The L’Oréal Group is a global beauty giant spanning many of the best known and most beloved beauty brands on the planet. A veritable “who’s who” known to consumers and professionals worldwide, the L’Oreal Group includes brands like L’Oréal Paris, Vichy Laboratories, Maybelline New York, Garnier, Lancôme and Yves SaintLaurent.

Recognized for their deep history of scientific research and innovation as well as a rich history of memorable marketing and advertising – “Because We’re Worth It” is one of the most enduring advertising slogans globally – The L’Oréal Group have been operating in Canada for over 59 years and employ over 1,300 Canadians.

I caught up with L’Oréal Canada’s Chief Marketing Officer Stéphane Bérubé in their beautiful downtown Montreal offices to discuss how a 108-year-old organization is able to remain relevant in today’s hyper-competitive market.

HB: Stéphane, Thank you for taking the time to chat today. As CMO for over 39 world famous brands, can you talk about your mandate here at L’Oréal Canada and how digital is transforming your organization?

SB: Sure. Firstly let me set the record straight. I firmly believe that there is no separation between a digital and a traditional business – there’s just operating a business in a digital age. Which is what we’re doing here at L’Oréal Canada. I’ve been at L’Oréal in various roles for 15 years, including GM of the L’Oréal Paris business, so I’ve seen this organization transform before. Today our transformation is about accelerating the digital ability across the company at every part of our operations.

HB: Can you be more specific about what Digital Transformation means at L’Oréal Canada?

SB : Specifically, we have three key Canadian objectives that can only be reached if we’ve built strong digital capabilities in everything we do.

Drive 20% of our sales online. This is about building a great ecommerce capability and doing that in conjunction with our retail partners across the country. L’Oréal Canada enjoys a great relationship with longtime partners like Jean Couteau, London Drug, Shoppers Drug Mart who bring an expertise and a scale we’d never hope to replicate. Our online efforts are about bringing our knowledge and our unique expertise in beauty care to the plate so we can accelerate the growth of the category together.

Gather rich data on 50% of our Canadian customers. We’re driven to build meaningful data on our customers to create an appropriately personalized relationship with them. More than just buying habits and transactional data, this means elements like skin type or preferred hair colouring system. This isn’t just about building marketing programs but also learning from our customers so we can better build new products and innovations.

Lastly, we want to create 100% LOVE for our brands and products. This objective has been about switching our thinking from a traditional investment in creating awareness to building real, genuine engagement with our customers.

None of these are possible unless our digital skills and abilities are world-class.

HB: Those are very aggressive goals. How has the organization had to change to deliver on this?

SB: It starts with a very deliberate “up-skilling” of our internal skills and expertise. We wanted to ensure we had the right skills internally and were building the right expertise amongst our staff. That has meant both hiring experts in social media, CRM, E-Commerce and, increasingly, Data specialists but just as important an increased emphasis on training too.

L’Oréal Canada’s digital training starts from the very top of our organization and goes across all our functional teams from Sales, Operations, Logistics and, of course, Marketing. This isn’t just in Canada but its a global commitment starting from our executive leadership team.

Every aspect of our organization has a robust training program to make sure we’re current in all things digital. With the speed that digital changes in terms of technical details and complexity, this training is absolutely critical.

Beyond hiring and training our people, we’ve also built new in-house capabilities as well. We now operate our own content factory to support our social media efforts. We’ve also built our own trading desk as well to ensure we could control our performance marketing investments.

HB: I’m hearing an amazing global commitment to being a digital first organization and certainly no shortage of investment in skills and capabilities. Has that investment paid off in Canada yet or is the return still to come?

SB: Absolutely there have been several wins for us. Our L’Oréal Paris “Genius App” has been a runaway success allowing customers to “virtually” try out various L’Oreal products before buying them. We’re very proud of that.

Our La Roche-Posay brand has created a UV patch for parents to put on their kids before they go and play in the sun or at the beach. It is actually a piece of connected hardware that tells parents when they need to re-apply sunscreen which is super simple but very very useful for parents.

And we’ve actually had a bit of a Canadian coup with the recent Facebook F8 launch. On the same day as F8 launched, L’Oréal Canada released a bot that allows people to send L’Oréal gifts to their friends using Facebook Messenger. We were overjoyed to seen as a pioneering brand by Facebook who went so far as to feature us on the day that F8 launched. This was fantastic recognition but it was the fact that the idea moved so quickly from ideation to launch that I was most proud of.

In four short months, the Canadian team, working with our partners Automat Technologies here in Montréal, conceived this idea, created it and then launched it. That was a great example of our way to move at the speed of digital.

HB: These are excellent product examples. How else has Digital transformed your efforts at L’Oréal Canada?

SB: In our Marketing efforts we used to equate our advertising or media investment with the health of our brands. While we still spend a considerable amount in media with some of our larger brands, some of our Professional brands like NYX are mostly driven by UGC content and the use of Influencers today. For L’Oréal to participate and remain topical and relevant to our new customers, we’ve had to embrace the power of “how to” videos on YouTube or inspirational images on Instagram as new channels and tactics. These are just other examples of how digital has changed how we advertise or go-to-market today.

HB: Digital consultancy L2 regularly commends L’Oréal for being a Digital leader but that takes more than hiring and training. What do you believe has allowed a global company that’s over 100 years old to embrace Digital like L’Oréal has? 

SB: (Laughs) You’re right that it has taken a lot more than hiring and training to get us this far. We recognize that we still have further to go but we’re proud of how much progress we’ve been able to get in this digital transformation so far. An important part of our success actually goes back all the way to our founders. That is this notion of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial spirit that really started the company in 1909. From the very beginning our founder Eugene Schueller was relentless in his research and innovation in beauty, hair and fashion but he was equally entrepreneurial in opening up new markets to L’Oréal products. For example L’Oréal products were already selling in the US and Canada a decade after the company started. That kind of international expansion was almost unheard of in 1920. He was a true entrepreneur and, as a fifteen year veteran of this company, I can say that entrepreneurial spirit is very much alive in our DNA and in our culture today.

We’ve always just placed more emphasis on our People than our Process here at L’Oréal and that’s why values like Passion, Innovation and Open-Mindedness are so important to us, and our success. We actually see our business as an adventure – we even have adventure written in our values – and so we want our people to have the autonomy and the desire to keep pushing the envelope.

These values – which really came from our founder – have created a very unique managerial style. In some ways we really do think of ourselves like a start-up that’s always pushing forward. We’re just a 108 year old start-up.

HB: Lots of company’s talk about acting like a start-up. How is L’Oréal Canada able to do it when so many others aren’t?

SB: Some of it comes down to your history which you can’t invent or make up. We’re fortunate our founder was an inventor so the idea of “test and learn” was not a new behaviour at L’Oréal. If anything, it was here from the very beginning. But we have definitely had to revisit some of these values and behaviours as the company became bigger and more successful. It isn’t just about “test and learn” but about being comfortable with failing too. Luckily our organization is about rewarding employees for trying and failing versus not trying and playing it safe. That definitely attracts – and keeps – a certain type of person here at L’Oréal.

But we certainly aren’t perfect.

In fact, the idea of Perfection is one that we’ve struggled with over the years, partially because of the category we operate in and the products we produce. This desire for Perfection meant that we weren’t always comfortable launching something that was anything less than brilliant. We’d review, analyze, debate, reflect and so on. Well that kind of behaviour can’t exist in a digital world. We were losing opportunities and moving way too slow. Now, that doesn’t mean that we don’t still strive for Perfection but we’ve definitely gotten way better at moving faster, at getting products to market quicker, like our Messenger bot for example. It doesn’t need to be Perfect when it launches. That’s what our test and learn is for, to keep making it better and to do it faster.

The other part, which has surprised me I’ll be honest, is a genuine capacity by L’Oréal employees to willingly change themselves. The truth is, company’s don’t, or can’t, transform unless the employees inside the company are willing to transform themselves first. And that’s something that I’ve seen happen all the way down from our CEO to our newest recruits. The way everyone embraced this transformation was incredible and we did this when the company was successful. What was even more amazing that we didn’t wait to transform, we did it when we were growing market share, were cash rich and our stock was almost at a record high. Few companies elect to transform when everything’s going well. That’s another aspect of the L’Oréal culture that makes me very proud.

HB: That is incredible. You’re right most organization’s wait for a crisis or a decline to spur a change. L’Oréal made the change when everything was going well. Amazing. So what advice do you have for your fellow CMO’s who are staring down the barrel of a Digital Transformation? 

SB: For me I hate giving advice because there really isn’t one recipe that fits every organization or company. Perhaps I’m fortunate that our company has always been comfortable with reinvention. That made it easier to align our people to a transformation than it probably would be at other companies. Here’s what I would say. You have to find something in your history, in your roots, that has made your company successful. A strength that is yours but that can be reinvented for a digital age. We’re still L’Oréal but we were able to use our strength of entrepreneurial spirit to change ourselves. You have to find something appropriate in your organization that will let you change.

The other piece of advice I would give “Don’t Wait”. There will never be a better time to start your transformation than right now.

The market is not going to get less competitive and complexities in this area are only going to increase. Start now. Don’t wait.

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This post is part of an ongoing series exploring the intersection of Culture and Digital Transformation – and the challenges organizations face when those two forces meet. This challenge will, I believe, shape the business agenda for the next decade so we all have a lot to learn. 

If you’d like to share your story, please DM me on Twitter @ZimHilton or reach out via LinkedIn.

Find the rest of the series here:

Culture & Digital Transformation: On The Frontlines with SickKids Foundation

Culture & Digital Transformation: How a 145-Year-Old Insurance Company Became A Digital Darling

Digital Transformation & Culture : The Coca-Cola Canada Story

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