Shweta Harit has had an impressive career, spending the last two decades working for purpose-led brands across the Unilever, Kellogg and Danone portfolios. Four years ago, Shweta joined Danone as Director of Corporate Brand to help activate its One planet One Health mission internally with employees and externally through its brands. From there, she began leading marketing transformation and then secured her role as global vp for the iconic evian brand. Here, Shweta shares why purpose takes action, how to stay focused on your long-term vision and how to bring consumers along with you on your sustainability journey.
What have been some of your most notable career moments prior to joining Danone?
In my early years, I worked on Lifebuoy, arguably the first purpose brand at Unilever. There, we aligned our purpose to the UN Millennium Development Goal 4 to reduce infant mortality via hand washing education through rural programs in India with my close colleague Dr. Myriam Sidibe (author of Brands on a Mission).
While at Dove for 7 years, I created several innovation projects in the hair category to reposition the Dove hair range and then in the Masterbrand team. I made my marketing journey at Unilever very focused on brands that are pioneers in social mission. At Kellogg, I led the repositioning of Special K from diet to fuel for strong women and to walk the talk, I was proud to have forged the first-ever partnership with Girl Up, UN Women focused on female nutrition.
Any key learnings along the way?
"I believe purpose is not a point of view but a real visible action the brand takes to make the lives of people better..."
Stay focused on the long-term vision for your brand or business, the short term may not appear perfect yet but stay the course and keep fighting to get closer to your brand vision every day. Today, I think purpose is a big word and has several meanings, but I believe purpose is not a point of view but a real visible action the brand takes to make the lives of people better and ideally via its product offering or service. Don’t ever convince yourself that your brand has purpose just because you have a set of words on a power point slide, but it will take years of consistent action.
What are you working on now that's innovative?
Innovation continues to drive everything we do at evian, and the progress we’ve made this year are a clear reflection of this. Following our announcement of carbon neutrality in April, we revealed our first ever label-free, fully recyclable bottle created using 100% recycled plastic to reduce plastic waste by eliminating the label. More recently, we have also just launched Bottles Made from Bottles, a new range made entirely from 100% recycled plastic (rPET) which halves our carbon footprint vs using virgin PET.
Looking ahead, we’ll launch evian (re)new to the public market later this year. This is a massive innovation for us. The 5 litre bottle acts as a connected in-home natural mineral water appliance, and the impressive innovation and unique design means that you can dispense our water in your own home, with the need for far less plastic.
Outside of product innovation, we are also keen to engage our audiences through innovative partnerships. Most recently for example, we announced the winner of the Activate Movement Program – a project created with Virgil Abloh, a long-standing partner of ours. The competition offered young designers the opportunity to win a €50,000 grant for sustainable designs–a wonderful way to unite our two passions for sustainability and creativity through innovation.
What is the brand's POV on educating consumers when it comes to sustainability?
Our purpose in protecting the planet is at the forefront of what we do as we move towards circularity in 2025. However, to effect real change in this area, we know that we have to work as a collective. We need to work alongside our consumers so that we all become a part of the solution in tackling the environmental issues we face. For this to happen, the biggest onus is on brands who have a responsibility to not only shout about their own sustainability efforts but to bring consumers on the journey too.
What’s more, we know that it can be confusing for consumers at times to understand the difference between the various recycling terms, such as recycled and recyclable plastic, so we want to work with them to help make the act of recycling more digestible.
That’s why, last year, we launched #FlipItForGood. Inspired by the online ‘Bottle Flip Challenge’, we called on consumers to ‘flip’ their bottles ‘for good’ into the right recycling bin. The catch? To flip it with the bin behind you. A fun challenge, but with a sustainable lesson at its heart! Consumers were then asked to share their ‘flip’ across social platforms using a dedicated hashtag, to prompt others to do the same.
How has the pandemic affected your existing sustainability strategic initiatives?
The pandemic has affected evian as it has affected all brands. However, for us, it was important that we didn’t backtrack or slow down on any of our sustainability initiatives. The climate crisis is still continuing and worsening, and we cannot shy away from this.
However, we are also fully aware of the huge issues that have been wrought across the globe following covid-19 and want to do what we can to help those affected by this dreadful crisis. That’s why we supported the global response to Covid-19 through a series of donations to the Red Cross in the UK, France, Switzerland and the US – specifically to assist frontline workers helping on the ground. Alongside this, we also donated over 100,000 plastic bottles to be used for hand sanitizer in France and made further water bottle donations to those worst affected in both NYC and the UAE.
What change from the last few months is something you think will stick post-pandemic?
I think one of the biggest adjustments will be the recognition that flexibility is just as important to any strategy as planning. No one could have foreseen the seismic changes that have affected us all this year but, by adapting, the best businesses have stayed on course. What was previously treated as ‘contingency’ will now be a key factor of any marketing strategy.
What’s currently happening in marketing that most excites you and how is it changing the future of the industry?
It is a very challenging moment for the industry right now, as it is being forced to adapt to constantly changing circumstances.
"Our biggest enemy today is indifference, when people just don’t react to the work you create; you spend significant media budget and there is no real change to the business or brand strength."
The biggest shift in recent years is that the power has shifted from big corporates to people and they can use this power to make or break your brand. If you do not listen and understand this power, you will find that your brand will not find its role in their life or culture. Our biggest enemy today is indifference, when people just don’t react to the work you create; you spend significant media budget and there is no real change to the business or brand strength. As marketers today, we need to stay in step with people and leverage their power and the power of our brands to drive societal change.
What do you see as the most valuable marketing skill(s) needed today and moving forward?
Being connected to culture, staying close to people: listening to them and to the wider society—to younger generations, to activists and to those around you. These people will be critical in ensuring that brand strategies remain relevant to the wider context.
This year, more than ever, we’ve seen how the relationship between marketers and consumers is changing. It is no longer such a one-way conversation, but an ongoing dialogue. The voices of the younger generations have never been so loud! … Look at social media, engage in conversations with your younger colleagues and engage in dialogues that might not feel so comfortable.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Keep it simple. If you can’t tell your friend over coffee what your brand stands for, it’s just too complicated.