NEWS10 March 2020

Unilever reveals the ‘secret sauce’ driving innovation and growth

Data analytics FMCG Impact 2020 Innovations News Retail UK

UK – Unilever is making savings of more than €30m each year by putting real-time consumer insight at the centre of decision-making.

Unilever and Capgemini session_crop

The company’s insight chief Alex Owen said at the Market Research Society’s Impact 2020 conference that it now gets double the impact in half the time and at half the cost than it did five years ago after introducing People Data Centres. 

Owen, CMI vice-president, global head of People Data Centres and Consumer Data Governance, told the audience: “We started to see the massive impact of digital connections on consumers. We realised that if we didn’t change we wouldn’t remain relevant, either within the organisation as a function or – more importantly – with consumers.”

In partnership with Capgemini it developed the People Data Centres concept and is now rolling it out to other brands and advertisers.  

He said they realised quickly they were taking the wrong approach – the right approach was asking how they did insight in a different way, though he stressed that Unilever continued to spend “millions” on traditional research.

“This is not business as usual,” he continued. “Sustainable growth has never been more necessary. We have to work harder and more creatively to keep up with change and continue to drive business growth.”

The initiative started in three markets with thirty people and a philosophy of “test, learn, fail and adapt”. Today it is in 30 locations, across 27 languages, with 250 people supporting the insight delivery – across all areas of the business. It sees 411m reviews every day, has processed 500m social posts and delivered more than 7,000 insights services to date. 

Said Owen: “We believe we have the secret sauce.” The PDCs deliver it product insights; strategy understanding and trends; audiences and segmentation; campaign, content, communications and media, M&A and competitor intelligence and channel analytics. 

Despite Unilever’s size, it retained the idea of a start-up, he said, adding: “It is important to challenge the status quo, otherwise we wouldn’t continue to develop. There are others doing this but I don’t know of anyone doing it at the scale that we are.”

It was now, with Capgemini, looking to commercialise the concept. Bhavesh Unadkat, principal consultant, retail customer engagement at Capgemini Consulting, said it was already working with a premium alcohol brand that had been struggling in a certain markets. “We were already delivering valuable insights within a couple of days,” he said.