As consumer behavior and buying patterns have rapidly changed over the past year, the next generation of c-suite executives find themselves leading the change instead of following it. This year has proven to be a rapid cycle of consumer trends, and CEW’s 2020 Top Talent Award honorees all share one thing: agility and adaptability.
The honorees, who were recognized during CEW’s Women’s Leadership Conference last Wednesday and Thursday, are: Vivianna Blanch, vice president of integrated consumer communications at L’Oréal Paris; Ophelia Ceradini, vice president of digital technology and innovation at the Estée Lauder Cos. Online; Maris Croswell, senior director of Pantene North America at Procter & Gamble Beauty; Chopin Rabin, vice president of global integrated communications at Nars Cosmetics; Maria Salcedo, vice president of merchandising and strategy at Ulta Beauty; Usha Vijay, vice president of global marketing for consumer fragrance at Symrise; Janet Chan, vice president of brand at Nügg Beauty; Erum Chaudhry, vice president of marketing, beauty and skin care, Parfums Christian Dior.
Here, they assess how the pandemic has affected their business and the tactics they’ve deployed to continually pivot to better meet changing consumer demands.
Vivianna Blanch, Vice President, Integrated Consumer Communications, L’Oréal Paris
Connecting with consumers is the crux of Vivianna Blanch’s role as vice president of integrated consumer communications at L’Oréal Paris, so when the coronavirus pandemic harkened the “new normal,” Blanch knew she had a challenge ahead of her.
“Projects that were planned six months, or even years ahead, were accelerated so fast. When it comes to digital, any of the barriers we once had evaporated in a matter of days,” she said. “The pandemic presented — and is still presenting — so many challenges, but it showed us how anything can be accomplished in a digital world.”
Blanch began her career at L’Oréal USA 19 years ago and has worked across several divisions. “When I started at L’Oréal, I was 21 years old, and I felt trepidation over big challenges or being told I can’t do something,” she said. “Now, I find failure and challenges create adrenaline for innovation and pushing forward. I try to instill that in my team — never take ‘no’ for an answer, and whenever you’re challenged, innovate.”
Blanch sees the most potential for innovation in technology, which has taken on unprecedented importance given the increase in e-commerce interest during quarantine. Blanch thinks it’s here to stay, after leading the brand’s charges into livestreaming and virtual consultations.
Augmented reality and artificial intelligence, she said, has enormous potential as a sales tools, too. “I believe in AR/AI as massive opportunities, think about how it can change how we retail our products,” she said.
“I also see the role of tech evolving in so many ways. The use of livestreaming and virtual consultations, I imagine a world where there’s a lot of ‘telebeauty.’ I think about the role of algorithms, and I’m seeing that bleed into entertainment. Netflix has an algorithm for what I want to watch, and TikTok’s algorithm has changed how we entertain ourselves. Think about using it for beauty personalization, content, and even influencer content,” she added.
Blanch said, as far as L’Oréal Paris’ digital push goes, the pivot to augmented reality is hardly theoretical. “With AR, I see it getting better and used in other facets of the business. We’ll see more online and in-store. What L’Oréal Paris has been pioneering is the use of data and fleshing out customers so we can create that with them. The fact that we can understand our customer, with AR and AI beyond virtual try-on, is definitely the future,” she said.
In addition to AR and AI, Blanch also underscored that no consumer habits are set in stone as the U.S. rebounds from the pandemic. Right now, mask-friendly makeup joins Blanch’s efforts in the digital realm. “With so much uncertainty in the world into the future, it’s critical that we stay as close as possible in the next 12 months. We have to listen to and learn from our consumers and adapt quickly. Because we’re dealing with the current health crisis, that means innovating our entire market strategy from beginning to end and making sure diversity and inclusion are in everything we do,” she said.
Ophelia Ceradini, Vice President, Digital Technology and Innovation, the Estée Lauder Cos. Online
Working entirely from home posed myriad challenges for some, but for Ophelia Ceradini, vice president of digital technology and innovation at the Estée Lauder Cos. Online, the transition was more seamless given the always-on nature of her work.
“Being online, we’ve launched a lot of digital products. We always need to be available and on during different hours or on the weekend,” she said. “We’re set up differently to work when needed. We’re global, so we’re very used to taking calls very early in the morning or very late at night because of the time differences. We always need to be available during different hours, or on the weekend.”
Still, Ceradini has been able to unplug and pursue quarantine hobbies. “I’ve really joined in on the trending skin care and hair care,” she said. “That was the most enjoyable part, putting more time into myself from that perspective. I really got into a skin-care routine and regimen, and it’s made a difference.”
Among the projects spearheaded by Ceradini during the pandemic have been livestreaming content and virtual try-on, which have become major education and sales tools as e-commerce reached new heights in 2020.
Livestreaming, in particular, got an extra push during the pandemic. “Livestreaming and virtual try-on lend themselves perfectly for beauty. For livestreaming, it’s both entertaining and educational, and it’s perfect for learning about products and getting excited about products while you’re shopping at home. It’s so much more entertaining than seeing static images,” Ceradini said. “That was really accelerated during COVID-19, but I think that behavior is going to stay and keep going.”
Virtual try-on has also been a success for Lauder; Ceradini said the company notched a 200 percent increase in users during the pandemic and is now rolling out the technology across categories. “We’re constantly innovating and iterating. We’re expanding all makeup categories, but leveraging AI technology to provide personalized skin care and foundation recommendations to the user,” she said.
“These two technologies are really becoming part of our day-to-day life, and it’s going to be expected as we keep moving forward.”
Ceradini’s efforts haven’t only been concentrated on virtual try-on and livestreaming, however. “We have live chat on our sites now, and we accelerated and launched live video chats on our sites. We’ve added many categories and recommendations. We’ve brought in social selling, we’re able to leverage the expertise in the beauty advisors from in-store and use those advisors and experts at our retail stores. We’ve been able to use them at retail, and in our live streaming, for our consumers,” she added.
Although the ideas have required some creativity, Ceradini sees even more room for acceleration.
“Beauty marries perfectly with technology,” she said. “We really have had the opportunity and pleasure to develop these experiences through technology, and we can develop things that consumers have never dreamed of, but later wonder how they without.”
Maris Croswell, Senior Director, Pantene North America, Procter & Gamble Beauty
Fostering team creativity is integral to leadership for Maris Croswell, senior director, Pantene North America at Procter & Gamble Beauty. Doing so over the Internet took some getting used to — especially before taking maternity leave in April.
“The team thrives on being around each other. Losing that, I had to see how we could check in on each other in a way that feels authentic despite the distance,” Crowsell said. “We would do Thursday virtual Happy Hours, trivia games, or just talk and hand out. It was great to have those moments where we were talking to each other not just as coworkers, but as humans.”
Clearly, Croswell is doing something right. She led the charge to reposition Herbal Essences as an early adopter of clean ingredient lists and sparked interest in hair care brand Aussie with the Generation Z consumer. The latter is only growing more paramount to brands’ successes as a new generation meets the market.
“This sounds obvious, but if you want to connect with Generation Z, you better actually talk to them,” Croswell said. “Get them in the room on a regular basis, and co-create with them. When I was on Aussie, we had a partnership with a young consulting company built by Generation Zers, and we had them help us with everything from campaign creation to brand values and social content.
“We learned things we never would’ve gotten by following a bunch of Generation Zers on TikTok or Instagram, or via focus groups. We asked people to bring friends. Being able to unpack much meatier topics gave us insight to life, values, trust, authenticity,” she said.
One activation Croswell found particularly poignant was Aussie’s presence at L.A. Beautycon last year, which centered around pride in one’s natural hair. “When you embrace your natural hair, you are filled with incredible confidence and power to do whatever you want. We contracted five influencers of various ages, ethnicities, experiences, and turned them into superheroes with a female cartoonist. It was, by far, one of the most meaningful experiences,” she said.
Given society’s distance from in-person experiences, though, Croswell is turning to consumer behavior, which she sees as dichotomous. “There are women and men who are taking two opposite approaches. One group is using it as an outlet for joy and escape, to take care of themselves in the context of a pretty emotionally and physically draining year. The other is not in public and isn’t using heat anymore. I think each one is giving companies the opportunity to change how we make products for them,” she said.
For the second group, keeping less active consumers engaged is Croswell’s next objective. “For the consumers who think, ‘I’m not going anywhere, my expression is different now,’ how do we drive relevance? Products that drive simplicity and ease in new ways, whether it’s about multi-benefits or longevity of benefits, are interesting things we’re working on.” As an example, Croswell points to the non-wash, giving consumers lengthened cleansing benefits. “Suddenly, we have two different motivating factors,” she said, “and we have to reach both of them in new ways.”
Chopin Rabin, Vice President, Global Integrated Communications, Nars Cosmetics
When the pandemic affected office access for Chopin Rabin, vice president of global integrated communications at Nars Cosmetics, she did the unthinkable: leave New York City.
“I’ve been a die-hard New Yorker since I moved here in 2001. For me specifically, when our offices closed, I went to the Berkshires. I would wake up every morning like, ‘Where am I?’” she said. Adapting to conducting business digitally also took some adjusting to. “We went overnight from a very in-person, socially charged work environment to this whole world via videos and calls. It’s great to see how quickly people can pivot and move. Switching to this virtual existence helped me focus to some degree, and because it was something I was experiencing with everyone else, I could really come at it from a real-time point of view,” she said.
Rabin has a lot to think about, such as communicating around makeup, a category especially challenged by the pandemic, and how the role of one of its strongest marketing channels — the influencer — is evolving even more.
“It’s been a fascinating time, the appetite for content consumption has only increased. This is what I’ve seen, this time period as it relates to fans and consumers and consuming this content, I think it’s a new point of entry which lends itself to transparency and authenticity and standing for something,” she said. “For influencers, this was that moment where they’ve been bringing their fans into their world in a way that wasn’t happening before. It gave influencers a chance to connect on a whole new level.”
Outside of the influencer realm, Rabin said fighting the tides of the declining category has required all hands on deck. “The shift for us came in immediately responding and adapting to what our consumers and fans needed from the brand. That was the most important driving factor and compass that we used to react to. It wasn’t about how we’ve done things before, or what they could’ve been,” she said, including that many consumer quizzes told the brand what it needed to deliver on, such as new products and how makeup can be incorporated into the “new normal.”
In spite of Rabin’s current objectives, she added that her reliance on her team is crucial to her success. “Sometimes, tragedy and hardship bring out the best in human spirit. It can certainly bring out the worst, but what I saw professionally really brought that to life,” she said. “You see them in action, but it’s moments like that when you see what the fundamental backbone of a company is.”
Maria Salcedo, Vice President, Merchandising & Strategy, Ulta Beauty
Maria Salcedo, vice president of merchandising and strategy at Ulta Beauty, knows innovation is key to pushing the beauty industry forward. When the coronavirus pandemic led to shoppers rapidly switch gears from brick and mortar to an omnichannel consumption pattern, Salcedo saw an opportunity for not just adaptation, but evolution.
“Guests are using new shopping options more this year than ever before. Omnichannel shopping is here to stay,” Salcedo said. “These are much more valuable guests, they are so much more engaged than one shopping in just one channel. When we see the numbers, data and evolution, we know this trend will just last post-COVID-19. They are sticky behaviors we expect to stay.”
Ulta moved quickly in adapting to a post-Coronavirus shopping experience, which Salcedo credits to the November 2019 launch of its buy-online, pick-up-in-store feature on its website. Salcedo also called out the beauty advisor program — and the web site’s virtual try-on feature — as especially resonant with consumers.
“We’ve seen a ton of growth in e-commerce sales, so in terms of merchandising, we’ve shifted our channel offering decisions. We’ve had to ensure the needs we’re seeing in different channels and products are met. There’s an emotionality in beauty, so we have to pivot to meet our guests in that demand,” Salcedo said. “Virtual try-on has been an excellent tool. We also have the beauty advisor platform, which allows the guest to implement one-on-one beauty consultations with an advisor or brand expert. It creates a more human connection. There’s also the skin analysis tool, which Ulta Beauty is continuing to pursue in stores, online and offline,” she said.
Merchandising has taken on a new look during the pandemic, given the quick shifts in consumer behavior. In spite of prestige beauty sales declines, Salcedo sees beauty as a necessity to the consumer now more than ever. “Beauty throughout the pandemic has really cemented itself in our day-to-day life, even in terms of self-expression,” she said.
Salcedo has also seen an upwards trajectory of consumer trends, focusing on necessities first, services second and wellness third. “In the beginning, we aligned with a hierarchy of needs, and it was really focusing on behaviors to see people focused on hand soaps and necessities and hand moisturizers. As we progressed a few weeks into the pandemic, they were looking for DIY solutions for services they couldn’t get, like hair care and hair removal, nail care, self-tanning. As we normalized this current situation, then, we saw an evolution into self-care and wellness, with guests gravitating towards skin treatments, hair and masks. Our strategy has evolved really quickly; that is in line with our progression,” she said.
Salcedo’s fast-moving strategy extends beyond her work, who had to restructure her own schedule following office closures. “Commute time became dinner and breakfast with my family, workout time at home. I miss conversations and impromptu walk-bys with my team, because there’s so much work and communication that gets done that way, but we’ve shifted to address that. The most challenging time can test how strong a culture is.”
Usha Vijay, Vice President, Global Marketing, Consumer Fragrance, Symrise
Fragrance has had a tough year, but for Usha Vijay, the vice president of global marketing for consumer fragrance at Symrise, the pandemic has unveiled more white spaces for innovation and consumer resonance.
Most specifically, Vijay has been acquainting herself with the Generation Z fragrance consumer. “We conduct intensive research specifically on this cohort. I don’t want to generalize, but compared to all the previous generations, we have seen that Generation Z skews toward naturals, and more things that are authentic. They are more careful about environmental aspects. Fragrances that are natural and designed with that in mind resonate very highly with Generation Z,” she said.
The consumer’s olfactory preferences are also wide-ranging, but often blur the lines between gendered fragrances, Vijay said. “They gravitate toward unisex fragrances preferences. They are very open to different harmonies of fragrance notes. We see that permeation being appreciated and embraced by the Generation Z consumers. However, Generation Z is not just one monolithic block, it’s different age groups. Teens and slightly older teens have a preference for these fragrances with unisex explorations,” she added.
Meeting these new concerns — which aren’t correlated to the pandemic, per se — has been a focus for Vijay, who said she sees the most room for innovation in ingredient sourcing and transparency. “What’s happening with fragrances is this simplification with the fragrance process. Think of fragrance as a recipe with many ingredients, and clean beauty is picking up. There’s a movement to simplify the numbers of ingredients, as fragrance has to use a lot of materials.
Transparency, in some cases, goes hand in hand with sustainability, Vijay added. “For natural fragrances that are commercially appealing, that’s where innovation is playing a big role. There’s going to be much more innovation in terms of the search for sustainable ingredients that have a natural basis, and those that have a very authentic sustainability story from a supply chain perspective. Are they sourced from Madagascar or the Amazon, do I think it’ll go toward the lives of the people there? Those are the areas driving innovation in fragrance,” Vijay said.
Vijay thinks consumer health, in addition to broad-stroke issues like sustainability, should be top-of-mind for the beauty industry. “As beauty executives, we have a responsibility, especially now, to question ourselves to look at beauty in general and ask ourselves how we could use that to advance the health and wellness of consumers globally. We do have that responsibility and I encourage women to think about that,” Vijay said.
Vijay added that the pandemic has proven the perfect time to rethink the approach. She and her team had to adjust to immense uncertainty first, but she did find strength in experiencing quarantine communally. “Everyone’s going through this, if there’s communication, that’s going to make it better for everybody,” she said. “It has its downsides for sure, and it was an adjustment for many people with small children, but it lends flexibility. You can achieve more, is what I’ve seen.”
Janet Chan, Vice President of Brand, Nügg Beauty
Janet Chan’s journey to beauty included several detours, but somehow, she said, she was able to land exactly where she was supposed to be. “I loved the beauty world since I was 10, and had I known then there was a whole complex, nuanced, beautiful world in beauty, I would’ve gone straight there,” the vice president of brand at Nügg Beauty said. “I went to college, worked in finance, went into consulting, and finally said ‘If I don’t [go into beauty] now, I’ll never do it.’”
Chan’s passion has served her well, taking her from weekends at Sephora to a job at Revlon. “Revlon took a chance on me, and I started my career there. I was there for five years and did a lot of launches for them in every category. Nowadays with e-commerce, with people from all paths launching their own beauty brands, there’s so much more freedom, innovation and activity,” she said.
Given Nügg Beauty’s street cred with its Millennial consumer base, Chan sees the most opportunity in social media, given brands’ abilities to track resonance in real-time. “Back in the day, you spent all of your money on print or TV ads, and d-to-c social media platforms like Instagram are a visual medium that allow you to connect directly with the consumer,” she said. “We know the Nügg woman is a millennial girl. Through a visual channel, we drive traffic to our website, and these platforms grow every day. There’s a new opportunity for us to speak directly to the consumer and get to know her better,” Chan said.
How the Nügg Beauty consumer has changed throughout the pandemic, though, is a function of wellbeing, Chan said. “Our consumer base has actually expanded because what’s happened during the last six months has resulted in the need for more self-care, and there’s been so much stress and so much anxiety, so many changes that we see happening every day. There is a concern for self-care, a concern for our overall well being. The industry overall plays really well to that. The category is a resilient category that has helped the consumer weather stressful times,” she said.
Chan was partially speaking from personal experience. “I am the average woman. We moved everything to Zoom, and even though people say, ‘we’re a lot more casual these days, because we’re all at home,’ to me, moving everything at Zoom: while you’re not seeing other people live, you’re looking at yourself on camera all day long,” she said. “Skin care has definitely increased in importance in my daily routine. Like a lot of women, we have to make conscious efforts now for self-care,” she added.
Chan sees the same behavior in Nügg Beauty’s consumers. “They are continuing to spend on self-care for items like face masks, moisturizers, and skin care to take care of themselves. Quite frankly, it’s a time of high anxiety, and we’re doing the best that we can to take care of ourselves.”
Editor’s Note: Top Talent Awards Honoree Erum Chaudhry, vice president, marketing, beauty and skin care, Parfums Christian Dior, was not available to be interviewed.
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