‘Single worst thing’ businesses can do right now

Keith Weed

In early July our fellow Verizon Media colleagues in Australia organised a webinar called “Trends Decoded: Recovery and Re-emergence” with Keith Weed, ex-global chief marketing officer (CMO) at Unilever and Forbes' Most Influential Marketer, as a special guest. This was the opportunity for him to share his thoughts on the crisis we are going through and how marketers should approach it.



Article originally published in Yahoo Finance in Australia on July 2nd.

The coronavirus pandemic has taught people around the world how to live smaller lives.

Whether that’s due to significantly decreased budgets, fewer socialisation opportunities or literally a reduced space in which to live their lives, the pandemic has forced billions to slow down and take stock. 

And for businesses, that raises a few key questions: how can a business engage with a customer that has realised they don’t need or even want more stuff? 

And, how can a business convince a customer that not only are their services or products desirable, they’re essential in this new world? 

For ex-global chief marketing officer (CMO) at Unilever and Forbes' Most Influential Marketer Keith Weed, the answer is to lock profit with purpose and continue moving forward. 

“We went through a crisis period and it was very right that you had to tighten belts really tight. But let's be really clear - we have all suffered from the decline of the crisis [and] the worst thing that could happen to your business now is that you miss the bounce on the other side - that's called a double whammy and you don't want one of those,” he told Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Sarah O’Carroll during the Trends Decoded: Recovery and Re-emergence webinar

“You don't want to be hit by the crisis and continue on nose-plowing after that, so this is the moment right now for marketers to step forward.”

The period for hibernation is over and it’s time for businesses to prepare and begin marketing their products again. 

“If we don't get sales and revenue going quickly, what you'll do is you'll end up with all of the costs but none of the revenue,” he said.

“We're seeing consumers coming back slowly but your business needs to get ahead of the curve and the only way your business is going to get ahead of the curve is, as marketers, you need to start making the case very strongly for reinvestment... Because, quite simply, people forget.”

Merging profit with purpose 

The first half of 2020 can be defined by two huge global events: coronavirus and the rapid growth and prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement and push towards greater diversity and corporate social responsibility. 

Where does that leave marketers? 

As Kendall Jenner and Pepsi could tell you, brands need to take care when it comes to using or speaking about a movement. 

“We’ve seen some terrible mistakes, and none of us want to be the case study of the terrible mistakes,” Weed said. 

“I do think there is a role for brands being more purposeful in the way that they engage with society and the way that they engage with people and… the way you engage has to be relevant to your brand, your category and to where you fit into people’s lives.” 

He said there’s never a good time to start a journey, but if brands haven’t started a purposeful journey now is the best time. 

And that doesn’t mean coming out with flags and whistles, because that can come across as inauthentic. Rather, brands need to go back to the core of their brand and existence, their consumers and understand where they are right now. 

“These things matter to people and you need to understand how you are relevant to your consumers because… if you’re talking about something completely irrelevant, people will stop talking to you.”

It comes down to humanising the brand, Weed said. 

And it works: during his nine years as CMO at Unilever, Weed said the purpose-led brands including Dove and Ben and Jerry’s saw greater growth and profitability. 

So, Unilever began transitioning all the brands in their portfolio to be led by purpose. 

“The first most important issue is to work out what's right with your brand. And then where do you want to get to?” he said. 

He said businesses lost sight of purpose in the ‘80s and ‘90s when focus shifted to “selling more stuff”, but it’s critical that businesses rediscover their compass. 

“People are often saying, ‘What's the business case for sustainability?’ And I always say, ‘What's the business case for the alternative? What's the business case for destroying the very planet we live in? What's the business case in undermining the communities we serve with terrible inequalities?’

“To me, that [purpose-led] trend is already here and we’ll see a step change.”