Connecting: Unilever commits to relationship

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Reflecting a growing movement toward using the Internet for relationship marketing, Unilever last week gave its Interactive Brand Centers in the U.S. and France a new name-Relationship Marketing Innovation Centers.

The change has been on the way for a long time, said Mark Olney, VP of the North American Relationship Management Innovation Center. "For the last several years we have been focusing more of our [interactive-marketing] activities on relationship marketing," he said.

The centers' reach will be broader than that of many other marketing departments-interactive or not. Mr. Olney's unit also oversees Unilever's North American consumer database and consumer-contact centers, including toll-free call centers-duties often handled by information technology and consumer affairs departments at major marketers. "We'll have the ability to understand our most valuable consumers across our all our operating companies as well as the contact history we have with them," Mr. Olney said.

Mr. Olney, a 20-year veteran at Unilever, has an unusual mandate in more ways than one. "My performance metric as leader of this group is to make myself obsolete," he said. "What we're trying to do in this space is understand the dynamics of what's happening, crystallize it into meaningful experimentation and learn for our businesses and make sure we take those consumers insights and skills and effectively embed them into our operating companies."

Once that happens, his unit won't be needed anymore.

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