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L’Oréal’s Lubomira Rochet on designing a beauty tech blueprint

In order to find the world's top marketer, The World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) has once again partnered with The Drum for the Global Marketer of the Year award. Here we interview nominee Lubomira Rochet, on how she is gearing L’Oréal up to become the world’s biggest ‘beauty tech’ business. 

Lubomira Rochet is an economist by trade. A graduate of the Ecole Normale Supérieure, Sciences Po Paris and College of Europe in Bruges, the digital marketer cut her teeth working for the likes of Microsoft and Valtech.

Now, six years into her role as chief digital officer at L’Oréal, Rochet has spearheaded the Maybelline owner’s transformation from cosmetics purveyor to a digitally savvy beauty giant.

Under her watch, the business has acquired AR start-up Modiface; expanded its relationship beyond e-commerce with third-party sellers like Amazon; and was one of the first brands to take influencers seriously before the space exploded.

But Rochet is far from finished in her mission to disrupt the cosmetics industry. On her agenda for 2020? More e-commerce tie ups; a deep focus on data; embracing a “new era” of branded content; and using smaller influencers to drive ROI.

Here, she lays out her blueprint for the future of the business.

Embracing e-commerce

Rochet tells The Drum that L’Oréal — which grew its sales by 7.1% to $29bn in the year to December 2018 — has set itself the long-term goal of becoming a “beauty tech company”.

With Lucintel forecasting that the global skincare market set to be worth $135bn by 2021, and Zion claiming the global cosmetic segment will reach $863bn by 2024, the burgeoning space is ripe for the taking for brands who have the technology in place to build direct relationships with customers online.

“The strategy is really to pivot towards being a digital-first business,” Rochet explains. “There are different pillars around that, and the first big thing for us has been about embracing e-commerce.”

Across its portfolio, which includes Lancôme and Garnier, the business is now delivering 13.5% of its revenues via online sales, with growth hitting 47.5% year-on-year between Q3 2018 and 2019.

As well as investing in its own direct-to-consumer (DTC) efforts across its suite of brands, key to L’Oréal’s strategy has been forging strong partnerships with global and local third-party sellers, be that Amazon, Alibaba or otherwise.

“As a business we have one obsession which is to be a consumer-centric, we want to really understand where consumers are shopping, their shopping behaviour and be where they are,” says Rochet.

“So, we’ve invested on all platforms from big players like Amazon to [smaller] e-retailers,” she adds, noting the more challenging (and ongoing) journey has been trying to get a grip on the algorithms implemented by these platforms.  

“We spent a lot of time understanding that [in 2019] so we can be good at executing on e-commerce platforms,” the marketer adds.

Amazon and AR

Rochet told The Drum last year that the group’s purchase of AR beauty tech startup Modiface (which allows people to virtually ‘try on’ products on their own faces using the camera on their phones) had tripled conversion rates when its marketers baked the feature into a website or app.

Now she says the group is seeing as much as “seven-times” more spent on brand websites where the AR is deployed. On average, people will try on more than 40 looks.

L’Oréal has been scaling the technology to third-party platforms out of the Modiface team space in Toronto, including Facebook and Amazon, where its being used across brand and product pages.

Such open-sourcing has resulted in the “same uplift” in terms of monetary spend and conversation rates for these external partners.

“It’s having a really tangible business impact,” Rochet says.

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L’Oréal is reported to spend in the region of $2.1bn on advertising each year. In its annual report for 2018 it revealed that 43% of its media spend is funnelled into digital. In 2017, it started a test which seen it shift some of its search budgets from Google to Amazon, based on the insight that more than 50% of people who have a product in mind will start their search on the shopping behemoth.

Though she admits most of the group’s crucial search resources still go towards the “Google family,” Rochet explains how the brand is diversifying its digital spend: including investing more with e-commerce platforms to capitalise on this “search destination” status they hold.

Though she doesn’t give specific stats on how the Amazon experiment is going, she says the brand’s collaborations with third parties are “working well”.

She adds: “When you’re on Amazon as a consumer, you’re very close to the moment of truth, you’re in the mindset of buying. The closer you can be as a brand or product in that funnel, the better.”

A ‘new era’ publisher

Beyond the mechanics of media planning, L’Oréal also micro-manages the content on product pages to boost traffic, conversations, and sales, on sites like Amazon and Tmall.

It’s a strategy that is clearly yielding fruit as part of a bigger move from the cosmetics firm to “reinvent” its content marketing model.  

On its own site, Rochet reveals that L’Oréal clocks around 1.2bn visits a year, across social it is estimated to have around 280 million followers.

She says: “We've really embraced the new era of becoming a publisher and creating content for all platforms,” noting that when it comes to content the business has undergone something of a “revolution”.

“10 years ago, when [brands] were working on a product launch for skincare or makeup, [they] would produce maybe three or four pieces of content that would take months and months to produce and to craft.

“Today, you still have to make those 30-second or 15-second TV ads, and the global print executions, but you also have to produce many more formats – the six-second ad; the three-second ad, the animated GIFs; content for YouTube; bumper ads for Facebook; Snapchat AR filters and more."

This proliferation of touch points and an appetite for content means marketers now need to produce “a hundred-times more” than previously, she adds. “That’s just an average it can be even more than that. Then on top of all that, you have to differentiate your content per platform and for unique consumer tribes. Then you have to personalise it, add a call to actions, add spokesperson images and edit.

“So it has been a huge revolution for us,” she acknowledges.

To sate consumer demand, L’Oréal has embedded “content factories” across its brands that are in the business of producing content at scale for all of its digital touch-points.

Influencers are also a huge part of the brand’s content blueprint, with Rochet going so far as singling out Instagram for boosting L’Oréal’s makeup sales.

Though it has some of the biggest names in cosmetics on its books, Rochet says 2020 will be about establishing relationships with “fans, advocates and regular customers” as it turns an eye to the nascent micro-influencer space.

“We’re really moving from influencer marketing to what I would call advocacy marketing,” says Rochet.

“We not only rely on top influencers, the ones with the millions and millions of followers but also with more regular consumers who have a following on Instagram on YouTube or anywhere else that might not be as big.

“Those people are considered very authentic and we see that media engagement rates for smaller influencers are much higher than those for big influencers, though they are still needed for reach.

Data-driven marketing

Along with e-commerce and branded content, data-driven advertising has been the third big focus for L’Oréal over the past 12 months.

The implementation of GDPR allowed the brand have a “much needed” clear up of its first-party data in 2018, which has helped pave the way for it to be more targeted in its approach in 2019.

“For us, GDPR was a blessed day. It was very good news for the industry in general because there had been so much excesses in the adtech industry, and the risk was that our consumers would lose confidence, trust and faith in everything we were doing.

“From a strategic standpoint, it entailed some of our countries slashing their databases in half… but we went happily through it, because at the end of the day if your consumer is not engaged, you continue to bombard and harass him or her.”

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When it comes to gleaning data, L’Oréal will continue to invest in services like AR ‘try on’ tech and skincare diagnostics in order to provide beauty lovers with a value exchange.  

“When you allow consumers to try on the product before buying it, or you let them to have a fully-fledged scientific diagnosis of their skin and recommend the right beauty routine; that’s something that provides such value that consumers are willing and happy to share data because it’s the beginning of a conversation,” asserts Rochet.

“This is where we see our strategy, working towards more services in a ‘cookieless’ world.”

With growth in her sites, driven by a passion for technology, what’s her advice for the next generation of marketers coming through the door at L’Oreal?

“The first skill I'm really looking for is consumer centricity. Transformation is the new business as usual.

“Every day, there's a new platform, every day the algorithms are changing every day, the consumer decision journey is changing.

“So marketers really need to be focused on consumer centricity because it's something that will really help you in terms of strategizing your investment in your impact.”

You can vote for Rochet, or the other finalists for the WFA Marketer of the Year Award, here

Featured by The Drum

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