L'Oréal's Lubomira Rochet on social commerce and the beauty giant's digital future

L'Oréal's chief digital officer Lubomira Rochet has been crowned The World Federation of Advertisers’ Marketer of the Year. Here, she catches up with The Drum during its Digital Transformation Festival to discuss her career at the beauty giant, prioritising tech, and why growth in e-commerce is being led by influencers.

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. Six years into her role as chief digital officer at L’Oréal, she has spearheaded its transformation from cosmetics purveyor to a digitally savvy beauty giant.

She thought she would be out of a “digital” job by now, but looking ahead sees plenty more opportunities for disruption.

The Q&A below has been edited lightly but you can also listen to the full interview above.

Where was L'Oréal in its digital journey when you joined?

The hard work of evangelisation had already begun in 2010. The questions then were about strategising, digital transformation for growth, efficiency and impact. So, it has been an acceleration since then. We moved our company from doing 3% in e-commerce to 16% last year and 10% in digital media to 50% this year.

How did you, and how do you continue to, prioritise the technology to focus on?

At the beginning the key question was around the business objective and company strategy. We thread it around three pillars: 1. acceleration of e-commerce; 2. acceleration of digitalisation of media and marketing; 3. rethinking our marketing model to move from being a pure advertiser to embrace influence and advocacy marketing. These were key to getting the organisation working to a shared vision.

The focus has then been building capabilities. There was a massive upskilling programme rolled out to train 36,000 employees. And the second one was around our factories and industrialising our digital production for websites, apps, services, content and data.

How did you get board buy in, especially for projects where the returns are not immediate?

Everyone was convinced that digital would profoundly transform the business model and the marketing game. The key strategy has been to balance quick wins with long-term transformation goals so the CFOs and managers could see that digital transformation was bringing tangible returns. This was true around e-commerce, especially in regions where we had trouble connecting with consumers like in China and Indonesia. So, we saw rapid recruitment of new consumers. We then identified the long-term bets around things like the factories, the data-driven marketing and upskilling programmes.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced?

The challenges never came from resistance to change at L'Oréal. The challenges were two-fold. Firstly, with the new touchpoints and fragmentation with the development of the D2C business it has really put a stretch on our IT systems that were not built for an omnichannel real-time interaction. So that’s been a big challenge to reorganise our IT.

And secondly, the pace of change itself in digital. At the beginning I said [after] five to six years my job would be useless, the company would be transformed with digital at the heart of everything we do. But, digital itself keeps evolving. For example, e-commerce, we invested a lot into building new partnerships but we also see the rise of new forms of e-commerce, like social commerce from influencers and their capacity to sell online. We see some becoming super-sellers. So, this has stretched our capabilities again! It’s an ongoing transformation.

What sort of returns are you seeing from social commerce?

What is interesting to see is that we used to have a clear separation on what was transactional platforms and what were branding platforms. But more and more of the transactional platforms are becoming branding platforms. A platform like Tmall is evolving to embrace live-streaming and entertainment while Facebook and YouTube are embracing the transactional part, they are platforms where we can sell. Three’s a blurring of the frontiers. And this has led to a movement of influencers selling, especially in China.

What lessons have you learnt from the acquisition of augmented reality company Modiface?

Modiface was a bold move for L'Oréal, it was the first time we acquired something that wasn’t another brand. The integration went really well, which was a big bet as it was 70 engineers based in Toronto. We set up a digital services factory where the role is to take the innovations coming from Modiface – like AR, live-streaming and diagnostics – and embed it across all touchpoints and open-source it for our partners like Amazon, Tmall and Lazada. Time spent is up and conversation rates show a tangible business impact. What we’re doing is moving from a try-on to a personalised recommendation. We’ve done that with a skincare brand like Vichy and are now rolling it out for L'Oréal Paris and we see the conversation rates are even higher when we recommend. People spend up to seven times longer on the platform and conversion rates triple.

What does L'Oréal's digital future look like?

One of the key areas is being able to build our services strategy and support and elevate the consumer experience online and offline. The question for us in that context is how digital technology can augment and support the experience without losing what is essential – which is the sense of community and humanity that comes with face-to-face contact. So, we’re really thinking though this challenge. In China, our teams have doubled down on the online and offline strategy to integrate digital services. And what we see is that there is no contradiction between technology and community. Some of our beauty advisors in shops will now sell trough livestreams online. So, we’re really recreating this sense of belonging through digital technologies and bridging the online-offline gap through services.

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