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Marc Rey, Frederic Rozé Talk Connected Consumers at CEW

The Shiseido and L'Oréal execs both addressed adapting to change in the digital world.

“The product is crucial and the consumer is crucial.”

This sentiment was the key takeaway from today’s CEW Connected Consumer conference, held in New York at Cipriani 42nd Street.

Trevor Hardy, chief executive officer of The Future Laboratory, came to this conclusion as the resolution to a friendly disagreement between two industry heavyweights — Frédéric Rozé, president of L’Oréal USA,and Marc Rey, president and ceo at Shiseido Americas Corp.

Kicking off the morning’s speakers with a keynote address, Rozé addressed the vast changes the industry is facing due to digitization.

“Before I share a few of the paths we are going down to respond to these changes, I feel compelled to say one thing — it’s a message I reinforce every day with the teams at L’Oréal,” Rozé said. “ In our pursuit of digital transformation, we should never lose focus on what matters most in our industry — products, products, products. Only product innovation bringing the best, most effective, most inventive, most relevant products can drive and grow the market and the brands. In our industry, brands win or lose because of the superiority of their product offering. In the end, having a high digital IQ is essential if and only if it is in the service of serving the consumers the products they can’t live without. Never forget that.”

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But Rey, who closed the morning in an open discussion with Hardy, is not as product-centric as Rozé — something Hardy jokingly attributed as a fundamental difference in French and Japanese ideologies.

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Rey’s view is that product innovation, while necessary, will only get a company so far.

“It’s not only product,” Rey said. “Imagine at Shiseido that I do as well as L’Oréal does — [laughs] I know it’s tough to imagine, we’re the number three player in the industry in the U.S. behind L’Oréal and Lauder. Imagine that we do everything at the same pace as well as L’Oréal does, maybe sometimes better, maybe not as well.…I’m basically going to, at best, maintain my market share. If I really wanted to create a competitive advantage, I’d need to disrupt probably more than we do, so I’d need to look outside the industry,” he said, pointing examples of innovation like Capsule, a same-day prescription delivery service.

The rest of the morning’s speakers included Christine Barton, managing director, Boston Consulting Group; Amy Eschliman, general manager and head of e-commerce at Sephora; Jessica Rotnicki, senior vice president of brand sites and; Nathalie Kristo, general manager, marketing and global business development at NYX Professional Makeup; Karen Moon, ceo and cofounder of Trendalytics; Doreen Bloch, ceo and founder of Poshly; Anthony Koithra, partner at BCG Digital Ventures; Karin Tracy, head of industry for beauty, fashion, luxury and retail at Facebook; Flynn Matthews, global insights lead for home and personal care at Google; Vikram Bhaskaran, strategic partnerships at Pinterest.