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When Marc Mathieu, SVP marketing at Unilever, called Innate Motion in September 2011, he had two clear ideas: First, Unilever wanted a change. CEO Paul Polman had set a clear vision for the company – to double its business in 10 years, whilst halving its environmental footprint and improving the lives of the people it touches. That growth would have to be achieved by Unilever’s 400 brands. Second, the way Unilever runs its marketing had to change. It had become largely technical and process-oriented, with little greatness coming out of complex brand teams and structures. Marketers thought in terms of market share, innovations, executions; but had largely lost the sense of building brands that change people’s lives.  Marc had designed 3 core principles to re-invent the Unilever way of marketing: 1.  PEOPLE FIRST – this was about getting back to understand the people who use the brands, as people not just as “consumers”. 2.  BUILDING BRAND LOVE – this made clear Unilever was in the business of "brands that people love”. Like Nike or Coca-Cola, Unilever wanted people to connect with its brands, love them, identify with them, as opposed to only buying products that the company marketed.  3.  UNLOCK THE MAGIC – this was a call for better, bolder, richer execution. To do great, not good. But Marc needed help to make the change happen, which was the reason for his call.


1. Prototyping

2. The new Brand Love Key

In the first weeks of the journey, we agreed with the team at Unilever that change would not happen by planning a beautiful new model and rolling it out top-down. Unilever has 7,000 marketers, belonging to different organizations in a matrix structure. It is complex, and decisions are difficult to reach. We agreed we would operate through prototyping: putting in place new processes and approaches on a small scale with the teams wanting to test them out, so as to both seed change and learn.

At Unilever, the source of every piece of work in marketing is the brand key, a document that captures the positioning of a brand. But the format of the brand key was a challenge. It was rooted into notions such as “category insights” that framed the thinking of every marketer in a classic “better than my competitor” approach. A new way of marketing couldn’t come into place if the key documents forced an old thinking process. Gradually, we built an agreement around the idea of changing the format.

Over 6 months, we ran transformational journeys on 5 brands, using totally new approaches. We leveraged different thinking models - such as Believer’s Pyramid, a tool that allows us to develop brand positionings that are rooted in human and cultural tensions, which integrates a brand’s purpose from early on. The new ways stuck: the brand teams loved them, shared them, got results. We learned what was working best, and gradually solidified these approaches into simple, duplicable formats. After prototyping, we could move into a phase of solidification.

A new “Brand Love Key” was designed and approved: with it, Unilever probably became the first company in the world to integrate the “purpose" and "sustainability strategy” of its brands at the very core of their strategy documents.

3. Brand Deep Dives

4. Immersions

The new ways we had designed to arrive at richer positioning with the “prototype” brands were solidified into the “Brand Deep Dive” methodology. The Brand Deep Dives deeply changed the approach used for positioning development, by rooting the process in immersive conversations between a broad team of marketers and the people who used their brand.

One of the elements prototyped with the teams was the “Immersions”. Unilever had a habit of conducting “consumer connects”: marketers would visit consumers, spend 45 minutes at their homes, and talk about their brand and products. The Immersions reinvented the process, guiding the marketers into spending two full hours at a consumer’s house, to build a deep, human conversation about the themes that the brand is rooted in. On hair products, they would speak about self-image, about relationships, about success and appearance. On food products, they would speak about family and family rituals, about pleasure, about sharing…

Developing a positioning for a global brand ceased to be an exercise run by a brand VP and the agency planner located in a HQ London office. It became a crowd-sourced exercise, involving teams in various locations that tapped into the people-topeople empathy they built with their consumers. Today, the Brand Deep Dives have been turned into a standard approach to develop brand positioning, leading to better and deeper strategic brand constructs.

The marketers who were part of the program learned to use empathy, to be touched by the people they visited, and understand how their lives were motivated by aspirations, tensions – but they also understood how their brand was deeply rooted in these human tensions. They came back changed, and their work became deeper.

So the Immersions were turned into a standard approach. Innate Motion trained over 300 people within Unilever’s extensive research organization, so they could train their colleagues to use the new approach. In a matter of months, 7,000 marketers went through the program.

5. Storytelling As these programs were rolled out, Innate Motion helped the marketing leadership team to communicate internally and effect change throughout the organization. Presentations, books, online materials were created, to help the change travel. We even wrote thought leadership pieces for publications in newspapers like the Guardian: change is slow at Unilever, and for people inside, seeing reports in the media about what is changing in their organization helps make these changes real. And it continues‌ Unilever is thriving. Some of the brands we have helped rebuild, like Hellmann’s or Sunsilk, are back achieving aggressive growth after many years of struggle. But more work is needed to help the organization further its ambition. Today as our next company-wide project, we are working with Unilever to deepen the integration of sustainability into their marketing activities.

Case study Unilever: Crafting Brands for Life  
Case study Unilever: Crafting Brands for Life  

When Marc Mathieu, SVP marketing at Unilever, called Innate Motion in September 2011, he had two clear ideas: First, Unilever wanted a chang...