A company of influence

In December 2008, Business Week published its first ever annual list of 'the world's most influential companies'.

Triumph over adversity

Unilever is the only Foods and Home & Personal Care business to feature in the list of ten, and the only European company to rank. Others on the list include Google, Apple, Huawei, JPMorgan Chase, Monsanto, News Corp., Saudi Aramco, Toyota and Wal-Mart.

Business Week says in a year that "brought the mighty to their knees", these are companies that strived: "In a year of loss, they're building market share, upending their industries and changing consumers lives."

The publication says it selected Unilever because of the company's success at selling to all levels of the price pyramid in developing and emerging markets.

Re writing the rule book

"There used to be one way to sell a product in developing markets, if you bothered to sell there at all: Slap on a local label and market to the elite. Unilever changed that," writes Kerry Capell from Business Week. "[Unilever] built a following among the world's poorest consumers by upending some of the basic rules of marketing. Instead of focusing on value for money, it shrunk packages to set a price even consumers living on $2 a day could afford."

The publication goes on to state that Unilever continues to "woo cash-strapped consumers" by helping people make money to buy its products. It cites the company's Shakti programme, which trains rural Indian women to sell products to their neighbours.

"What Unilever does well is get inside these communities, understand their needs, and adapt its business model accordingly," says Professor Joan E. Ricart, from IESE Business School in Barcelona.

Brand power

But according to Shelly Lazarus - CEO and Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, who was on the judging panel - it's the strength of the company's brands:

"Unilever has remarkable brands that dominate their categories all over the world. The marketing programs for brands like Dove and Axe have been wildly innovative. Business leaders are paying attention... and they are influenced."

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