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Do Unilever's Job Cuts Signify a Rebirth of Consumer Marketing?

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Are  Unilever's  Massive Job Cuts a Precursor to a Rebirth of Consumer Marketing?
Are Unilever's Massive Job Cuts a Precursor to a Rebirth of Consumer Marketing?

Last week Unilever sent shivers down the spines of marketers everywhere by cutting 1,000 marketing-related jobs as part of a restructuring that had a total of 5,000 employees clogging the circuits of But interested parties would err if they interpreted Unilever's action—or similar moves made this past year at H.J.Heinz, Energizer, and Colgate-Palmolive—as a decrease in emphasis on marketing. Hardly. It's more a decrease in emphasis on the marketing of the past and the mass-marketing practices of a bygone era that have continued to hold sway in a slow-changing CPG industry.

But it's not just CPGs challenged by serving demanding customers on 40 different channels instead of four. All B2C marketing departments are up against it. A survey of senior consumer marketing executives released today by Forrester research showed that direct marketing, digital tactics, and content marketing were claiming a third of their budgets. Meanwhile, only 6% was devoted to the data analytics that would show them just which of all the new gew-gaws and gimcracks of the social, mobile, and Web worlds were working for them. Big consumer companies like Unilever are fumbling about in the depths of a dark, scary coalmine, and they need to find some new canaries and dig back in.

“What you might be seeing [in the Unilever move] is not so much a change in spend, but in allocation of resources. The marketer is becoming more of a systems integrator of third-party tools and agencies, and that requires a new skill-set,” says Rich Walker, managing director of the Winterberry Group, a marketing strategy consulting firm. “As tech becomes more scalable, you work with providers in a different way. I wouldn't be surprised if what you're seeing here is a harbinger of innovation to come, a clearing of the way to bring in more third parties and adopting new technologies and data analytics.”

In fact, what we may be witnessing here, like the first entomologists who sat down and watched a chrysalis metamorphose into a butterfly, is the ultimate blossoming of consumer marketers into…direct marketers!

“Direct marketers are constantly retraining their people and making adjustments on the fly. It's the nature of their business,” Walker says. “CPGs business cycles are much slower. They have less frequent, bigger reactions. Reactions like [Unilever's] indicate that the face of marketing is changing dramatically.”

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