BW Summit: Brands with purpose grow faster: Sanjiv Mehta

In his Keynote Address, Mehta, Chairman & MD, Hindustan Unilever Limited, spoke about the three Ps that are changing the game for businesses in their preparation to be future ready

by Shikha Paliwal
Published - Aug 30, 2019 8:40 AM Updated: Aug 30, 2019 9:08 AM

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SanjivMehta

For the half an hour that Sanjiv Mehta, Chairman & MD, Hindustan Unilever Ltd., spoke before a jam-packed audience at the BW Marketing Whitebook Summit on Thursday, they listened in rapt attention. The silence was only broken intermittently by thunderous applause as Mehta outlined the importance of the three Ps--Purpose, Personalisation & Performance-- in businesses.

When the advice comes from the one on the top of his game, you can expect nothing short of a master class in marketing, and a master class it definitely was.

Mehta began the session by reminiscing about how business was back in the days. “You always start a story talking about once upon a time, so once upon a time, there was indeed a traditional marketer. It was an extremely simple world. But it was a world where you could clearly see how you would move to create a demand for your products. Over the last several years, we have moved from being production oriented to product orientated. Then we moved into the science of selling, then we brought in more science and technique into marketing, then we moved into cause related marketing. And now, we are increasingly more data oriented than ever before,” he said.

Marketing, according to Mehta, is moving from a stage where there was a huge element of push to a large element of pull. “We are moving from a classical mass marketing, to increasing personalisation. And from an interruption model to a seek model.”  

Defining purpose as timeless, he drew the audience back into history from the time of the Roman Empire to Milton Friedman, the Business Roundtable of 1997 and also the financial crisis of 2008, to underline how business was conducted earlier and how shareholder supremacy was given most importance. Post 2008, he explained, the focus started moving away from the premise of shareholder to bringing in more compassion into capitalism and shifting focus on all stakeholders. “But we need to pause and see, does the say get converted into do, or will there always be chasm between say and do,” he said.

As far as his own company is concerned, Mehta says they have been very vocal about their three fundamental beliefs. “We say that brands with purpose grow faster. Companies with purpose last longer. People with purpose thrive. These are the three fundamental beliefs that drive a company like Unilever.”

Reviving memories of a time when the company was at the receiving end of a severe backlash around an ad campaign for their detergent brand Surf Excel, he explained how he remained unperturbed about the controversy. “I am very clear that our brands stand for a purpose and if some people don’t agree with it, so be it. Despite the backlash, our sales did go up,” he said underling the need for brands to have a purpose if they wanted to succeed.

In today’s day and age when personalisation is the buzzword amongst marketers, Mehta reiterated that it is important to first understand what works best for your particular brand. “Television will still remain one of the most important and cost effective channels of communication, but it will not just be television. There will be a mix of channels you will have to deploy. It is also very true that for a large brand or a national brand, you don’t need to swing the pendulum from only TV to only digital. If you are a niche brand, you could make do with just digital. But if you are a national brand with large footprints and huge footprints in rural India, you still need TV. Today consumers are talking to us and it is important to capture the intent of the consumer, then you can customise your offerings to the consumer.”

Mehta dedicated the last leg of his session to the final P -Performance. He explained how market development too was an important aspect of their investments and precision through marketing can help achieve that.

“At the end of the day you are in the business of marketing and selling, you are in a business of converting your intent into sales. That’s what we do as marketers. The famous statement of Ogilvy is that we don’t know which 50 per cent of the marketing spend works. Today, technology and data allows you to be much more precise and much more focused in getting your return on investment. You are not going to be in a case where you can say for every dollar spent, my conversion rate is going to be 100 per cent. So long as you can increase your ROI, so long as you can increase your effectiveness, that is what will allow you to win in the future,” he explained.

In conclusion, the message Mehta left for the audience was: “Purpose pays, and like any other field, like any other function, marketing is also undergoing a big shift. Don't shy away from using technology. Don't shy away from using data and analytics. That's key to precision marketing. And that's key to performance marketing.”

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