As an industry we are moving from mass media to micro-relationships
As an industry we are moving from mass media to micro-relationships
A view from Jeremy Basset

Unilever Foundry's five innovation bets for 2016

Startups are constantly reinventing the world we live in, creating new, more effective, more efficient and more sustainable solutions to the challenges, says the head of Unilever Foundry.

In 2015 we launched an initiative that takes 50 of world’s best marketing tech startups to Cannes Festival of Creativity for the Lions Innovation festival: Unilever Foundry 50.

Now in its second year, the competition gives these startups the opportunity to showcase their technology and pitch their solutions to brand and agency leaders to form new partnerships and grow their businesses in the process.

This year we’ve chosen to focus on startups that are set to change five key areas of innovation that we see as pivotal for the marketing industry over the next 12 months: future of retail; emerging brand and content creation technologies; innovation in data insights and personalisation; emerging sustainable business models; new technologies for the next generation.

So, what it is about these areas of marketing that we think is ripe for investment in some positive disruption?

Future of retail

The future of retail has been much debated. Consumers across the world are increasingly comfortable with online and mobile shopping and in many countries digital retail is now the channel of choice.

Global ecommerce retail sales are expected to rise to $1.92 trillion by the end of 2016 and many analysts are concerned about how this will affect bricks and mortar retail.

While the in-store retail experience may have become stale for these digital consumers, retailers have the opportunity to bring their on- and off-line shopping experiences together to bring the speed and convenience of online shopping in-store.

From creating a seamless, omni-channel experience to implement exciting new virtual and augmented reality technology in physical stores, this convergence could create the most exciting retail experiences we’ve ever had.

More than that, the real goal is to find ways to help consumers reduce the scope of their search and simplify their shopping experience, and in the process, make retail stores more intuitive and brands more attractive.

Emerging brand and content creation technologies

According to DOMO research, 277,000 tweets, 2.4 million Facebook posts, and 216,000 Instagram photos are shared every minute of every day.

Coupled with the rise of streaming sites such as Netflix and Spotify, and disruptive publishers like Vice and Buzzfeed, and you get a sense of the infinite number of content choices consumers have at their disposal.

With all this choice also comes the rapid uptake of ad blockers. As marketers, we can no longer rely on the advertising mechanics that we used to.

Content production is exceeding consumption, so quality and relevance is more important than ever. And consumers are savvy to branded content. Its not enough to just create we need to be engaging, insightful, relevant and useful.

There is an opportunity to move consumers from being passive consumers to being co-creators – involving them in the content creation process to deliver a more personalised and relevant output. So that they choose to spend time with our brands.

Innovations in data, insights and personalisation

With all the technological innovations over the past few years, as an industry we are moving from mass media to micro-relationships.

We have the ability to communicate with consumers on a one on one basis, with completely bespoke messaging that suits their needs wants and desires, on a scale of millions or even billions. That’s incredibly exciting.

But in order to do that, consumers need to be comfortable with providing these insights, and we need to use these insights in a way that is useful to them. We’re hoping our Foundry 50 activity will uncover some innovative startups that are able to put consumers at the heart of the engagement with brands, to provide the right content at the right time.

Emerging sustainable business models

In the same way that Unilever Foundry has helped marketing technology entrepreneurs go from startup to scaleup, we’re now looking to apply those capabilities to social entrepreneurs to scale their impact and ideas.

The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) is at the heart of everything our business does. We’re continuing to make sustainable strides in our factories and with our suppliers, but beyond our internal process we need to find people with new and innovation ideas that help brands and individuals become more sustainable.

New technologies for the next generation

Millennials are the largest population on earth, with huge market influence and marketing power.

Having grown up in the ‘technology revolution’, they’re highly engaged and highly adaptable. But with all the channels open to them research has found that they are bombarded with over 5,000 marketing messages a day.

This ‘always on’ generation lead busy lives and have an average attention span of eight seconds. They’ve learned to tune out anything that doesn’t immediately resonate with them. So how can we make our brands be heard through all the noise?

Brands need to work hard to be inspiring or useful to millennials. By presenting interesting and relevant information this audience will ultimately be more predisposed to buy your product.

We believe that technology startups will be instrumental in creating insightful marketing campaigns, enabling brands to talk to this exciting and hard to reach audience.

Jeremy Basset is the head of Unilever Foundry. Applications close at 5pm today for the Unilever Foundry 50, an initiative that takes 50 of world’s best marketing tech startups to Cannes Festival of Creativity for the Lions Innovation festival.