Talking Connected Consumers with Unilever and Syniverse

Sarah Mansfield, VP global media, Europe and Americas at Unilever, and Mary Clark, CMO of Syniverse, spoke together at Mobile World Congress in a session called “Integrating Interactions with the Connected Consumer”. David Murphy caught up with them both afterwards.

DM: So what do you hope to get out of a show like this and what have you got out of it so far?

Unilever Sarah Mansfield, VP Global Media, Europe and Americas, UnileverSM: For us, mobile is an important channel to connect brands with consumers; it has the power to transform the experiences we deliver to consumers. These types of event, where you are at the forefront of new technology and innovation, are great for identifying new opportunities.

DM: And do you do that by walking the floor or sitting in the conference sessions?

SM: A bit of both. It is good to walk the floor and see what’s out there, but it’s also great to chew the cud with other mobile thought leaders in terms of where it’s going and the opportunities there are, and there are some great speakers here.

Syniverse Mary Clark, CMO, SyniverseMC: For me, it’s great to see 12 car-makers at the show, and some big brands – Tesco, Coca-Cola, Disney. It’s not as if there is a mobile industry – everything is mobile so I am interested to see how mobile and mobile tech are being used to engage with the consumer. I’m interested to see how the spend that someone like Sarah has, how does that shift from traditional channels to making more use of mobile media. That for me is the interesting barometer, and then looking at the ways that we can help with that and the tech can help with that.

SM: In a connected world, mobile is an important channel for connecting consumers to the brand, and the old adage of who, what, where, and when, mobile brings that to life through the opportunities to understand consumers in more detail based on things like subscribers’ usage data. There are signals we can leverage in mobile to deliver more relevant engaging content to consumers.

DM: So Sarah, when you have as many brands in the stable as Unilever does, how do you decide which brands get the mobile treatment?

SM: We plan our media and comms in a media-neutral fashion; we want to reach consumers with the right message at the right time. To give one example, for Knorr, we used beacons to bridge the online and offline worlds, leveraging beacons to retarget consumers who have sampled the soup to give them a coupon, because we know that people who have tried and tasted it are warmer to buying the product. Time spent on mobile is increasing significantly, and we need to be where our consumers are.

DM: I’ll say one thing for Unilever, you’re consistent, I remember (Unilever’s) Jay Altschuler saying those identical words to me four and a half years ago when he was explaining how your senior execs had been charged with getting to grips with mobile tech.

SM: Well it is still true and we are always looking for new opportunities to connect with consumers. Look at The Unilever Foundry, engaging startups looking for the next big opportunities.

DM: The Foundry is interesting; it seems anybody who’s anybody is incubating startups these days. How much of that is altruistic, helping them make their way in the world, and how much is about finding and nurturing the best talent for yourselves?

SM: It’s a combination of the two, you can’t detach them. The Foundry is built on that concept of giving startups a lift and giving them access to our brands to be able to beta test and deliver something at scale, and if the beta test is successful they can secure funding through Unilever Ventures. They also get access to senior leaders in the business for mentoring, so it is very synergistic.

MC: Our technology and solutions are part of the engine that connects someone like Sarah to consumers, so delivering an opportunity for say a travel and hospitality brand to transform a travel experience by taking your phone and saying: “If I could have a conversation with a guest and engage them in a way that gets them the information they need when they need it to make the decision they need to make,” this is what we talk to people about. We work with 550 brands and 1,000 network operators and every year it gets a little more interesting. Starwood’s key on the phone is a great example of an end-to-end experience that’s mobile-enabled can give me the level of service that I want to have.

DM: What about the Internet of Things, what’s the approach going to be there? After all, we’ve all been interacting with cars and fridges and watches for years without having to put up with advertising, for want of a better phrase.

SM: Branded content can be useful to consumers, so it’s about delivering relevant content at the right time, something they will find engaging, informative or entertaining. It’s less about ads, more about finding the right route in and thinking smarter round it.

MC: I think there has to be some thought behind it; what are we as consumers going to put up with and how does it help engage me, entertain me or give me something that makes me happy. It will be trial and error. Mobile overall is still in the nascent stage; some people get it a bit better and are executing well, and others are still trying to figure out the ROI on any mobile activity.

DM: And who’s going to own the customer in the future? Is there hope for mobile operators or indeed for anyone outside the GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) Gang?

MC: The customer is going to own the customer. I am driving my personal experience, I control my 117 minutes I spend a day on my phone, so I am the one driving the experience, the individual. The  people that facilitate my best engagement will be the ones I choose to interact with.

SM: I agree, the consumer wins out. They will have more choice in every dynamic.