Cannes Lions 2018: Founder’s mindset is the secret to success: Keith Weed, Unilever CMO

The session discussed how founders used purpose to build trust, which is critical for any successful sustainable business

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Updated: Jun 21, 2018 3:00 PM

William Hesketh Lever, Founder of Unilever, wanted to make the world a better place. He was a real champion in the area of purpose well before Mckinsey and others were teaching people about purpose statements, said the company’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Keith Weed, at Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 2018.

Addressing the session on ‘The Founders Formula: Pioneering for Purposeful Growth’, Weed said founders are very important to Unilever and it is a principle that runs through their veins. Also featuring in the session were a trio of purpose-driven founders: Richelieu Dennis, Founder- CEO - Executive Chairman of Sundial Brands; Guido Martinetti, Founder – CEO of Grom; and Jane Wurwand, Co-Founder - Chief Visionary of Dermalogica®, The International Dermal Institute® and FITE.

Weed discussed how a ‘founder’s mindset’ is the secret to success. “Lever wanted to make cleanliness commonplace, and he wanted to lighten the burden on women. He understood that the best way to have a healthy business was to have a healthy society. And he understood the power of trust. A brand without trust is just a product.”

“Trust is still important in what we do in building brands. It’s no longer an industrial issue but a societal issue of our own trust. Hence, Unilever made three commitments to rebuild trust: 1. Unilever will not invest in platforms that bring harm to children or division in society; 2. Get responsible content, the kind that reflected the society we wanted. We started off un-stereotyping advertising within Unilever and made sure gender stereotypes were removed. Thirdly, responsible infrastructure where we will only partner with organisations which are committed to creating better digital infrastructure, such as aligning around one measurement system and improving the consumer experience,” explained Weed.

He reiterated his stand on addressing follower fraud, “People buying followers or having bots tweeting and doing views is the worst thing for brands. We need to take steps to make this market fit for future growth. There has to be transparency from influencers and transparency from brands. We will not work with influencers who buy followers. We will prioritise partners who increase transparency and help eradicate bad practices throughout the whole ecosystem.”

He stated that today, Unilever’s 26 “sustainable living” brands are delivering 70 per cent of the company’s growth and are growing 46 per cent faster than other Unilever brands. Some of those brands are older, established brands like Vaseline. Some are new brands the company has created. And some are purpose-driven brands that Unilever has acquired, including Ben & Jerry’s, Seventh Generation, and three companies represented in the session: Grom ice-cream, Sundial beauty products, and Dermalogica skin care.

Wurwand of Dermalogica spoke about the brand being the first American professional product, up against the European salon products. “As a start-up entrepreneur, you look for pain in an industry and you step in to resolve it. I am a skin therapist and we saw skin therapists who were not successful because of lack of training and education. We believed if you could upskill the industry, we could move them away from selling a ‘miracle in a bottle’ to selling real solutions. We started as an education company, the product came later.” She said 90 per cent of our skin therapists are women.

Dennis of Sundial Brands said, “We started making and selling African Black soaps and different natural preparations the way my grandmother did in our village in Sierra Leone, and sold them on the streets of Harlem. We realized there were no brands in those days—the early 90s—that were focused on women of colour. We started to focus on that and in a way support women who manufacture them, to make sure a percentage of our profits went to our providers in the supply chain.”

Having worked in a winery, Martinetti of Grom gelato and ice creams, had learned the importance of “treating the agriculture and the grape with kindness” and felt that the same principal could be applied to “making the best gelato in the world.”

He quit the winery and started to build a relationship with the farmers who would be the company’s suppliers eventually. “When I talked to the farmers they believed in my approach; that I would pay them the right price for the best raw materials. I talked with cocoa famers in Venezuela and the vanilla farmers in Madagascar. It was the first step to building relationships that were based on trust.”

The session highlighted the fact that all founders were driven by a sense of mission that went beyond the product.

“Functionality is no longer enough for any brand,” said Dennis. “For us, it’s been about the passion that goes into serving a consumer that nobody else cared to serve, and the things we can do—beyond the product—to make the lives of those people better.”

Wurwand added that it was all about the human touch and the human connection. “If you can make that connection, the product comes automatically. This is what marketing and retail is all about.”

Martinetti explained the connection between his family experience and his inter-personal relationships and how that can be applicable in business too. “In personal life and in business, it’s the same. You earn trust the same way, with honesty. Stay pure, stay true to yourself, and stay honest.”

Weed concluded saying the way to be successful sustainably into the future is to invest in the people around you. “We believe responsible business is not just about our factories and our offices and our day-to-day business, but also in our extended supply chain, which most people think of in terms of agricultural and industrial processes, but it also includes the digital supply chain and the company’s marketing activities.”

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