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EP #30: How L’Oréal, India is Delighting Customers through Digital Innovation

About this Podcast

The Cosmetic Industry landscape has morphed dramatically during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. With beauty brands being forced to cater to digital customer journeys; innovation has become more critical than ever. And, to add greater credence to this, we caught up with Suhas Vijayan , Head of Digital Marketing at L’Oréal, India (PPD). L’Oréal, the global pioneer in the beauty and cosmetics industry believes in the power of digital transformation. Over the years, it has revolutionized the beauty of tomorrow with digital innovations – from product design to virtual beauty experiences delivered to customers across geographies. Suhas Vijayan highlights the following:

  • The effect of COVID-19 on the beauty and cosmetics industry
  • The shift in consumer behavior, sentiments, and the need for brands to be customer-centric
  • The need for brands to adopt an innovation-first mindset
  • The role of AR/VR in augmenting digital customer journeys
  •  Best digital marketing practices for CPG brands to stay relevant during these times and beyond

Tune in to learn from the world’s leading beauty and cosmetics company that has embraced a digital-first approach to drive profitable growth and increase customer engagement during these unprecedented times!

Episode Transcripts

Santosh(host): “Ok welcome “Suhas” to this wonderful podcast session powered by “Netcore”,  I’m happy to inform the audience that we have “Suhas Vijayan” who’s the head of digital professional product division of “L’Oreal India” and we’re going to be talking about a lot of good things a lot of challenges Pre-covid,  Post-covid situation a lot about the unlocking of events to happen with the days to come so welcome “Suhas” happy to have you on this podcast with me”

Suhas:  Thank you “Santosh” and super excited to be here with you on this podcast”. 

Santosh(host):  “Excellent. So “Suhas” we go back a long way, We’ve had many conversations or how the category has been growing at “L’Oreal”  and there’s so much more that can happen, The last 60 days have been difficult for most of the brands most of the vertical whether e-commerce whether online or offline, How would you say it is been for you guys at “L’Oreal”?

Suhas: “So I think it’s been quite an interesting journey so far, I know where no one anticipated that such a thing could happen especially for me, you know, personally, I’ve never taken a work from home not until March this year because the concept didn’t exist from me”

Santosh(host):  “Right”

Suhas:  “You know work from home were mutually exclusive functions for me. But in the last 60 days, I think I am pretty comfortable with it now. I think it’s because what I learned over the course is about, you know, how do you manage this whole transition? You know it like at my home now I have a designated space which I call my office”

Santosh(host):  “Right”

Suhas:  “You know and the mental ability to shift between the office and home. I think so, that’s the crucial part, so yeah, all in all, I think it’s a good transition, I am not very sure if I’d be able to go back so quickly to my office, you know, although you know, like they say no you’re working more now and hopefully we should have our office open so that we can work less there”

Santosh(host):  “Right”

Suhas:  “But yeah, I think so it’s been a quite interesting Journey so far”

Santosh(host):  “So is the entire team working from home right now”? 

Suhas: “Yes absolutely, I think to everyone in because the “L’Oreal” head offices is in “Mumbai” and as you all know that it’s in a pretty bad shape now, so the entire team is working from home, we do have a lot of catchup meetings in a check in mate which is happening besides work, I think everyone is learning a new skill, you know, either it’s “Baking” or you know doing “Yoga” or you know “Painting”, so I think everyone is in a different zone now and there I think so, it’s getting stronger because we kind of know that everyone is available for each other at any point of time, you know, which an obvious you don’t know whether the person is when he’s not on the seat whether he’s there or not  but at home, you know or that, you know, your boss or you know, your colleague is always available during that time so you can just call him up and have a discussion, so I think so stronger going stronger” 

Santosh(host):  “Right” so you are saying you’re good with relationships. There’s a lot of availability now, even though there is a fine line between work or home. The fact is there is a stronger relationship that is built to give to teammates and we know that they’re going to be there to be you in good or bad shape, but business as usual exists. This is what we saying at this point”

Suhas:  “Truce, so the only thing is you know, you have to respect and as I said in the beginning that you know, you should be able to mentally switch between office and work”

Santosh(host):  “Right”

Suhas: “That’s the key and if you’re not able to switch then you will seamlessly move in office into your personal time, I think so that’s what the last 60 days has taught us that you know, okay this is a time when you know, the office has to stop then it has to stop it means for everyone” 

Santosh(host):  “Excellent”

Suhas: “And I think that’s the key point which I want to drive which I’ve spoken in the beginning itself, but that is the trick to manage it” 

Santosh(host):  “Wow and What are the key changes you would have seen from a business perspective, for example in the last 60 days with people not being able to move out people being not able to make the kind of purchases. We all are talking about necessity being the keyword. How’s business changed for you? What is the new normal like”?

Suhas: “So both from work perspective I think so, the things did not change in essence, You know me all have our business and individual objectives, which does not change and also there is a goal which we need to achieve is just that we got a little bit delayed because of this lockdown, so that’s one thing which kind of you know delayed this but in a sense it remains the same , The possible consumership which is like now the most popular term which everyone is talking about will pose new challenge you know and it will only force us to think innovative to give you an example,  We do “Annuals” every year, you know, where we call our agency and we roll out the entire year’s plan and then come back with suggestions and we lock the AOP’s (The annual operating plan) for us, you know now there is no AOP for 2020 which we did in December, now we have to redo it,  So the entire year has been crunched into six months and now we are rethinking 2020 in June, So essentially that is the big difference, The good thing is that now we can work seamlessly and thanks to the technology, you know, thanks to this whole connectivity we can now connect virtually across the globe, so you know, it’s good in that sense and consumers shift for say yes there are a lot of shifts which are happening and we are kind of keeping a close watch on to it and improvising the strategy to suit it”. 

Santosh(host):  “Okay so from the consumer sentiment point of view in the new normal regime that we say when we can’t really move out how things change from their point”? 

Suhas: “So I think a lot of discussions has happened and I have read a lot of reports to date I think, So few things I can say with certainty is that safety and hygiene will become a key parameter. Okay, in terms of consideration whether it is products Services, I think so that’s something which will be there. The brand needs to work a little harder to build trust with their consumers, for example, we at “L’Oreal” have been engaging with our salons and hairdressers on hygiene and safety because I know that hygiene and safety is going to become big when it comes to Salon business, So we’ve been teaching them, You know, we’ve been rolling out back to business hygiene and safety guides across all forty-five thousand salons. We have trained 170 hairdressers, you know ahead of lockdown to make them ready, So that’s few of the things which need to be done to make sure the channel your customer is ready, you know to face the new breed of consumers apart from these the one major shift, which are seeing is convenience is becoming critical when it comes to purchasing that means that I need the product at my doorstep, I cannot go out and buy the product and you will see that a lot of hiker “Hyper-local” players and        “E-comm” have quickly, you know transformed and fulfilled this void, 

Santosh(host):  “Yeah”

Suhas: “But the only thing which I have to tell you “Santosh” the change is not about offline or online, you know where would i purchase the product also will be impacted by the overall economic outlook as well, you know, so there are certain categories which are called benefited during this time, you know, whether it is sanitizers, you know some personal care categories, there are certain categories like ours which kind of you know consumers kind of delayed the purchase whether it is Duty, you know Hair-Care, Skincare, did not see so much of a problem in doing lock-down, There are some categories which will not be impacted as all, you know, alcohol when the restrictions were opened up, So some categories are agnostic of this and they will never get impacted”

Santosh(host):  “Right” Did you see the shift in, for example,  I was talking to some other client customer of mine and who seems to be in the Cosmetic category this was a shift and I’m talking about the parties as a market wherein people moved away from just looking good to more skincare it’s not just about Cosmetics as one it is no love but I want to do things which you also see any shift in the way people serving consuming a product line” 

Suhas: “So yes in the last three months if you look at the overall trend, you know, you would see the skincare has gone up, Okay, even in terms of search in terms of consumption, but you should be cognizant of the fact that a lot of this products were not available because they were not deemed as essentials

Santosh(host):  “Right”

Suhas:  “However the Interest was high, People thought, you know, if I’m sitting at home, let me better take care of my skin at least so, you know cleansers, you know hydration products, you know show a lot of interest the other place where the interest came through is on “Eye makeup”, I know specifically because when you’re wearing a mask eye is only place which is seen so it also has seen some kind of spike” 

Santosh(host):  “Right”

Suhas: “In terms of interest and third which is “Hair”,  I know which is also very significant and is almost more or less constant. Especially Hair Care hair colors are deep but hair care was largely constant in my reading over the last few weeks. However, these are very temporary effects because it is largely because of the lockdown and because of the lack of access to the product. My intuitive feeling is that now when the market is opening up, you know, you will go back to your consumption, the way it is however certain categories will see a will be over-indexed like eye makeup will be over-indexed. You know, you are Hair Care will be over-indexed and you know some other categories which are being with respect to Wellness and hygiene will get over-indexed during this time” 

Santosh(host):  “Interesting, interesting what would be some of the top challenges you faced over the last 60 days you have to highlight on that and how are we dealing with them at this point”? 

Suhas: “So one of the top charts, one of the challenges we face is that you know, how do we stay relevant to the consumer?

Santosh(host):  “Right”

Suhas: “You know because we honestly didn’t want to just engage with the consumer for the sake of it, So for us, it was critical that you know, what can we get to the table so that we can engage and speak relevantly to the consumer. So we switched a lot of our content to you know, do it yourself break the myths and things like that, We went live on “Facebook” every week, you know, we got the experts online and we allow consumers to ask questions and things like that which helped us stay relevant to the consumer, The second, of course, was to make sure that you know, we do fulfillment, So we also tied up with a lot of “Hyper-local” players who do delivery for us,  So for example, you know the salons were closed and consumer needed access to the product, So what we did is we connected the salon and the consumer through a delivery partner so that the consumer has access to the product. We also enabled a lot of hair-dressers and salons to come online and speak to the consumers you know, understand it and we moved some bit of it, you know, the things which are happening in the salon, for example, diagnosis, The discussion, you know, The Product recommendation online on a social platform it will be any of you know, whether it’s “Instagram” or “Facebook” or “Whatsapp”,  You know, we try to move it up in the whole social commerce Ambit and it was an interesting transition to see, you know how both the hairdresser and the consumer are getting adapted to this new way of communication. I think this would be so that was the biggest challenge that you know, the whole proximity because, for us, you know in Salon business. Proximity is the key” 

Santosh(host):  “Correct”

Suhas: “And how do we kind of do this virtually is something which I think we’ve been trying to do and we have achieved success to some extent but there’s a lot of work to be done in that”

Santosh(host):  “So would you say in our current category there is a fair mix of offline and online, I mean, there’s one angle to with that I have to must visit this salon to enjoy an experience, At the same time once  I hooked on to a certain product line I can always buy it from the salon or online. So do you see any shift happening there”? 

Suhas: “So the key point is, you know, there are two things when it comes to the business “One is the “Products” and “Second is the “Services”,  So there are certain Professional Services which need to happen in the salon. You cannot shift it, you know at home or you cannot do it alone”

Santosh(host):  “Correct”

Suhas: “So there are so there are things like that for example and expert hair color if you need a “Ballet Arch” which is a technique you cannot achieve it at home by yourself” 

Santosh(host):  “Right”

Suhas: “You have to go to a salon but the products retail products can always come to your house, you know, there are certain activities like, you know, the diagnosis of which color you need can you know can be done at home, There are certain other things which like in you know, Post-treatment regimen things like that can be shifted at home, So it is  going to be an online-offline seamless journey, you know between the consumer and the hairdresser and we want to make sure to be the safest even in the salons, you know, where we  have put enough and more measures to make sure that the salon is safe, We have given them enough and more training recommendations to make sure that you know, it is as safe as possible for the consumers, even when they are doing the service” 

Santosh(host):  “Right, Did you see new products being built to cater to this current being group of? How can you do more things from the comfort of home because that’s also going to be kind of a habit? That is uniform” 

Suhas: “So largely,  We are looking at, you know, trying to build the journey digitally,  So for example, you know, if you want to try a hair color now we have now “App” called “Style my hair pro”  which uses augmented reality to kind of, you know, see what color suits you so this you know is a good tool for the consumers and the hairdresser’s to this can be done remotely to coordinate and kind of choose your hair color, So things like that will be much more relevant, you know during this time. However, the service needs to happen in the salon, We are also focusing a lot on in our short time services so we don’t spend a long time, you know doing it as short as possible, you know quick services things like that is what we are focusing largely on from a new product perspective I don’t think so , It will help the challenge now, you know because it’s not about the as I said, it’s about safety and hygiene” 

Santosh(host):  “Yeah”

Suhas: “And how do we build safety and hygiene in our existing Journey, That’s going to be the key”

Santosh(host):  “Right” Has this phenomenon hosted you and the team to think of crazy Innovations?,  I mean is one of the innovations I would say is hyper-local clear means used to serve the need of anything else that has been done differently or do you foresee it coming up”? 

Suhas: “So yeah, so the shifts will as I said at two levels first is convenient and while you are addressing the hyper-local players, you know filling that void is helping us. The second is how do we kind of built the journey as much as possible digitally, you know, I think so, That’s the second challenge which we will have a large part of the consumer Journey was anyway digitized, you know in terms of discovery in terms of inspiration, however, how much more we can digitize it and you know keep reassuring the consumer about the safety and hygiene factor would be one, you know the thing where we have to work a lot whether it means, you know, using “AR-VR” tools or you know, what we call as “Duty Services” things like that will play an important role, “Second” is, of course, you know looking at formats specifically, you know if there is a specific format in which you know, we can work I think so a lot of work will happen at that front also, you know disposable, you know grounds and disposable gloves, mask, sanitization all that bit will become critical. So that’s the second area where we are focusing a lot on”

Santosh(host):  “Excellent, You guys have been big in the digital marketing space as well, I mean between always being available and doing various different conversations any changes you’ve seen there”? 

Suhas: “So like we all know that you know consumers are spending a lot of time on digital and even more during the lockdown phase essentially to connect with your friends and families seek information or largely for entertainment. However, this has led to a lot of clutter, you know, and made the short attention span even shorter, So that is the biggest challenge for any “Digital Marketer” that you know, how do you tell us a story, you know in less than six seconds and make an impact, I think the challenge has it become, even more, you know bigger that you know, how to do we kind of disorder because you know now I have a brand you have never spoken to me trying to connect with me and saying that you know, Hey! How are you? Are you okay? things like that” 

Santosh(host):  “Okay”

Suhas: “So the brands have to work harder to reach the audience. The only thing is they have to make sure they are relevant, you know, so one thing which we kind of steered away from during the lock-down period to show, you know the content which is not of any use to the consumer, So we state that of course will not show, you know, the brand logos, you know, stretching apart and saying Social distance things and things like that because consumers don’t need that they need to know where will I get my milked bottle tomorrow? Will I get my newspaper? You know, today things like that,  If you’re not able to help you should not be not talking to the consumer. We will see an increase in inventory of consumers because a lot of them have come online are active users now, So you will see a lot of inventory going up. It only means that we need to be sharper in terms of targeting and we make sure that we are efficient in terms of cost, as I said before for beauty category try on whether it is Makeup “Kajal hair color” will become crucial, you know, if people want to see it on their mobile try it on, you know, play with it, so things like that will become relevant, I think so, Yeah, so that’s the larger things which we know from a digital perspective you keeping a keen eye on you know, how the prime time is moving if there is an impact but however lockdown may not be the right time to change that’s when the market opens up we will have to see if there is a shift in terms of the time at which they are consuming the content as well”

Santosh(host):  “Right” so what would be the advice that you would like to share with our fellow marketers on how to engage better with their customers?

Suhas: “The only advice I think is to be relevant to the consumers. Okay, especially at this time, you know, see what category you operate in and decide you know, whether what is the message you want to really give to the consumer steer away from creche you know, communication about you know, SSH social distancing don’t stretch your logo and say, you know to manage these things are all things which are being done, you know, so if you are not giving them any relevant information then steer away from it. The lockdown is going to get over. I think the best thing you can do is help them in their recovery because they will open up so they will need to know which stores are giving your products or services. They need to know whether they are safe or not. They need to know if anything has impacted, you know, during the last 60 days. So give them information like that to help them come back to the brand and you know and hold them during their route to recovery. That will be my only advice during this time”

Santosh(host):  “All right brilliant, Thank you so much “Suhas” It’s been a pleasure conversing with you and I look forward to having more such sessions and how we can do things better and new Innovations helping marketers evolve and learn from experiences as well, Really appreciate your time.

Suhas:  Thank you “Santosh”,  Have a good day…”

 

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