation is ‘a massive risk’: Unilever marketing chief

Carolin Roth, James Wright, Lucy Handley, special to CNBC
Unilever's Dove bath foam, seen in a Chinese supermarket
Zhang Peng | Getty Images

Using a variety of ways to communicate with people about your brand is a great opportunity but it also brings with it risks that people will experience it in many different ways, Unilever's chief marketing officer Keith Weed told CNBC.

Speaking to CNBC's "Marketing Media Money" TV show, to be broadcast Thursday at 10pm GMT, Weed told anchor Carolin Roth that brand integration keeps him awake at night.

"In one way you look at it and say, 'Oh my God, I've got so much choice,' you know, we can now talk to people wherever they are, on mobile, we've got location [information], they're spending time there. That choice is fantastic, and it does give us opportunities of data and target[ing], but on the other side, it's also fragmenting our brands," he said.

Weed is tackling the challenge of making sure Unilever's brands, which include deodorant Axe, Popsicle ice lollies and Simple skincare, are seen consistently, regardless of how someone is interacting with them.


"So many times you're speaking to a mobile expert and they'll say, 'Oh, you need to do it this way for mobile,' or you're on social or search, but I don't want to actually optimize it for any one channel. I want to optimize the brand experience. So even if it's an 85 percent optimized for mobile, if it's 110 percent optimized for my brand, that's great," he said during the program, part of which was filmed at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month before Kraft's abortive move on the Dutch-U.K. consumer products group.

"So the fragmentation of brands is a massive risk, and you see it all as consumers. You see in different places, the brand isn't quite the brand, and that, I think, is a real challenge for marketers. How do you create the power of a brand, the consistency and integration across all these different voices?"

One new way that Unilever is looking to communicate is via artificial intelligence, including Knorr's Chef Wendy, a bot who suggests dinner recipes when someone sends a text asking for inspiration. The Unilever Foundry – its initiative to work with start-ups - has also used video creation company Vidsy, which can quickly produce films for brands using its "creator community." Aline Santos, Unilever's senior vice president, global marketing, says that the benefit of doing so is that younger consumers – those who better understand newer social networks – are the content creators.

"In the old model I think the big creative directors and legacy talent have always dictated, you know what works, what is right. And we really believe that on mobile, a Snapchat or an Instagram campaign it's actually one of our 18 year-old creators who has more knowledge and understanding of what is working there," Santos told CNBC's James Wright on the program.

"Marketing Media Money" will be broadcast on CNBC on Thursday 23 February at 10pm GMT

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