Paul Holmes 20 Jun 2018 // 9:50AM GMT
CANNES—William Hesketh Lever, the founder of Unilever was a pioneer of purpose, the company’s chief marketing and communications officer Keith Weed told an audience at Cannes this morning, introducing a session on “ The Founders Formula: Pioneering for Purposeful Growth” featuring a trio of purpose-driven founders.
Talking of Lever, Weed said: “He saw the slums of London in his day and he had a purpose statement long before McKinsey. He wanted to make cleanliness commonplace, and he wanted to lighten the burden on women. He understood that the best way to have a healthy business was to have a healthy society. And he understood the power of trust.”
At Unilever, Weed said, “the founder’s purpose is still very much alive. As marketers we try to keep that idea alive.” Today, Unilever’s 26 “sustainable living” brands are delivering 70% of the company’s growth and are growing 46% faster than other Unilever brands. Some of those brands are older, established brands like Vaseline. Some are new brands the company has created. And some are purpose-driven brands that Unilever has acquired, including Ben & Jerry’s, Seventh Generation, and three companies represented on the Cannes stage: Grom ice-cream, Sundial beauty products, and Dermalogica skin care.
“We started making and selling natural black soaps in our kitchen, the way my grandmother did back home, and selling them in the streets of Harlem,” said Richelieu Dennis, the Liberian founder, CEO and executive chairman of Sundial Brands. “We realized there were no brands in those days—the early 90s—that were focused on women of color. We started to focus in on that and also support women, to make sure a percentage of our profits went to our providers in the supply chain.”
Having worked in a winery, Guido Martinetti, founder and CEO of Grom, had learned the importance of “treating the agriculture and the grape with kindness” and felt that principal could be applied to “making the best gelato in the world.” He left, and started to build up a relationship with the farmers who would be the company’s suppliers.
“When I talked to the farmers they believed in my approach, that I would pay them the right price for the best raw materials. I talked with cocoa famers in Venezuela and the vanilla farmers in Madagascar. It was the first step to building relationships that were based in trust.”
Jane Wurwand, co-founder and chief visionary at Dermalogica, explained further: “As a start-up entrepreneur you look for pain in an industry you love. I am a skin therapist and we saw skin therapists who were not successful because of a lack of training and education. We believed if you could upskill the industry, we could move them away from selling a ‘miracle in a bottle’ to selling real solutions. We started as an education company and product came later.”
In all cases, the founders were driven by a sense of mission that went beyond the product.
“Functionality is no longer enough for any brand,” said Dennis. “For us, it’s been about the passion that goes into serving a consumer that nobody else cared to serve, and the things we can do—beyond the product—to make the lives of those people better.”
Added Wurwand: “It’s about the human touch and the human connection. If you can make that connection, the product comes automatically. We talk about what marketing and retail is about. It’s about that: the human connection.”
Martinetti went further, explaining the connection between his family experience and his inter-personal relationships and the way he does business. “In personal life and in business, it’s the same. You earn trust the same way, with honesty. Stay pure, stay true to yourself, stay honest.”
That issue of trust has been animating a good deal of recent activity at Unilever, Weed said. “We have to think differently about trust going forward. We have a societal issue around trust.”
So earlier this year Unilever revealed three commitments: to responsible platforms, harm to children and division to society; responsible content: eliminating gender stereotyping; responsible infrastructure. On Monday, the company also addressed the issue of follower fraud in the influencer market.
“We believe responsible business is not just about our factories and our offices and our day-to-day business, but also in our extended supply chain,” which people most think of in terms of agricultural and industrial processes, but according to Weed also include “the digital supply chain” and the company’s marketing activities.