The growth of digital has transformed the power of marketing from brands to the consumer. “What happens in the boardroom no longer stays in the boardroom, or in my situation, what happens in the shower no longer stays in the shower,” said Kathy O’Brien, vice president of marketing services and skin at Unilever, as she kicked off the WWD Digital Beauty Forum.

This story first appeared in the March 20, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Empowered by social media, consumers can talk about positive and negative experiences 24/7, 365 days of the year. “Your brand is what other people say about you while you are not in the room,” she said. U.S. consumers are tethered to devices, O’Brien noted, spending more than an hour a day on Facebook and Instagram. “It is no longer about campaigns, it is about continuous engagement and building these one-on-one relationships.”

Unilever realized there was a massive opportunity on YouTube, a channel she said is underutilized in beauty, for its portfolio of hair brands. The answer was Unilever’s All Things Hair YouTube channel. Using Google data to get real-time insights on what people were searching about hair (there are more than 11 billion hair searches per year), Unilever was able to pass that information on to vloggers to produce videos featuring Toni&Guy, VO5 and Dove. “To date, the channel has generated 6.5 million views,” she said.

People aren’t just visiting Facebook or Twitter anymore either, she said, noting there’s 300 million people using Instagram globally on a monthly basis, 55 million Pinterest fans in the U.S. and one million using Snapchat every month around the world. Unilever has already tapped the power of apps, responding in real time to girls’ posts on Snapchat as part of its self-esteem campaign. These applications remove the friction out of buying, such as “buy it” buttons. “The widespread adoption of buy-it-now links will transform marketing as we know it,” she predicted.

Thinking mobile first is an initiative at Unilever. “People are on a mobile device 194 minutes a day,” she said. “Seventy-five percent of beauty sites are mobile optimized and account for one-third of paid research clicks.” And O’Brien predicted they will continue to be merging of mobile and wearable devices that will continue to change consumers’ lifestyles.

A major adjustment retailers will have to make is how to counter the growth of online, which she said could hit 20 percent of business by 2020. “Brick and mortar needs to change their approach,” she cautioned. “It will be all about the experience in store. There’s going to have to be a reason for you to go to that store, otherwise you can easily access your products online.”

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