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Coty’s Jean-Denis Mariani Discusses Digital Transformation

The chief digital officer at Coty Inc. said: “There is no digital strategy anymore. It’s just strategy in a digital world.”

The beauty industry might have been a latecomer to digital transformation versus other industries, but Coty Inc.’s newly minted chief digital officer Jean-Denis Mariani noted it’s quickly picked up speed.

“With the rise of emerging digital-first brands like Kylie Skin and KKW Beauty, these brands challenge completely the way we are operating in online sales,” he said during a conversation with Beauty Inc executive editor Jenny B. Fine.

Mariani sees content as key to inspire, engage and convert consumers. The executive believes digital transformation is about mind-set, and said he’s not the only chief digital officer at Coty — “every employee is a chief digital officer.”

In sync with that, investment-wise, the company is focused on building the foundation for all of its brands for sustainable growth.

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“We’re going to invest in omnichannel, top-notch capabilities, more in digital media and for showing content,” he said, adding Coty is building a “content factory” in Shanghai and in New York to accelerate growth through personalized content for specific audiences. These “centers of excellence” are being created at a central level.

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“They are here to support all the brands and all the countries,” said Mariani, explaining those are being transformed at the same pace.

He outlined some differences between China and the U.S.

“China is a very specific market,” he said. “We know that, for example, social commerce, livestreaming and e-commerce are booming. The content has to be very localized, to answer very local expectations.

“So, even if we know that we could transfer one best practice from one country to another, when it comes to China, we have to think ‘glocal,’” continued Mariani, referring to a hybrid global-local strategy.

Despite fragrance generally being a hard sell online, during the coronavirus pandemic that shifted, and Coty found great success especially with the Marc Jacobs Perfect scent.

“Seventy percent of women and almost 80 percent of men purchased fragrance online during the first wave of COVID-19,” said Mariani. “Ninety percent of these consumers had already smelled their chosen fragrance.”

The Perfect scent was the bestselling fragrance launch in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia, not least due to its 360-degree digital campaign, the executive explained. That was cocreated with microinfluencers and involved a TikTok push around self-expression.

“We believe strongly in creativity and self-expression from our consumers to build brand awareness and desirability,” said Mariani.

And it’s not just worked moderately. So far, on TikTok the Perfect campaign has garnered 10 billion (with a “b”) views.

“It gives us the understanding of the power of this new TikTok platform,” he said, explaining that opens a huge territory of creative self-expression for consumers. “Self-expression is becoming more important, and it’s part of Coty’s DNA.”

The founders behind Kylie Skin and KKW — Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian West — are two of the most creative self-expressers on social media. There are three main learnings drawn from them that are applicable to all of Coty’s other brands, according to Mariani. These are: the importance of creating a lot of diverse content to build brand awareness.

Second is the “drop” model, which is often used in the sneaker and fashion industries.

“It is a huge driver to create this momentum, animation with your community, so it creates a lot of buzz and business,” said Mariani.

“The third one is about community,” he continued. “With Kylie and Kim, we’ve developed this sense of belonging to a brand — to a community. So then it’s a question of animating this community.”

Numbers give credence to the model’s success. Kylie Skin’s direct-to-consumer website increased sales in the second quarter versus the first quarter of Coty’s fiscal year. The brand’s Grinch collection sold out in 20 minutes, while its Rose Bath Collection generated sales of $1 million in one day.

“We’re going to take advantage of all this insight and deploy these ways of working with our other brands,” said Mariani.

Kylie Skin and KKW are heading to China and will possibly launch in drops there. To enter China, it’s important to assess brand perception — both on- and offline — through social listening, to make sure it will meet expectations. That entails two parts: the power of the brand and of the product.

“The Chinese consumers are strongly influenced by the performance of the product,” he said. So Coty teams are deciding with which ones to launch in the country.

In general, direct-to-consumer is not the most obvious winning model for mass-market beauty brands.

“So we’re looking much more at being part of a global shopping destination,” said Mariani, pointing to how well Coty’s mass brands are performing on Amazon and Asos, for instance.

“We are looking also at other leading fashion partners,” he said.

Within Coty, communication flowing from one side of the organization to the other — from mass to class — is paramount.

“The winning recipe is to be sure that we exchange the best practices within the organization,” said Mariani. To do that, the right governance must be in place, among other factors.

“When you operate a digital transformation, two or three things are really important,” he said. “It’s about agility, adaptability — because we live in a changing world, and test and learn.”

Coty is exploring different e-commerce pilots.

“The good thing is that when you look at all these emerging platforms, they are going in exactly the same direction,” said Mariani. “They recruit a community, animate this community, and then they make this community become transactional — so commercial. It’s about a live shopping experience and for sure, tomorrow [that’s] going to be a must-have. So we will look at that.

“At the end, it’s about how you give the ability to build an ecosystem, where a consumer will be able to buy a product everywhere,” said the executive. “Everybody will become a social seller, the best advocate of the brand. We’re going to create this ecosystem with social commerce and live streaming — to be sure we’re going to take advantage of all these touch points in the beauty consumer journey to give the ability to the consumer to buy a product.”

Looking into his crystal ball, Mariani sees video eclipsing photographs online.

“Because it unlocks the full potential of consumer self-expression and engagement,” he said.

Mariani also envisions a fully integrated, seamless ecosystem for e-commerce, with strong momentum for livestreaming and social commerce in the U.S. and Asia-Pacific region.

“Beauty will evolve, and the whole beauty experience will become even more fun,” he said. “Entertainment, creativity and education will be key pillars of this. In two years, it is going to be new, better and different.”

Mariani emphasized: “There is no digital strategy anymore. It’s just strategy in a digital world.”