How Unilever use insight as an engine for growth

I came across an interesting article on Linked In by Keith Weed, Unilever's CMO, on the company's "Insights Engine". This approach has been developed to respond to the significant "changes in how brands and consumers interact and engage with each other and the ever-growing importance of mobile/social".

Here are the three main drivers of change that Unilever are pursuing in their approach to insight.

Data-driven customisation

"Having troves of data is of little value in and of itself, " Keith rightly points out. We have seen this first hand on brandgym projects. Teams show the huge "pipe" of social listening data they have access to, but often all this shows is "noise" and random chatter. The key is "looking for smart data about consumer motivations", based on a clear objective.

A good example from Unilever is All Things Hair, a platform Unilever built with Google and YouTube. Keith explains how the platform does three main things: 

  • Predicting hair trends up to 6 months in advance with 90% accuracy
  • Providing blogger content based on those trends on the YouTube platform (see good old Zoella in action below)
  • eCommerce links included to buy the range of Unilever products – from Tresemme and Dove through to Sunsilk

The latter point, using this platform to SMS (sells more stuff) sounds great, though I couldn't see this on the site.

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 12.24.35


The second area of focus is collaboration. This means ensuring that internally the Insights function "works across business areas to share information and support the various areas of the business". We observe on brandgym projects how the best insight teams really are an "engine for growth" as Keith describes, rather than a traditional research function separate from the business.

Unilever is also looking to boost their ability "to talk to consumers easily and quickly using an “always-on” platform". This is provided via a start-up called, who arrange virtual meetings with consumers anywhere in the world. Keith describes how this is used to ensure that at all levels of the organisation stay close to the consumer, "from the category presidents down to the junior brand managers".


The final area of focus is around "empowering people to experiment and innovate", including the Unilever Foundry platform that connects brands with start-ups and entrepreneurs. This allows "brands to pilot quickly, learn from the experience and scale if it works". We at the brandgym have invested ourselves in nine marketing tech start-ups through the Collider program, several of whom are also part of the Unilever Foundry. These investments have exposed us to interesting new insight companies that we are connecting our clients with, including some I posted on here.

In conclusion, Unilever's approach is an inspiring example of how to make insight an engine of growth. As Keith says, "Much of what an insights function doe is gather and analyse data. But we need to go from ‘what’, to ‘so what’ to ‘now what’".