Running the global show: Keith Weed, CMO of Unilever

Leading the marketing function of a global company is no mean feat. How do the world's top chief marketing officers handle the challenge?

Keith Weed is marketing royalty. He heads marketing at Unilever, the world’s second-biggest advertiser, which has an army of 6,000 marketers located around the world working on brands such as Axe, Dove, Lipton, Vaseline, and Ben & Jerry’s.

How do you structure your global marketing function?
In today’s organization, we can’t have marketers who are jack-of-all-trades. We need to have some people with broad responsibility for things such as brand equity, strategy, design and innovation, and others who bring this to life in real time within a country’s culture and language. We also need specialists who can really be at the top of their game in areas such as mobile, social or e-commerce.

So we have three pillars of marketing. The first is our "brand development" team, which is aligned to product categories. This team has a global approach and provides leadership of the advertising, innovation or product and design for brands such as Axe, Dove or Magnum.

Then we have "brand-building," which is organized on a local level within a country. This team is concerned with local insights, real-time marketing, promotion, engagement with the culture and the
language of individual countries.

Then we have a third part of marketing with more functional, specialist skills — whether that be in media, consumer market insight, operations, digital or ventures such as The Unilever Foundry. This is also organized globally.

Of our 6,000 marketers, roughly half are locally based brand-building marketers. The other 3,000 are part of the global teams in brand development or the specialist teams.

Why have you chosen this structure?
There are increasing synergies of human truths. A young guy who lives in Mumbai will have more in common with adolescents in Shanghai and São Paulo than with his mother and grandparents in Mumbai. So the first reason for our structure is real leverage of insight across the world.

The second is to maximize the impact of great ideas such as Dove’s "real beauty" approach. Leveraging that across markets gives Unilever a competitive advantage. You can never have enough marketers, a large enough production budget or enough advertising expertise in one country to drive that on a country-by-country basis if you go back to a local approach.

On the other side, increasingly, you need to have real-time, in-culture, in-the-language marketing. I don’t think you can have a global team for this. For instance, there were recently strikes on the London Underground. On the day of the strikes, the local team was putting out witty posters for Londoners. That could never be pulled off by someone sitting in New York not really understanding what Londoners were thinking about at any one time.

You need to have local marketers to do real-time, 24/7 content advertising. At the same time, you need global marketers to really innovate in big strategic brand communications.

How do you get global and local marketers to work together to ensure there is consistency of message?
We have an overall framework in marketing so we can unlock what’s right locally and globally. For instance, we’ve launched an approach called "ART" (authenticity, relevancy, talkability) to all our marketers and agencies. This is how we do a brand communications analysis.

This approach sits under our wider marketing strategy: "crafting brands to life." Under that, we have three principles: putting people first, building brand love and unlocking the magic.

The role of integrating a Unilever approach to marketing falls to my team.

How do you put this into practice on a day-to-day basis?
At the end of the day, the marketers can look at the brand on the corner of their paycheck and it says "Unilever." We are all Unilever marketers, but different people have different roles within that.

First, understanding the different roles is important, so we have ways of working that are clear. Our operating framework is called "DO IT," which stands for "decide, own, inform and trust."

While we buy all our media globally, that doesn’t mean those guys are sitting together in some "global" office. They are in China, Mexico, Brazil, India – sitting with the brand-building and brand development teams, but they report to a global head of media. They are part of the glue bringing it all together.

We also have techniques that enable people to work together in a very open and transparent way. We’re great users of Chatter, the platform from Salesforce.

We have 70,000 users across our business across all functions. Marketing led the way for this in Unilever. Chatter enables people, on a real-time social platform, to socialize ideas, collaborate and move quickly. It ensures the sharing of different ideas. We use the same process to share ideas in all our offices.

So we have an overall discipline of structure that enables people to operate freely within it and understand what they can do and how they can do it.

We also bring all the marketers together in a quarterly forum where we discuss ideas and engagements.

Is there one person who is responsible for each brand globally?
The ownership of brand equities goes to the brand development team. We have a senior vice president of Dove, for instance, who operates globally. The brand development and brand-building teams report to him. But if there’s a disagreement, it’s clear who has ultimate decision rights.

But to create the right culture, we deliberately move people around. I’ve run a country and a category. Most people in Unilever have done multiple jobs in different parts of the organization. Through that, people get to understand what the different roles are and the strengths and expertise different roles play.

If the roles are clear, people can operate swiftly and in an agile way. If people undermine that trust, then of course there will more control needed in the future.

In the overall global marketing structure, we have a creative excellence team that strives to keep ambition in the level of creativity as well.

It’s a classic matrix organization in that way, which I think works really well, especially on our big billion-dollar brands.

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