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Brand Sustainability and Innovation: The Unilever Case Study

What a Top Brand is Doing Differently

I watched as the Lifebuoy hand washing campaign advert played. I couldn’t but admire the innovative way that Unilever had chosen to push their Lifebuoy soap. Until then, I had no idea of the soap’s existence. The campaign had managed to show me the need to keep my hands clean as well as earn my trust for Lifebuoy, one of the brands owned by Unilever.At the helm of affairs in Unilever is Paul Polman, the 60-year old Dutchman who has been the company’s CEO for the past eight years. Beyond his status as a top-level business executive, Mr. Polman is known for his global campaigns on climate change. For him, business is not just about profit, it’s about what it can do to protect the environment, in the face of global warming.

Polman appears to be strongly pushing his pro-environment agenda. His embrace of sustainability as a core management principle has influenced his company’s new operational direction. His blueprint, the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, was introduced in 2010, and now influences every aspect of the company’s worldwide operations. The plan’s premise is that customers will ultimately shun companies that fail to take environmental risks into account, while businesses that practice gender equality and environmental preservation will inevitably become more profitable.

The Challenge of Brand Building

A major challenge for companies and brands is finding innovative ways to increase profit in the long term, while meeting up with the short-term of shareholders. In the unsentimental world of markets, a company’s good intentions count for nothing if they hurt the bottom line. Over the past 12 months, the Unilever stock has slipped by more than 2%.

It is also counter-productive for any brand to introduce a new strategic direction especially in marketing and advertising, without taking public reactions into account. Unilever’s Dove Real Beauty Campaign caused the company to come under scrutiny for its “hypocritical” and opposing ideas to advertising. This was mainly because the campaign has been compared to the Lynx Campaign by the same company, which features highly sexualised images of women.

Nigerian Examples to Learn From

In Nigeria’s banking industry, Guaranty Trust Bank (GTBank) has pulled no punches in stamping its authority as a leading financial institution. GTBank’s retail brand primarily targets millennials. Therefore the brand extended its appeal to the Nigerian fashion scene via active sponsorship of the Lagos Design and Fashion Week (LDFW). In 2016, the bank introduced the maiden edition of the GTBank Fashion Weekend. The bank also sponsors the annual GTBank Food & Drink Fair. Other initiatives of GTBank that have been most appealing to millennials is the GTB SME Market Hub, an e-commerce portal launched for local SMEs in 2014. There’s also Ndani TV, an online television platform that celebrates and showcases the best of African art, fashion, film, business and sports.

How Brands Can Stay Relevant

From the scenarios discussed in this article, there are a few things that organisations should pay attention to, in the areas of brand sustainability and innovation.

  1. Acquisition of smaller successful brands may help to achieve economies of scale and expand markets.
  2. Sufficient resources should be invested in research and development. This is instrumental to growth.
  3. Developing new products may open up new markets.
  4. Emphasis should be placed on both short-term and long-term goals.
  5. Innovation should be embedded in an organisation’s culture. Consumer demands evolve and brands must evolve with them or stand the risk of becoming irrelevant.
  6. Every organisation has a duty to put the interest of the public into consideration while carrying out its operations. The organisation, while striving for profit, must be seen to give something back to the society.

© Alder Consulting 2017. All Rights Reserved.

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