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Silvia Lagnado, new group vice-president at London-based Unilever, embodies marketing championship—in particular, the ability to "span silos" by building bridges between marketing and her company's many other functions to generate cash flow. She heads a team devoted to "brand development," including conceptualizing new products and creating advertisements, packaging, and marketing strategies.

Silvia Lagnado

In her daily operations, she interacts with Unilever's finance, supply chain, research and development, and human resources departments. She also collaborates extensively with the many far-flung brand-building teams of salespeople and marketers operating around the world to bring the division's offerings to market.

Silvia says the most effective way to "market marketing" in an organization is to make it very personal for staff in other key positions. She advises: "Have people think about which brands they themselves really respect and which products they love—then ask them what has made them think and feel that way. They will likely discover that a marketer's efforts are behind their feelings of respect and love."

What follows is part of an interview I conducted with her to learn what makes her a Marketing Champion.

* * *

Roy Young: Tell me a bit about your background. Did you come up through the typical marketing ranks? Or was your path to where you are now more diverse?

Silvia Lagnado: I joined Unilever in 1986, in Brazil, after getting a degree in civil engineering. But I've always worked in marketing and brand development, and the work has taken me all over the world—Brazil, the United Kingdom, Argentina, and the United States.

RY: In your view, what skills have been most important to your ability to succeed on the job?

SL: I'd say it's hard work, the ability to combine strong analytical skills with intuition, the courage to take risks, integrity, and the ambition to do good work.

RY: Of all the groups with whom you and your team interact, which relationships are the most likely to experience some tension?

SL: My team's relationship with the brand-building groups is most likely to experience some tensions and complications. The brand builders are under enormous pressure to deliver our products to market every day, to both distributors and consumers. They need product mixes on time and in full from my team. If we don't have a good relationship with them, they may start perceiving us as uncommitted to the work.

RY: What steps do you take to construct a bridge between your team and the brand builders?

SL: I've found that aligning both sides behind a compelling vision is crucial. If we can both get emotionally attached to the vision—and agree on where we want to take our brands, why this is an exciting space, and how we plan to succeed there—each group can look beyond its own pressures to the more important, higher-level goals.

RY: In your division, are you the person who articulates that vision and strategy? If so, how?

SL: It's a bit of an art rather than a science. But to me, a good vision needs three elements: It has what I call a spiritual component; it taps into our desire to do something good for society. It has an emotional component; it makes people feel eager to be working together. And it has an intellectual or rational component; it communicates a clear marketing strategy—the set of steps we need to take to get the product to market.

In crafting our vision for a product, my team often talks with sociologists, anthropologists, and other academics about how our product could serve a real need in society.

RY: Can you give me an example of a vision that helped you create a bridge to the brand-building teams?

SL: When I ran the Dove brand for Unilever, we developed a vision that had to do with helping women feel beautiful. Core to our vision was widening the definition of feminine beauty and challenging stereotypes about what beauty looks like. We wanted to position the Dove brand as a way to help women feel greater self-esteem and appreciate the diversity of beauty. We spent a lot of time and effort on research and on talking with sociologists about girls' and women's body image.

It takes work, but you can't give up until you have the vision and until it means something personal to each person who hears it.

RY: How do you know when you've crafted a compelling vision?

SL: You know it when you've hit it just right: People clap when you present it to them at a conference or in a meeting. They get what it's about, and they feel excited by it. They want to work with you to make it real.

But it's not enough to craft the vision and communicate it just once. I also develop internal-communication strategies to deliver the vision to the brand-building teams as often as possible. We use all kinds of internal-communication tools—conferences several times a year and in many countries, webcasts, video conferencing—whatever it takes to communicate regularly with the brand builders about our vision and strategy for the product. You can't over-communicate about this.

RY: In addition to crafting and frequently communicating a vision and strategy for a product, what else do you do to forge connections with the brand builders?

SL: Listening is a crucial skill. I try to craft a culture of listening and learning in my team. We need to listen carefully to the brand builders' needs and learn from their experiences with the market, so we can incorporate their ideas into our brand development. It's about being curious about and respectful of them.

As an example, if many of the brand building teams are telling us about a fast-growing trend in the market, or about a problem customers are having differentiating versions of our product on store shelves, we need to listen to that and ask ourselves how we're going to respond. Even if we decide not to follow up, the brand builders know we respect them if we've heard their input and explained the reasoning behind our decisions.

I think of my team as fulfilling a servant-leadership role with the brand-building teams. They are our customers. The more we understand their needs and can deliver what they need—on time and in full—the better we can work together.

RY: What have you found most challenging in your efforts to span silos between the brand-development and brand-building groups?

SL: It's hard to strike the right balance between all the internal communication and focus you need to align people behind the vision, and all the everyday work you need to get done in your job. If there's too much talking among ourselves, we neglect our day-to-day jobs and our focus becomes too inward. But the market's outside, not inside. And if we don't talk enough together about our vision, we have more time for our daily jobs, but we don't create the strong relationships needed to work well together. It's a balancing act.

RY: How do you deal with this challenge?

SL: We only communicate about our vision and strategy when we have solid content to convey. We also try to use high-impact communication tools, such as webcasts. And it's helpful to make sure you're inviting the right people to the right meetings.

RY: Can you give me an example of positive business results you've gained by being a silo spanner?

SL: Well, I'll use Dove as an example again. My team had proposed rolling out a single product campaign across all 84 countries where Dove is sold. The campaign involved ads showing a diverse array of women and a Dove self-esteem fund aimed at helping young girls and women with their body image.

Initially, a lot of brand-building teams (and some members of my own team) resisted the campaign and refused to run it. They thought that the idea of widening the definition of beauty might be OK in England and the United States, but it wouldn't appeal so much in Latin countries or Asian markets. They assumed that you have to show stereotypically beautiful women to sell a beauty product like Dove.

But we had done our research, working with psychologists and anthropologists to identify the real social need for better self-esteem. The campaign is now running in countries around the world, and Dove is one of the fastest-growing products on the market.

RY: What advice would you offer other marketing professionals seeking to "market marketing" inside their organizations—that is, to help non-marketing executives understand and appreciate the value that marketing brings to the table?

SL: Unilever is a strongly marketing-oriented company, so I've never had to actively sell marketing here. But I believe that the most effective way to "market marketing" in an organization is to make it very personal for people: Have people think about which brands they themselves really respect and which products they love—then ask them what has made them think and feel that way. They will likely discover that a marketer's efforts are behind their feelings of respect and love.

RY: Anything else you'd like to say about how to be an effective silo spanner?

SL: Hmmm... This is hard work, and you get discouraged sometimes. It's good to have a half dozen soul mates to provide emotional support and keep your energy up when things get tough. My soul mates have consisted of colleagues, people who were working for me, and even partners at ad agencies.

Note: To learn how to become a marketing champion, read the book I wrote with Allen Weiss and David Stewart titled Marketing Champions: Practical Strategies to Increase Marketing's Power, Influence, and Business Impact (Wiley, 2006). For more information about the book, go to or order at Amazon.

Continue reading "Profile of a Marketing Champion: Unilever's Silvia Lagnado" ... Read the full article

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Roy Young is coauthor of Marketing Champions: Practical Strategies for Improving Marketing's Power, Influence and Business Impact.