Unilever’s Open Innovation Model Fundamental to Achieve Sustainable Growth

Global FMCG player Unilever has launched a new online platform which offers experts the opportunity to help the company find some of the technical solutions it needs to achieve its ambition of doubling the size of its business while reducing its environmental impact. Unilever has a long track-record of collaborating with partners to develop products, but it’s the first time that its research projects have been shared so publicly in an open forum.

This time Unilever’s efforts go a step further by publishing a list of its “wants”, key areas in which the company is seeking help. The “Wants” listed on the new platform span across Unilever’s commitment to both reduce its environmental impact and increase its positive social impact. For example:

  • Technologies that can bring safe water to the world’s poorest people – for less than one cent per litre.
  • New active ingredients for our cleaning products which inactivate viruses – without relying on bleaches, strong acids, or alcohols.
  • Lighter and more sustainable packaging which will cut the weight, quantity and waste of our product packaging.
  • Laundry products and technologies that allow consumers to get superior washing performance using lower temperatures and less water
  • Technology which allows us to further reduce the amount of sodium in food – without affecting our products’ great taste.

Roger Leech, Unilever Open Innovation Scouting Director said:

“Our global research and development teams consistently make innovation breakthroughs which keep Unilever at the forefront of product development and design.

But we know that the world is full of brilliant people with brilliant ideas, and we are constantly looking for new ways to tap into this potential by working with partners who have a fresh, serious approach to developing exciting new technology.

Smart collaboration with partners gives both parties the freedom to do business in new and invigorating ways – creating shared value along the way. It brings together the expertise and experience of our sustainable innovation capability with new thinking and creativity from partners, creating new business models in which ideas flourish.

A successful Open Innovation model will be absolutely fundamental to us achieving our ambition of doubling the size of our business while not only reducing our environmental impact, but increasing our positive social impact too.”

Social media as open innovation accelerators

In a previous article, I outlined how social media and –technologies can help the open innovation process to be faster, better and cheaper in order to keep Unilever at the forefront of product development and design and double its business.

In Unilever’s case social media will enable to gather ideas faster, opening up the Wants to a global audience. Better ideas can arise by tapping into niches and specialisms of collaborators and cross-polination of knowledge.

Cheaper because the process itself can be iteratively validated and directed, plus the time-to-market diminishes as collaborators act as advocates for the co-created solutions.

Engagement is key

Long term engagement is key and challenge, keeping people interested, in the loop and Unilever on top of mind.  Engagement is needed to promote and create visibility on the Wants, the existance of the platform in order to attract the right people to collaborate with.

Attract and seek

Attracting the right people to the right challenges via the transparency of social media is one way. The second way is by actively seeking the right people, making sure they will be found to collaborate. This way Unilever and the open innovation platform will benefit from outside-in attention and promotion and inside-out discovery of collaborators.

By actively recruiting collaborators, Unilever can look for different kinds of people. Via netnography and social media research not only the right people (in relation to potentially helping find the solution) can be found,  but also “connectors”can be found with networks of people for whom Unilever’s solutions are important. Think about representatives of different consumer groups, life-style people, influential bloggers on health and so on.

Social media accelerate the open innovation process and offer the infrastructure for engagement. They enable continuous and effective co-creation, embedded in organizational processes, from ideation/research to marketing and launching the solutions.

What do you think of Unilever’s open innovation platform? What kind of collaborators would you seek via engagement, that add value to the innovation process?

By Gianluigi Cuccureddu

About the author:


Gianluigi CuccuredduGianluigi Cuccureddu, contributing editor, is an experienced writer specializing in innovation, open business, new media and marketing. He is Managing Partner of the 90:10 Group, a global Open Business consultancy. They help clients leverage social media as business accelerators to generate faster, better and cheaper business output. Social media integration is the new secret ingredient to achieve sustainable competitive advantage in delighting the clients’ customers while continuously driving their cost down.

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