Gretchen Saegh-Fleming

“We’re moving beyond always be ‘selling’ to instead, always be ‘serving.'”

Gretchen Saegh-Fleming, chief marketing officer of L’Oréal USA, spoke about the company’s evolving approach to business in the face of a new beauty consumer with a more diverse range of needs and desires than ever — or, as Saegh-Fleming put it, an “infinite amount.”

As the definition of beauty shifts beyond “the traditional Western standard,” L’Oréal has had to shift its 110-year-old self to appeal to “the new codes of beauty and identity” set forth by younger consumer generations who value individuality, embrace natural traits and are more likely to see gender as fluid. They also want to align with companies that share their personal values.

“For these young people, diversity is more than a demographic data point — it is a value system and a rallying cry,” said Saegh-Fleming. “For us as brands to truly resonate with the new beauty consumer, this same value system has to be very sincerely and deeply integrated into our value system and culture, who we are as brands.”

Being in the beauty business is no longer about selling as much product as possible, she pointed out — rather, it’s about serving a diverse consumer set with personalized innovation.

Saegh-Fleming ticked off a series of major company initiatives over the past two years that reflect L’Oréal’s transformation from serving to selling.

For starters, fragrance is no longer about gender. “We’ve historically marketed fragrance in a binary way — to men, to women,” said Saegh-Fleming. “We have to go to market in a way that is not only inclusive, but creates a true sense of belonging and makes people feel accepted.”

She pointed out that Atelier Cologne does not bifurcate fragrance by gender, and that Gerard Camme, who runs the Atelier Cologne business in the U.S., is known to wear the brand’s Rose Anonyme scent around the office, despite that rose is a traditionally feminine scent. “It’s not your grandmother’s rose.”

Gender is not the only thing that is considered fluid these days — age is, too. Lancôme recently re-signed 66-year-old Isabella Rossellini as one of its brand faces.

Also on the makeup front, L’Oréal has made efforts to diversify its shade options — from 48 shades of It Cosmetics’ Bye-Bye Under Eye Concealer (the brand at one point had fewer than five shades), to Maybelline’s Made for All lipstick, a range of seven shades tested on 50 women with different skin tones, and Lancôme’s Le Teint Particulier foundation, which custom-blends personalized foundation at counter.

The flip side of shade inclusivity is a kind of fatigue from too many choices, said Saegh-Fleming. L’Oréal’s acquisition last year of AR company Modiface has allowed it to create solutions for consumers who are shopping for makeup online and in-store. Try-on apps, said Saegh-Fleming, like the one NYX launched at the end of 2018, allow consumers to virtually play with several shades of a product before committing to buy — a traditional store experience might yield only one or two try-ons. Plus, when presented with the option to try-on virtually, “people are more daring with their choice of color,” said Saegh-Fleming.

Wellness is also important. L’Oréal became the first beauty brand sold in the Apple Store when its La Roche-Posay My UV Skin Tracker device launched this year. The device allows consumers to track their own personal ultraviolet light exposure — “consumers want to understand their skin and its unique needs, and over 60 percent were asking for a personalized diagnosis,” said Saegh-Fleming.

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