Unilever Industry Event 2016


By Paloma Shakouri, Second Year, Business management degree student

On Friday 29th January, it was time for our third industry event of the academic year, at the Unilever Headquarters. We knew that it was going to be a very special day for Pearson College London students; we had heard rumours that there would be not one, but two CEOs in attendance! Unilever’s Paul Polman and Pearson’s John Fallon.

First to speak was Marianne Schoenauer, Global Marketing Excellence Director.

We were delighted to learn the history of Unilever. From the beginning it was clear that Unilever is an incredibly innovative company. The founder, William Lever, created the first branded soap (Sunlight), revolutionising hygiene in Victorian England. Interestingly this was the first product to not be named after a person. In addition, Unilever and Sunlight soap were the first to have a printed and mobile advertisement.

Sunlight soap still exists today. As part of the sustainable living plan, Unilever are ‘helping communities all over the world to improve hygiene, sanitation and health’. Marianne explained how the ‘world is changing’; people are living differently, more than half live in cities and by 2050 this is expected to reach 2/3; we are undergoing a digital revolution; people are moving South and East; and the environment is under strain. Of course it follows that these affect consumer behaviour, interactions and desires, and thus affects the ways Unilever will continue to be pioneers, building ‘brands with purpose’ in the changing world.

Unilever’s forward-thinking approach is clear in both their vision and mission statements. Their vision is to ‘double the size of the business’, whilst ‘reducing their environmental footprint’ and ‘increasing positive social impact’. Their mission is to make ‘sustainable living commonplace’ by halving their environmental impact of their products, striving to source 100% of their raw materials sustainably and to improve the health and wellbeing of 1 billion people around the world.

Unilever Brands

Next to speak was Christina Habib, VP CMI Refreshments talking about Putting People First: People Portrait, People Immersions, People and Data.

She described the change in marketing strategy from companies over time:

Originally companies focused on marketing the functional and emotional benefits of a particular product to consumers. As a result, initially, the better companies made more money. However, over time this lead to a flood of similar products in every category. Competition was fierce and addressing the functional and emotional benefits was not enough to attract a consumer anymore and thus loyalty drastically decreased.

Smaller brands began to create a presence, with products and campaigns that people could relate to. The combination of all of the above led to large brands losing market share. Something had to change: Brand managers needed to find a ‘new way of connecting’. Christina highlighted the importance of ‘putting the human behind the data’ and ‘understanding people as a whole’, not just subject to analytics. I thought this was particularly interesting given the relevance of the digital age we are a part of. 

Next up was Giles Morrison: Global Creative Excellence Director, who discussed ‘Building Brand Love’, the ‘Brand Love Key’, and brand purpose.

He proclaimed that we are ‘change agents’ and can achieve sustainable living. Giles then referred to the founder, William Lever, whom he quoted as saying; “There is no reason why man should not make towns liveable and healthy”.  Proving that his legacy is still very much alive in the company today. Giles explained how making products (and brands) ‘good for people’ is in turn ‘good for business’. Dove’s purpose is to help people ‘see beauty in others’ and to realise their personal beauty potential. By creating ‘products that deliver superior care’, the consumers become happier. Giles then described the Unilever ‘love triangle’ of ‘human truth’, ‘product truth’ and ‘building brand purpose’ in order to improve the lives of the ‘people [they] serve’.

He then showed us a video on how Unilever have helped solve a problem by which schools in India had water pumps fitted, but the students were unable to operate them. Understanding ‘the universal language of play’, Unilever added a rocking horse to the end of the pump so that the children could sit on them, enabling the water pump to function properly.

Jeremy Basset

Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever

Pearson Business School industry day, January 2016

We’re in the business of making this a better world for all.

Paul Polman
John Fallon

Next up was Paul Nevett: VP Unilever Brand to discuss how Unilever is integrating Sustainability into Marketing, Purpose in Action.

He went into detail about Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan – a public commitment to positive change. He described the results of a survey stating that 87% believe that business should be leading the way for societal change, but only 27% believe businesses are doing enough and so there is a need to work harder (in all industries).  

He explained that companies would be “doing well by doing good” and urged businesses to be competitive on this, as the more that are working on societal change, the ‘more good that gets done’. Paul described how 2015 was an important year for climate change and Unilever do not want to be contributing to destruction of the planet. He presented the thought-provoking statement that “a tree is safer in the city than in the forest”. Unilever and WWF are working together to help make a change.

Carrie Timms: Global Media Strategy Director then discussed Unlocking the Magic through media, communication and A.R.T.

Carrie explained that the world is increasingly connected and that “digital is disrupting the industries”, with the likes of companies such as Uber, Air BnB, Instagram and Amazon changing the way we live our lives.

The A.R.T. acronym was then described;

  • Authenticity – brands must have meaning. For example, Ben and Jerry’s, who have ‘activist values and caring souls’
  • Relevance - the consumer in context, the deeper the connection, the deeper the understanding,
  • Talkability – attention leads to action – brands should create materials that people want to react with and share.

Next to speak was Jeremy Basset: The Unilever Foundry Director, who explained how Unilever are “Pioneering Partnership & Collaboration” through their Foundry in order to solve sustainable challenges.

The Foundry is a platform by which start-ups pitch their ideas and if successful the Unilever Foundry can help make them a reality. “Innovation through collaboration”. It was launched just two years ago and has already had 3,500 applicants, 95+ start-ups piloted and 45 startups scaled up.

Jeremy then introduced our Challenge. We were presented with the statistic that 60% of people do not recycle packaging in the bathroom. Our task was to pitch our ideas to help solve this problem.

Unilever Foundry

We were then incredibly privileged to have Paul Polman, the CEO of Unilever, deliver an address to us.

He opened by expressing his delight with the partnership between Pearson and Unilever. He told us to “be sure what is important to us in our lives” and to pursue it. The amount of young people in the world is rapidly increasing. He explained how this was a positive movement: “The young want to make a difference, they are much more purpose driven”. They want to “be a part of the solution” and so does Unilever. 

He said that in the next 15 years we have the opportunity to do two things; eradicate poverty and tackle climate change. He gave us the shocking statistic that 660,000 children die each year from the lack of basic sanitation and hygiene, and that this number is the equivalent of 40 Boeing 747s full of children crashing every day.

He also explained how “the most excluded people in the world are women, and that by giving equal opportunities for all, the world would be $37 trillion USD better off.” As a collective of students so impressed by what we had experienced that day, we asked on how he has developed Unilever into such a wonderful company; he gave us two pieces of advice:

“There should be no difference in the way you manage your business and you manage your relationships” and “great leaders invest in others to be successful”.

We were also incredibly lucky to have John Fallon: Pearson Plc. CEO attend the industry event. He spoke about building great brands from the inside out and how clear it is that this takes place within Unilever. He described Unilever and Pearson as both being innovative and disruptive companies. In fact, Pearson College London actually started four years ago as a result of a pitch to John Fallon! He also mentioned how he had recently met with Paul Polman at the Save the Children event, and how they both hold similar causes very close to their hearts.

I thoroughly enjoyed the industry event and learning about Unilever; I truly believe they are a wonderful company. I deeply understand the importance of creating a brand with purpose, creating a positive social impact and how ‘doing good for people is good for business’. We received such excellent and valuable advice from the speakers.

I would like to thank both Unilever and Pearson College London for arranging such an inspiring event. I feel incredibly honoured to have been a part of it.

Interested in studying Business from within a FTSE100 Company? Check out the Pearson Business School section of our website.