Keith Weed: How Purpose Can Drive Profit
A lot of businesses these days talk about purpose. But what does that actually mean, and how do brands achieve it while keeping their stakeholders happy? During his annual keynote at Cannes Lions, Unilever CMO Keith Weed harkens back to William Hesketh Lever, whose Victorian era soap company now forms part of Unilever. “He believed you really could deliver purpose AND profit,” says Weed, “and the way to have a healthy business was to have a healthy society.”
Lever was also a believer in the power of trust. “A brand without trust is just a product,” says Weed. Which is why in February this year, Unilever committed to fostering stronger levels of trust with its customers through:
1. Responsible platforms. Unilever won’t invest in any platforms or environments which do not protect children, or which create social division and spread hate.
2. Responsible content, by tackling gender stereotypes in advertising through #Unstereotype.
3. Responsible infrastructure. Unilever will only partner with organizations who are just as committed to creating a better infrastructure, such as aligning around one measurement system and improving the consumer experience.
In order to achieve these goals, Unilever demands transparency from all parties, including brands, partners, and influencers. Transparency is an increasingly pertinent concern in the realm of influencer marketing, says Weed: “Influencers are great for brands; you can create impact in the marketplace that’s good for both the creator and for your brand. But there’s a dark side to the influencer market; follower fraud. Brand owners are paying influencers based on their following, and so greater transparency is necessary. This market is too good a market to let a few bad apples ruin it. We need to take steps to ensure it’s fit for future growth.”
Driving responsible practices has to go beyond our businesses and factories, to the entire extended supply chain, both physical and digital. “There is an economic case for purpose,” says Weed. “Purposeful growth can really impact the whole of your business.” He cites the sustainable brands within Unilever as evidence, all of which are enjoying rapid growth.
To further make this case, Weed welcomes entrepreneurs to the stage to discuss how a start-up founder mentality centered around purpose can deliver both success and social benefit.
Richelieu Dennis founded Sundial in 1991, when he realized that very few brands were providing designed specifically to suit the needs of women of color, and set about bringing products to market that were natural and would provide economic opportunities to the women creating them. “Women are the earners in minority communities, taking care of parents as well as children,” he says. “If we don’t start to take care of the women who take care of us, no matter where the come from, our consumer base will erode.”
“As a start-up entrepreneur, you look for the pain in an industry that you care about,” says Jane Wurwand, founder of Dermalogica. “I saw a lack of education and skin therapists who weren’t successful in the salon industry due to a lack of training.” Dermalogica was founded to up-skill and empower skin therapists; a sector consisting of 98 per cent women. “Financial independence for women is a global game changer,” says Wurwand. “It will change every family, every household, every society.”
“Gone are the days when a business or product is successful because it has superior functionality,” he adds. “Almost everyone now puts out highly functional products. What makes a difference now is the value it brings into that person’s life, whether that be aesthetic or purpose. People care about those things now more than they ever did.”