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The revolution will be digitised

The digital revolution is a consumer one, according to Lubomira Rochet, Global Chief Digital Officer, L’Oréal Group: a revolution driven not by technology itself but by people, who nowadays don’t ‘go’ on the internet but ‘live’ there.

Visiting Oxford Saïd as part of the Distinguished Speaker Seminar series, Rochet told an audience of students, academics, and interested members of the public that even the beauty industry has been disrupted by digital, and by customers’ expectations of smart, tailored, interactive content. 

In the beauty industry (where L’Oréal is still the world market leader) competitive advantage used to lie in ‘money, R&D, distribution, and scale,’ she said. New brands, however, which are multiplying and growing at ‘lightning speed’, will buy everything, advertise through social media, and sell through ecommerce. The business models are tribal, horizontal (they co-create the product with the consumer) and fast.

In response, L’Oréal has instigated its own large-scale digital transformation – starting with the appointment of Rochet herself. In fact, L’Oréal was one of the first Fortune 500 companies to hire a Chief Digital Officer and put the role at executive team level.

Then they have bought some of the challenger brands: ‘They teach us a lot,’ said Rochet. Finally, she is leading the digitisation of L’Oréal’s own heritage brands and building the next generation of competitive advantage. ‘The digital revolution is unavoidable, challenging our competitive advantage,’ she said. ‘But it is also an amazing opportunity.’

What the consumer wants

As the digital revolution is consumer-led, you have to build a strategy based on what the consumer wants. For the beauty industry:

Consumers want to buy beauty products online

This gives them an almost ‘infinite shelf’ – a virtually unlimited range of products – convenience, and choice.

They want personalisation

Marketing Tech’s ‘Connected Consumer’ report suggests that by 2020 57% of business buyers will switch brands if a company doesn’t anticipate their needs.

Personalisation means that advertising will have to change. The rise of adblockers, particularly among young people, is not because consumers do not want to see advertisements. It’s just that the industry has failed to keep up with the type of content that people want to see and share. Google’s move from a 30-second advertisement format to a 6-second format spells the end of teasers, conceptual, and clever advertisements. Digital advertising now needs to be big-picture and very visual.

They trust influencers

Vloggers and social media influencers are word-of-mouth recommendations for the digital age. Beauty and digital make a particularly good match because they are both very visual. There are over 45 billion videos and tutorials available on the internet, 95% of them done by people in their bedrooms. Their apparent authenticity allows them to connect with consumers in a way that traditional magazines and advertisers are now struggling to do.

They like beauty apps and services

Consumers have already made over one billion downloads of beauty apps that will do everything from tracking your beauty sleep to allowing you to see yourself with different hairstyles and make-up.

L’Oréal’s digital strategy

L’Oréal’s strategy to respond to these consumer preferences is to ‘win’ in ecommerce; become a data-driven company; and reinvent marketing models.

This is why they are selling directly and partnering with retailers both traditional and new (such as Amazon and Alibaba). They are also developing more and more content – indeed, as Rochet put it, ‘turning into a publisher’.

This may not be a beauty company’s traditional ‘job’, but in the new digital world it is essential for creating relationships and giving them information about the consumer. Everything that consumers watch, download, and share creates precious signals that can be translated into data. The insights from this data can be used in product conceptualisation and development.

The L’Oréal team can use insights from digital media to know what will trend – whether it’s face-contouring or the dip-dyed hair look – and move quickly to get products available before anyone else. They are also ‘crafting content journeys’, to find people at the right moment and deliver targeted content that will appeal to them.

The aim is to transform L’Oréal’s brands into ‘love brands’ – those that customers will search for and ‘love’ without being bombarded with advertising. The winning combination, according to Rochet, is ‘rich and relevant content’ co-produced with influencers, combined with services that augment customers’ experiences, from apps that let you virtually try out new hairstyles, to UV patches that will alert you when you need to apply more sunscreen.

How to lead in a VUCA world

All this requires a new approach to finding and developing talent, managing people, and working with different partners in different ways. Rochet concluded with her tips for leading in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world.

  • Take an immigrant view of the world
  • Be a learn-it-all not a know-it-all
  • Don’t benchmark – go to first principles
  • Have your North but be prepared to pivot
  • Being naïve in business can be a good thing
  • Make sure you create safe space for experimentation for you and your team
  • Fail fast/scale faster
  • The only truth is the consumer



Lubomira Rochet View profile

Lubomira Rochet is a Franco-Bulgarian trained economist that graduated from École Normale Supérieure in Paris, Science-Po Paris and the College of Europe in Bruges.

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