Opinion

Unilever’s Bharat Avalani on why marketers need to love their consumers

Bharat AvalaniBharat Avalani gave an emotional presentation at AdAsia in Hanoi yesterday, telling his audience about the value of work-life balance and why marketers need to love their audience to market to them effectively.

After giving his presentation, the Kuala Lumpur-based regional director of integrated brand communication for Unilever Asia, Africa, Middle East and Turkey spoke to Mumbrella Asia’s editor Robin Hicks.

Tell us about your role at Unilever.

I create brand experiences for Unilever’s home care sector across the region. For example in South Africa, to activate our Dirt is good platform, we wanted to encourage parents to allow their children to play more. Children don’t play enough. They spend too much time staring at screens, where they are likely to see things that they shouldn’t. Our idea was to work with schools to allow children to stay later at school, so that they can spend more time in the playground.

We’ve also worked with the Minister of Education in Vietnam to encourage children to play more. To Vietnamese kids play does not come naturally these days, since they are so focused on how they perform academically.

Your presentation touched on a broad range of themes, from water scarcity to finding happiness. What was the relevance of the presentation in the context of marketing?

In 18 years of working life, mostly with Unilever, my view of the business has completely changed. I believe in three simple principles. One is to genuinely love the people you serve, your customers, be it a child who eats your ice cream or the housewife who uses your detergent. You have to build genuine empathy, otherwise your marketing efforts will not be sustainable. This feeling has to come naturally. You should love what you do, and love the people you serve.

Once you love them, then you will do the right thing by them, and then they will grow to love your brands. The work we do for Lifebuoy and Dove comes from having built genuine relationships with people. I think marketing is a very personal pursuit. In my work, I always have my wife, my child and my friends in mind.

Watch Unilever’s film for Lifebuoy soap about the importance of hand-washing:

You became very emotional after showing a video of a teenager who gave a talk at INK Talk in Kochi earlier this year. This girl is suffering from pulmonary fibrosis, a disease that your late father also suffered from. Why did you show that video?

Because most of us are self centered. We may care about ourselves and our immediate families, but rarely about the communities we serve. Aisha Chaudhary does not live for herself, she lives for other people.

She reminds us that if we take life for granted, we miss out on little moments of happiness. As a person she is physically very small, but to me she is Everest. She shows us that it’s not important how long you live; you are measured by the life you put into the years God has given you. All our experiences in life, even the bad, can be positive occasions or good stories, because you can learn from them.

Watch Aisha Chaudhary’s presentation at INK Talks in Kochi on how she finds happiness despite a life-threatening illness:

Your presentation also touched on the importance of work-life balance. Do you think marketers in Asia work too hard?

Yes, I do. Your work should fit naturally into your life, and your life should fit naturally into your work. For too many people in this region, this is out of balance. Work is dominating, and this has an impact at home. Families suffer.

Do you have any advice for people on how to strike the right work-life balance?

You need to work out what you want to do with your life, and how your work fits into your purpose in life. Too often people wait too long to find out what that purpose is, and waste precious time. You need to find a way to make your life meaningful. If there is a gap between your work and your purpose in life, you should move on.

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