Although the market continues to speculate about who will be the next chief executive officer of Procter & Gamble Co., Deb Henretta, the company’s group president of global beauty, was very clear on who the new boss is: the consumer. Of course, as Henretta noted during her presentation at the WWD Beauty CEO Summit, the consumer has always been front and center at P&G. However, before the advent of the digital age, consumers had a much more passive voice. “But that was then and this is now,” Henretta said, noting that, today, consumers are taking a much more active role in cocreating products and services that meet their needs and engage both them both intellectually and emotionally. “The new consumer is the new force of change,” she declared.

This story first appeared in the May 23, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Many industries have already started to adapt to the new consumer, Henretta said, citing the self-health revolution, in which apps help people monitor everything from their body temperature to their glucose levels, and smartphones, like one by Samsung, measure things such as heart rate. Henretta sounded the call for beauty to lead the way, too, then outlined three key areas in which the consumer has changed. “These changes are not simply demographic, they’re democratic,” she said, “where the world of supply and demand is fast turning into a world of demand and supply, a world where consumers are playing new roles as critic, as creator and as new media.

Noting that consumers can now cocreate and commercialize products without a major company behind them, Henretta spoke of the beauty industry shifting “from one that is constructed and business-led to one that is, at best, co-structed by us with her.” P&G’s Secret deodorant brand capitalized on that dynamic by tapping trendy “experimenters” to design the fragrances, the names and the packaging of its new Destinations line. “As a result, the brand is enjoying success,” said Henretta.

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Henretta also emphasized the importance of values for consumers, citing a Reputation Institute study in which 73 percent of consumers said they would recommend companies they believe are positive stewards, but said only 5 percent of companies meet such standards. “This creates a tremendous opportunity for brands to take a stand on issues that the consumer wants and cares about,” said Henretta.

The final piece of the puzzle lies in inspiring consumers by creating a genuine emotional experience between brand and user. For its part, Cover Girl used its celebrity spokespeople like Ellen DeGeneres and Queen Latifah to front a Girls Can campaign that quickly went viral.

“Reaching the new consumer on her terms is our new reality,” Henretta concluded. “Beauty consumers are in charge and that’s energizing.…So let’s shed yesterday’s entrenched notion of the brand-consumer relationship in favor of a more modern approach where our consumer is the boss, but with a capital B.”

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