Unilever’s lead marketer, Connie Braams, says marketers need to be allowed to use their new skills on the job right away, otherwise the training will go to waste.

Connie Braams, Unilever’s director of digital and marketing, says brands need to “step it up” for marketers to be well-prepared for future opportunities, and at the same time “step it up” for digital professionals.

“The more advanced you become, the more important it is to be digital, not to do digital for digital’s sake,” Braams said at the Festival of Marketing: Fast Forward yesterday (June 8).

At Unilever, Braams said, she’s still “experimenting a lot with digital,” which requires an element of “trial and error.” But in order to do this effectively, the team needs to be fluent in the latest technology, which means that all marketers need to have an understanding of digital and that professionals need to keep raising the bar and keep learning.

“We need to raise the bar for all marketers – and they can do digital just a little bit – but at the same time we need to raise the ceiling for specialists. Where the floor is and where the ceiling is changes quickly over time,” Braams says.

We just need to make sure that as much as we’re raising the skill set of marketers, we’re simultaneously giving them an opportunity to use it.” Connie Braams, Unilever.

To achieve this goal, Unilever is taking an “integrated approach” to training, which, Braams explained, could mean, for example, having a marketing professional work with outside agencies to learn new skills.

She expects the separation between general marketing and digital to become less obvious over time, but it will require a “sustained effort” in training.

“We also said that if we don’t do that [training staff], we’re not being fair to all the people in marketing and in the organization as a whole, because you have to be trained and upskilled or you won’t have a skill set fit for the future, and that’s really important.”

“This job will never be finished, so we need to continually evolve,” Braams says.

Training system

Unilever has developed a “tremendous” training program for marketers to follow in order to continually learn, and to use their new skills to make them stick.

“Any career is made up of experiences, and it’s a little bit like a beehive, so we believe that 70% of the professional development always happens in the workplace,” Braams explained.

“We can all relate to that – you take a course, you’re really interested in it, but a year later you don’t use any of it and you forget. So we just need to make sure that by upgrading the skills of marketers, we’re giving them the opportunity to use it at the same time.”

Braams noted that there’s been a big shift in digital training, with employees spending more time on curriculum and “a lot more time enhancing their skills in the different components of digital that are really relevant to their particular job.”

Convergence of e-commerce and entertainment

Unilever is focusing on e-commerce, which will remain a “key channel” after acceleration during the pandemic, and in which the company’s marketers need to be fully competent.

“We’ve really upped our e-commerce game, obviously, not just in sales — often people think of it only as a sales channel — but as an innovation channel for specific high-value products,” she said.

“[We] create a portfolio that’s really designed for e-commerce, and then we also create content.” For example, in addition to hero image, Unilever spends more time creating the right videos and sustainability information.

It’s also about “using e-commerce channels for media and media channels for commerce,” Braams said. She called this convergence of the two areas “an extremely interesting area,” but warned, “I can already see how much it would take for everyone to be digital, rather than doing digital,” to be effective.

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