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What does Web3 mean for marketing?


Our Chief Digital and Commercial Officer Conny Braams shares her views on how we must unite to ensure the next iteration of the internet is a safer place for people to shop, stream, work and play.

A still from Sunsilk’s Roblox world. A girl avatar runs towards the House of Skills to find free learning resources.
Unilever’s Chief Digital and Commercial Officer Conny Braams
Unilever’s Chief Digital and Commercial Officer Conny Braams

Conny, what’s front of mind for you at the moment when it comes to the digital world?

The ongoing digitisation of people’s lives, or ‘E-everything’ as we call it. Digital is changing how consumers live, discover, learn, play and shop and how customers plan, promote, sell and deliver. These changes in consumer and customer behaviour are why digital is transforming so many industries with impact and at speed.

In the past, consumer purchasing habits were mostly influenced by mass media and on-shelf availability. Today, we have a multitude of digital channels, platforms and devices, providing more choice than ever. Hyper- and supermarkets, bricks-and-mortar stores and physical mom & pop stores will remain very relevant in the years to come while at the same time omni- and pure-play digital commerce channels will continue to grow fast.

So what does that mean for marketing?

We’re seeing commerce channels such as Amazon become media channels where we build brands, while media and entertainment channels such as Instagram become commerce channels where we sell our brands. This convergence of media, entertainment and commerce is blurring the lines between marketing and sales. It’s leading to new business models, new ways to build brands and convert to sales. So the consumer is changing. The customer is changing. Shopping is changing.

Entertainment is changing. Marketing is changing. Sales is changing and Unilever is changing too. Change, of course, brings opportunity. There are great opportunities ahead, and with that comes great responsibility.

Web3 must be thoughtfully designed with the highest principles of ethics, transparency and choice. Because the internet without trust is scandal.

What are some of the greatest opportunities ahead – and the responsibilities involved?

A big change will be the next iteration of the internet, Web3, which brings new behaviours and new economies. In the US alone, it’s set to grow to an $8 trillion market, powered by streaming, gaming and shopping platforms. And business investment is predicted to reach $800 billion by 2024. What an exciting new space for our brands. It’s a realm where real-world limits don’t apply but real-world representation absolutely must.

As we begin to create and invest in the next environment where people spend their time and their money, we need to be clear – among all the hype – on what we are building and what we need to do to make sure people don’t have an experience riddled with scams.

Today, we have a window of opportunity to act. We’re just scratching the surface with how we can use Web3 to transact, share data and put people back in control. The adoption curve of Web3 today has been compared to where we were in 1998 with Web2. To put it into context, the founders of the future companies for Web3 are girls in Year 5 today.

And while we don’t know what questions and unintended consequences will arise as Web3 forms, we are starting from a position of foresight – with a backlog of issues still to solve in Web2.

A true technology evolution must be accompanied by the development of substantial ethical infrastructures and policies. If safety isn’t coded in early on, it will be much harder to secure down the line. Web3 must be thoughtfully designed with the highest principles of ethics, transparency and choice. Because the internet without trust is scandal.

How is Unilever taking responsibility in the digital ecosystem?

Back in 2018, noting that we needed to create a safer, more trusted digital environment for society, people and our brands, we announced Unilever’s Responsibility Framework. It covers three areas:

  • Responsible Platforms: committing to not invest in platforms that do not protect our children or that create division in society.
  • Responsible Content: committing to tackling stereotypes through Unilever’s initiative #Unstereotype and championing this across the industry with UN Women’s #Unstereotype Alliance.
  • Responsible Infrastructure: committing to partner with organisations who are working to develop a better digital infrastructure.

To create a truly safe and trusted environment online, advertisers must recognise the ethical and social dimensions of a borderless digital world. We must unite around common standards for creating shared, immersive worlds including interoperability to allow freedom of movement and freedom of goods across virtual worlds.

The currency in Web3 is not crypto. The currency is trust.

What do you think we need to make a safe Web3 happen?

I think there are four key elements.

  1. We need regulators and governments to create the space for innovation and learning alongside clear boundaries and enforcement of accountability.
  2. Advertisers need to invest responsibly in partners, content and infrastructure.
  3. Tech must be designed with ethics, inclusion and safety coded in from the offset and rapid innovation to address the energy consumption required to mint tokens and coins.
  4. People must co-create and build trust together online.

Because the currency in Web3 is not crypto, the currency is trust.

How is Unilever preparing for Web3?

Over the past years, our marketers at Unilever have been experimenting with many brands. Take gaming, the epicentre of community, culture and commerce. One of our premium beauty brands, Tatcha, created Tatcha Land in Animal Crossing to launch its new rice wash product, and our Sunsilk brand has introduced a metaverse city in the virtual world of Roblox, packed with games to inspire and educate girl gamers.

Meanwhile Rexona hosted the first marathon in the metaverse, offering users a chance to customise their avatar with adaptive wearables such as wheelchairs and running blades. And Closeup has used the power of the Web3 to create a place in Decentraland where people can express their love for one another virtually by getting married in the metaverse.

We’re experimenting with recruitment too. Our Pot Noodle Brand created an augmented reality careers fair for students, as a replacement of its live event which was cancelled due to Covid 19. This virtual experience led up to 400% more attendees than previous in-person events, and a 5x increase in job applications.

These examples signal there is a commercial opportunity ahead. Web3 will bring booms and busts and lots of experimentation, just as we saw in the late 90s with Web2. This time, with hindsight and foresight, we should put people first: creating experiences where people feel safe, valued and included and back in control of their own data – with proof of ownership, control of how that data is used and how it’s monetised. We have a window to act, to avoid the need to react. Because in the end, it’s people, not technology that will measure the success of our efforts.

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