How to change the hearts, minds and actions of 1000 Unilever R&D executives in 6 weeks time

How to engage a crowd of 1000 R&D executives and connect them with their consumers? Together with Unilever, we launched a Consumer Connect Website, in order to change the hearts, minds & actions of 1000 Unilever R&D employees in 6 weeks time. Here’s our story.

A need for (re)connecting with the consumer

Unilever announced earlier 2011 the changes to its category structure. For the Research & Development centre in the Netherlands, in Vlaardingen, it meant a big change. It was a large R&D centre for the functional laundry products, and now changed into the more emotional and beauty categories such as hair and skin products. So, they experienced a sudden gap in understanding of the consumer for these new categories.

A 3 step approach: Engage, Inspire, Act

In order to (re)connect the executives with consumers, we set up a 3-step approach. First, we let employees ENGAGE with the consumer world by playing online ‘games’ about the consumer-world, during 3 weeks. Secondly, we INSPIRE them through a news website reporting on a 3 week online research community, enlightening the blind spots of R&D people we discovered during the games. Third, we helped the executives to define ACTIONS in workshops within each R&D team.

Making research fun draws the attention

We used several techniques to draw the attention of the R&D executives. One of the techniques we used to motivate them was to apply ‘gamification’ principles. For example, after the executives played a consumer game well, they earned badges. We kept a leader board (on individual and group level) to play upon the competitive aspects, but also to boost the team spirit. So, we made it fun for the R&D executives to get to know the consumers. Besides this technique, we also created awareness offline by promotions and special events at the plant. Third, we appointed team leaders and gave them the tools to motivate and explain the relevance of this project their team members.

The results

Based on the analysis we detected the extent to which we generated a mind shift because we managed to realize a relative increase of 81% in terms of ‘knowing how consumers decide which products to buy’. Secondly, the employees also indicated that they started dialogues with friends & family about why they use and like specific products and are paying more attention to other products & consumer behavior while shopping. And, based on meta-data we know that our research was impactful because it brought the consumer to life (via pictures & stories), was inspirational & made employees talk about consumers.

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