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Marc Mathieu

Senior Vice-President, Marketing | 27 Jul 2012

RoI can also be return on Ideas or Inspiration or Insight. We believe that we lead people to trust our products due to which they spend their money on our products. Therefore, it is our responsibility, as marketers, to utilise consumers’ money properly by initiating marketing activities that engage our consumers for longevity of the brand

As Senior Vice-President, Marketing, Unilever, Marc Mathieu is responsible for the development of Unilever’s new global marketing strategy – Crafting Brands for Life – which supports the company’s sustainable growth ambition of doubling the size of its business while reducing its environmental impact.

Prior to joining Unilever, Mathieu was Senior Vice-President, Global Brand Marketing, at Coca-Cola, where he created the 'Coke Side of Life' global campaign and developed their sustainability platform – ‘Live Positively’. He had joined the company in 1996.

In conversation with Noor Fathima Warsia, Mathieu speaks about what has shaped Unilever’s marketing strategy, leveraging digital, marketing RoI and more…

Q. You have stressed on putting people at the centre of communication. That is how marketers say they approach the communication business. What has been Unilever’s take on this?

Sometimes I do feel that I am opening open doors, because putting people at the centre of marketing almost seems like a platitude, as that is what a marketer should do. Great marketing can be done by putting people at the centre, and that is why we have put this as the first mantra of crafting brands for life. Due to the pressure in the last few decades, we marketers have put a screen between us and the people we market at. In fact, look at the vocabulary we use – we say market ‘at’ rather than ‘to’. We say target. If you are a target, you are not going to trust the person on the other side. We have borrowed these analogies from war, but everything communicates and practices such as these create a distance. There is a need to enable, recognise and give value to human context, because marketing is a human science and is fundamentally about people.

Because we have pushed the machine a bit too far, people don’t trust marketing profession much – they always think it is about selling. If you go back into history – when William Lever launched brands such as Lifebuoy or Sunlight, it was driven by the desire to improve the life of people. The Sunlight ad went beyond the concept of cleaning dirt from clothes; it was about easing the load of doing laundry and in the process improving the life and even position of women in society. I thought it was genius to call a soap Lifebuoy – fundamentally, the belief went beyond that of a soap that kills germs and became a matter of survival. These are examples that brands have a role to play in guiding us in the difficult journey of changing behaviour.

Q. Do you see enough craft going into brand creation these days?

As marketers, we have unfortunately allowed the quarter-to-quarter mentality of Wall Street drive us to think about brands as tools as opposed to a construct that guides our behaviour and helps in dealing with things such as fear and anxiety or answer questions or becomes a life philosophy. One of the best brands that were developed with longevity in mind was America – life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. It is the best brand position that you can think of. It’s really interesting to see how when you think of a brand like that and anchor it with some strong statements, people actually buy into it. The product too must deliver on the idea for the consumer to finally buy into it.

Q. Another one of you mantras is digital -- how can digital be leveraged more effectively by marketers?

Digital is not for marketers alone, but for everyone. Empowerment comes with digital and that is the fundamental we need to embrace. There is a whole dimension of social that comes with it. I used to say, computers wouldn’t be the same without Apple. Similarly, the web would not be the same without Facebook. They are using digital as a social enabler. You could be on your device one-on-one, but Facebook helps organise conversations.

The true beauty is when physical meets digital, as in the case of Nike Fuel Band. Digital becomes an enabler of physical on various counts, such as health and well-being. Social is a whole space of how one can understand and track behaviour change better. How sustainable living can become more desirable and rewarding through digital, is in fact one of the conversations that we are spending a lot of time on to understand better.

Q. What are the challenges that you face when it comes to brand building in a market like India?

According to me, there are two sides of India – one is urban India and the other is shifting India, the India that is shaping the India of tomorrow, which is rural India. It is for this rural India that companies such as Unilever take huge responsibilities and find opportunities to make a difference. For a company like Unilever, which has created a rich heritage and trust with its portfolio of brands over the years in a market like India, we aim to implement marketing activities in the marketing care way.

Q. Marketing, marketing magic, marketing care – will they ever go hand-in-hand with marketing RoI?

We believe when we talk about RoI is that at times, it also means Return on Ideas, Return on Inspiration or Return on Insight. When it comes to reality, we believe that we lead people to trust our products due to which they spend their money on our products. Therefore, it is our responsibility as marketers to use consumers’ money properly by initiating marketing activities for our consumers that are engaging and allow longevity of the brand.

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