Advancements in digital technology have forced a sea of change upon marketing as we know it, and Unilever CMO Keith Weed is ecstatic about the implications for his own line of work.

Speaking to PerformanceIN in the hours leading up to his Marketing Stage discussion at Web Summit 2014, Weed claimed that he has witnessed more change in marketing over the last five years than in the previous 25.

A keen observer of digital trends, he claims that brands have switched from marketing to people over to marketing with people, through direct communication channels like social media and brand building techniques such as storytelling.

Currently there is plenty of pressure being forced on brands to better serve their consumers by making good use of the technology on offer. The ability to gain a single view of each customer via online data gathering is just one of the many ways tech has forced marketers to think smarter.

With an estimated two billion consumers using Unilever products from brands such as Vaseline, Persil, Dove, Ben & Jerry’s and Lynx every single day, such a holistic approach may not always be adoptable. Yet Weed maintains that being able to connect with consumers on an individual level is “challenging” and rewarding in equal measure.

The consumer age

On the topic of the single customer view, Weed was asked about how he manages to empower the individual consumer when there are so many to cater for.

“We still need to do the big events where we capture lots of people… But on top of that, you need to have your smaller events which are more personal and individual,” he commented.

“The fact we’re trying to do both at the same time, yes, is challenging. But if there’s anything to learn about the whole digital world and the data behind it, it’s that you can be more specific in terms of targeting and ROI than ever before.

“What you can do now and online is the sort of thing I couldn’t have dreamed about when I was a young brand manager. That’s why I think this is the most exciting time to be a marketer, because it’s all being reinvented as we speak.”

Magic moments

As a young professional, Weed started out as an engineer at tyre manufacturer Michelin before moving onto various boardroom-level roles at some of Unilever’s most important product categories. These included his position as the marketing director for skin care which he eventually left to become the company’s head of global homecare & hygiene.

Weed’s current role as Unilever CMO leaves him responsible for marketing function as well as internal and external brand communications, but promoting sustainability through Unilever also earns a place in his tightly packed remit.

The inclination to put customers first is part of his ideal skillset for the modern CMO, added to an ability to devise purposeful marketing plans, and alongside an interest in the “magical logic” of marketing science.

“The great thing about technology is that it’s enabled us to do logic in a much better way than before: gauging ROI and being able to track, change and modify with that incremental approach,” he continues. “In a cluttered world, with more and more media choice, you need to have magic to break through the clutter. I think breaking through the clutter is increasingly one of the biggest challenges marketers will have because there are just so many messages out there and so much noise.”

Placing faith in digital

Weed led Unilever’s marketing department through the middle of the recession – a period where uncertainty over budget cuts and staff losses struck panic across the wider industry. Though rather than slashing costs, Weed announced in 2010 that Unilever would be doubling its spend on digital marketing channels to prepare for the shift in consumers connecting with his own brand via these platforms.

This foresight appears to have paid off in a period which Weeds says has “significantly” changed the way the company goes about marketing to consumers. He is also in awe of how individual channels and tech providers have evolved to give companies a detailed roadmap of their return.

“I sit on the global Facebook client council and I can remember those first few meetings and I was going on and on about ROI, ROI, ROI. And it’s fantastic now that you see Facebook being able to track from someone being on their platform through to purchasing their product.

“That’s the sort of ROI we want to see more and more: something that’s truly connected between an activity and a purchase.”

Keith took to the Marketing Stage at day two of Web Summit. Live coverage from the event can be streamed here, while you catch all the latest from the conference by following @RichtoweyPI.