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Companies are not changing at the same pace as their customers: Simon Clift

07-August-2013
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Companies are not changing at the same pace as their customers: Simon Clift

Former Global CMO of Unilever Simon Clift threw light on ‘how digital media and the changing agenda of citizens’ concerns is changing brand communications forever’, while addressing an exclusive audience of CMOs at The CMO League – an initiative by exchange4media Group.

Drawing on his vast experience of 30 years spent at Unilever, it wasn’t surprising that Clift drew many of his insights from his time spent at the Anglo-Dutch major.

The rapidly changing media environment has made it necessary for marketers to be present on multiple platforms, but Clift believes that companies are not changing at the same pace as their customers. This is because most marketers belong to “the lost generation” – people who are not digital natives (have not grown up in the digital age) – and thus, still have the fear factor when it comes to incorporating digital as part of their marketing plan. 

While many marketers still cannot dream of “life without TV”, Clift highlighted the campaign of the fastest growing ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s in the UK, which was a completely digital campaign.

Clift also brought to the fore the point that brands need to pay heed and acknowledge consumer concerns. This is important as trust in companies is falling globally. Consumers are increasingly blaming companies for problems and expect them to address these issues. Unilever, on its part, put these concerns on centre-stage and benefitted immensely. And, this reflected on the company’s share prices.

Finally, Clift highlighted the characteristics of a successful brand:
Universal truth: It is important for brands with universal briefs to also focus on local insights and gather these inputs from different sources. Clift draws on the example of deodorant brand Axe, which was launched in the UK in 1982. The brand was not launched across the Atlantic despite its success on the belief that there was no demand for the product. Unilever finally launched Axe in 2003 in the US and garnered over $4 billion in revenues. Clift believes that had Unilever understood the universal need of the target group, it would have entered the US market much earlier. Clift added that that most borders in global organisations are created by managers.

Purposeful positioning: Unilever was founded on the principle of purposeful positioning and this principle continues till date with the brand Lifebuoy being the best example. Lifebuoy’s campaigns have been positioned to teach children to wash their hands, particularly before any meal, thus ensuring a healthier lifestyle. Clift says that this helps the brand not only in engaging consumers, but also stakeholders, particularly employees, who feel proud to be associated with such an organisation. What also pays is differentiated advertising, a fact best illustrated by Unilever’s very successful ‘Real Beauty’ campaign.  Clift added, “Purpose and creativity can change the company RoI.”

Total brand experience: Successful brands are those that are able to reposition themselves and meet the consumers’ desires. The perfect example being Nike, which successfully repositioned itself from being a shoe seller to a services provider. Clift reiterated that brands need to listen to the consumer closely, otherwise the power that the consumer wields today with “access to internet and a little creativity, can significantly impact brands”.

Simon Clift was speaking at a unique idea exchange called The CMO League, hosted in Mumbai on August 6, 2013. The event was sponsored by Zee, ABP News, Dainik Bhaskar, Laqshya Outdoors, AXN, India Today, Headlines Today and Business Today. 

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