NEWS17 March 2015

‘This is a leadership moment for the market research profession,’ says Unilever’s Polman

News UK

UK — Unilever CEO Paul Polman has told attendees at the MRS Annual Conference that the market research profession must use its assets to drive change.


In his keynote speech at day one of the Market Research Society (MRS) Annual Conference: Impact 2015, Polman said that the market research profession had thus far failed to do this effectively. “You have these assets to drive change: for example, there’s an incredible amount of data, which could be useful, but some sectors are drowning rather than using it to drive action.”

Polman described how brands have a central role in driving awareness and impact of issues such as global warming, poverty, and inequality. These issues can be addressed together, he said, by putting the interest of the common good ahead of our own personal or business interests. In order to do this, market research must play a central role.

“Market research is more important than ever. We are losing the plot in many ways – the environment is becoming increasingly more volatile. We must collectively come together to make an impact, to drive change. Insight will be central to this.”

Polman described how consumers are more connected and engaged than ever before and insisted that this is an opportunity for brands to connect with them emotionally, via research. Business models, he said, must represent people that can’t represent themselves: “By prioritising social issues, business success can follow”, he said.

Polman gave the example of Unilever brand Lifebuoy soap, which has a social mission to improve life expectancy around the world – particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia – by teaching healthy hand washing practice. As a side effect of this mission, the brand has seen significant growth. “We can solve challenges and at the same time grow business by breaking habits and changing behaviour,” he said.

Polman went on to say that this is a “leadership moment for the market research profession”.

He urged conference attendees to ask themselves a number of difficult questions. “Are you doing enough? Not just responding to client briefs, but making a contribution to mankind? What can you do as an industry? What can you do personally?

“Business as usual isn’t the answer.”