Unilever bigs up effectiveness of data-driven strategy

unilever 2Consumer goods giant Unilever, which has over 400 brands and operates across more than 190 markets globally, has hailed its data-driven strategy for a major uplift in the effectiveness of its marketing activity and return on investment.

The company, whose brands include Dove, Lipton, and Ben & Jerry’s, is a long-term advocate of the data-driven ethos. It claims to have used its People Data Centres (PDCs) to create 1 billion one-to-one relationships with its customers through “meaningful and relevant dialogue”.

Speaking following its Q2 interim results, Unilever chief executive Alan Jope – who took on the role in January – said that data and digital technology now drive all marketing activity, with 24 digital hubs pumping out more than 600 data-driven marketing campaigns.

This has helped Unilever to slash brand and marketing investment while maintaining effectiveness through digital advertising and real-time spend optimisation, he insisted, although exact figures were not revealed. However, the firm does spend well over €7bn (£6.2bn) on marketing every year, so even small percentage savings have a massive impact.

Jope added: “[We are] shifting to a data-driven marketing approach. Our brand communications are led by a deliberate and data-driven audience segmentation and programmatic approach to media buying.”

Unilever is planning to get more digital hubs operational although it admits that the skills shortage remains a challenge and is adding to costs.

However, even data-driven marketing cannot perform miracles. The Q2 figures highlighted lower ice cream sales in European markets, which have not enjoyed as many hot spells this year as in 2018, as being a drag on performance.

Even so, Unilever was still able to hit its targets, including its aim of achieving an underlying profit margin of 20% this year. Overall Unilever recorded quarterly sales of €13.7bn (£12.3bn), and the company saw sales grow 3.5% and volume grow 1.2%.

Earlier this year, Unilever linked its PDCs with Google Cloud AI, a move which it claims means it can generate insights faster than ever before and gain a deeper understanding of customer needs.

At the time, Unilever vice-president of global PDCs Alex Owens said: “Part of what makes Google Cloud a great partner is its brainpower and resources. The data-centric culture of test, learn and optimise has been a hallmark of our relationship, and it makes us confident that we’ll be seeing fantastic new products and applications in the future.

“At Unilever, we believe in purpose-driven brands. Google Cloud’s products are rich in quality and purpose, and its people are committed to customers like us.”

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