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Spearheading Shiseido’s Digital Transformation With Angelica Munson

Angelica Munson, Shiseido’s chief digital officer, outlined the company's digital plans, from new marketing frontiers to innovative new tools.

For Shiseido, the effort to digitally evolve is a global one.

The Japanese beauty company, which just celebrated its 150th anniversary, continually evaluates growth opportunities in nascent digital realms, from the metaverse to consumable beauty tools. At WWD’s Digital Beauty Forum, in conversation with executive editor Jenny B. Fine, the company’s chief digital officer Angelica Munson outlined her digital directives — which included relocating to the company’s headquarters in Japan.

“I am building the digital transformation office in our headquarters, which originally started [in New York] in 2016 as a digital center of excellence. Part of that remit is how we further expand globalization efforts, bring talent from different countries to HQ, and cross-pollinate all of those ideas,” Munson said.

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Those ideas run the gamut from tech-driven products and diagnostics to new forms of marketing. For Munson, it all ladders up to Shiseido’s three key pillars of its digital strategy: innovation, transformation and keeping up with consumers. 

On the diagnostic front, diagnostic technology facilitates the customer journey.

“At our counters, we’ve been developing diagnostic tools for many years that can look into the layers of skin — that helps with this dialogue between beauty consultant and consumers. It also helps collect that data, then that’s what goes back to our research and development unit. So, we’ve had a lot of success there,” Munson said.

For the next generation of diagnostics, Munson’s team is developing what she’s dubbed “a facial conditional analyzer,” explaining that means “skin diagnostics that use applied AI to take it to a personal level, and we’re expanding it across many different brands,” she said.

Case in point, Shiseido’s Ipsa brand has a hero product called the Metabolizer, which is tailored to different skin types. Consumers can either work with a beauty consultant in-store for a diagnosis or self-diagnose their skin types with an online quiz. “We just launched in Japan, and it was so successful, it’s been rolled out to 90 stories,” Munson said. “It’s an omnichannel approach to using data, and then taking it to multiple teams to create a new experience.”

As Munson thinks about what the pre-trip, midtrip and post-trip interactions look like, she’s thinking across digital realms as well.

“It’s all people-centered design,” she said. “Someone can self-serve, perhaps in the metaverse, and work in all of those dimensions for service.”

Nars has been Shiseido’s guinea pig in the metaverse. Thus far, Munson’s key learnings have been that “the future of online is human-centered, whether it’s online or offline. The team has done work in terms of creating diversity and quality, and making sure that there’s women represented online,” she said.

“That brand has also done a great job in terms of our values at Shiseido, which is thinking big, taking risks and being innovative,” Munson continued. “And you have to build a community around your brand.”

Regionally, Nars is leading the way in North America, and Munson’s team is working on applying those learnings across key markets globally. Consumer centricity is the common thread connecting each market.

“If there’s no value add for the consumer, if there’s no value add for your enterprise and your workforce can’t get something out of it, then that value needs to be re-looked at,” Munson said. “We have a very strong customer market intelligence department in each region. We work closely with the regional leadership teams because they’re on the ground, understanding the ecosystem.”

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Munson actively mines for global insights several times a year. “We work with every region to understand what their consumer decision journey looks like. This is an illustration that we change on a quarterly basis, because there are so many new channels coming up,” she said, of a slide demonstrating the different paths to purchase. “There are so many ways content is consumed.”

One key challenge is striking the balance between innovation and staying on-brand. Technology also enables that, particularly with the advent of AI. “We have the fundamentals of our data platform,” Munson said. “From a technology perspective, it’s applied AI, taking it out of the lab and bringing it to the computer. That’s what we’ve done with our facial diagnostic tool and language processing for our chat.”

Going forward, Munson is exploring how generative AI will impact beauty. Applications of technologies like ChatGPT though are “incredibly powerful,” she said, and bridge the gap between content and tech. “What’s the future of content and media? What’s the future of content and personalization? We’re looking at partners and companies that are really on the forefront of that,” Munson said.

She acknowledged that tech like Chat GPT needs a solid data set as a foundation, but holds potential from the top of the funnel all the way down. She sees the opportunity “where you take that data, and apply AI — which is what we’ve been doing a lot, and we’re going to do more of as we really expand our diagnostics. And then last, you deliver it in an engaging manner. We’re looking at technologies that take that content to the next level.”

By and large, though, the biggest impact on consumer behavior will be connectivity itself, Munson predicted. “We’re in a 5G world, but are we taking that to the next level? We’re in a post-digital world, it’s omnichannel, and when we have that connectivity for the consumer to experience brands, not just online or in retail, but ultimately, when you look at self-driving vehicles and transportation any time you need to experience beauty, connectivity and watching that and who can get that right is going to open up the biggest opportunities for brands,” she said.