L’Oréal’s Lex Bradshaw-Zanger, newly appointed Chief Marketing and Digital Officer for the SAPMENA region, has to keep his finger on the pulse of consumer culture: the channels people tune in to, the voices they listen to, the products that excite them. The world’s largest cosmetics company is in a constant race to stay ahead of the pack, with Bradshaw-Zanger in the hot seat.
[Lex was Chief Marketing and Digital Officer for L’Oréal UK and Ireland at the time of this interview].
• How to assimilate expert contributions
• The value of a multi-channel approach
• How L’Oréal reacted to the pandemic
• The rise of social shopping and the Metaverse
Such is the frenetic pace of change in consumer marketing, Lex Bradshaw-Zanger at L’Oréal makes a dizzying comparison: “It’s like driving a Formula 1 car with teams running ahead and building the track!”
In recent years, traditional cosmetics sales channels such as department stores have been impacted - though the high street continues to be an important partner - while upstart brands and online channels proliferate. Staying on top of such a volatile sector would test anyone, so how does Lex succeed?
“Marketing has become far more complex in recent years,” he asserts, entering a kind of warp speed of change through the emergence of digital apps, social media, social shopping and much else. “We’ve gone from two dimensions to three or four: it’s exponentially more complex.”
Working in concert
He likens his role to that of a conductor, drawing the best out of sector experts, whether in data, technology, consumer engagement or ad creatives. “We can converge their experiences and enable them to work in concert,” he says. “In the UK and Ireland we have over 400 marketers plus over 50 deep subject experts working on over 30 brands, innovating all the time to push boundaries.”
So how is consumer culture changing?
“People are becoming far more vocal and engaging with brands,” says Bradshaw-Zanger. “It means there is much more pressure for the product to be amazing.” In previous generations, there was no feedback loop, he argues. You simply saw a product on TV and bought it. “Now, the quality of a product is super-clear. If the brand doesn’t live up to predictions, it’s not going to survive.”
The way that people buy cosmetics and beauty products has changed out of all recognition. Some will buy online – L’Oréal’s e-commerce channels are already large, and growing – while others want to touch things before they buy, or to receive beauty advice from a real person.
Flight to trust
The pandemic upended many commercial patterns in the cosmetics sector. Whereas in the late 2010s, a rash of new, niche brands sprang up, some endorsed or even marketed by celebrities, drawing on the emotional zeitgeist, lockdown saw a “flight to trust and safety,” he says, benefiting established businesses like L’Oréal and its multiple global brands – Lancôme, Maybelline New York, Garnier, Yves Saint Laurent Beauty and Ralph Lauren Fragrances among others.
“L’Oréal is built on strong brands with stability, product quality and scientific research,” stresses Bradshaw-Zanger. Yet even with 113 years of stability behind it, even L’Oréal had to think quickly when the pandemic hit.
“The fact that people weren’t going out was definitely a challenge,” he admits. Make-up sales fell to such a degree that L’Oréal brands began offering high-tech filters instead of blusher and mascara, to give its customers a sparkling social media look, while they sat indoors, in isolation.
“Another trend was away from fragrances and make-up towards wellness and skincare,” says Bradshaw-Zanger. Yet there were counter examples too: “We saw the ‘lipstick effect’ during the pandemic: when there’s an economic downturn, when people spend less on more expensive items, they have more available income to spend on more everyday luxuries like lipsticks”.
Changing the rules
The rise of ‘social shopping’ in China is a further major shift in consumer culture, argues Bradshaw-Zanger. “It’s a combination of entertainment, events, and individuals putting on a show. They’ll celebrate something like Valentine’s Day. We’ve been watching how this has developed in China: TikTok has changed the rules of the game.”
The emergence of interactive, user-led online platforms isn’t completely new, andit certainly pre-dates the pandemic. Enforced isolation made a difference across the cosmetics sector in all kinds of ways, accelerating trends that were already in evidence.
His advertising budget is focused increasingly on ecommerce, though he never forgets the continued importance of the High Street to L’Oréal. “We have to grow these two channels in parallel,” he says. Outdoor advertising fell away in the past couple of years, with fewer consumers travelling, but in general, Bradshaw-Zanger likes to “balance the funnel”: to promote L’Oréal on ecommerce channels and increase footfall in stores, all in support of the 35 brands that sit under the L’Oréal umbrella.
There are new advertising budgets for influencers and brand ambassadors, as Bradshaw-Zanger recognises the power of credible, authentic voices. “Everyone has different people that they listen to,” he points out, “so we’re growing the number of people who represent us.”
For example, a skincare product might be represented by an influencer who concentrates on deals, advising consumers on household shopping. The same product could equally be discussed online by a dermatologist and skin care expert, reaching a whole different audience.
For the future, Bradshaw-Zanger sees the Metaverse as a potentially powerful new world, combining augmented reality, gaming and commerce. In 2018 L’Oréal acquired the Canadian AR company ModiFace, allowing consumers to see how they would look with different hair colour or lipstick for example. “The Metaverse could give an expert in hair or skincare an enormous reach,” he adds.
Branshaw-Zanger’s marketing and advertising goals for 2023 include raising efficiency, both online and offline, through simplifying L’Oréal’s operations, while continuing to build the strength of the brands in the portfolio in a time of great change, attracting the broadest consumer numbers through distinct advertising, whether on TV, TikTok or anywhere else.
As L’Oréal looks to the future, the company is committed to working with partners to keep in touch with changing consumer culture, to optimize its brand advertising efforts and stay at the front of the pack.
Lex Branshaw-Zanger is the Chief Marketing & Digital Officer for L’Oréal South Asia Pacific, Middle East& North Africa Region. Prior to this role, Lex was the CMO for the UK &Ireland, held roles in the Western Europe Zone and was Chief Digital Officer for the L’Oréal Middle East and Africa Region.
Prior to L’Oréal, Lex was with McDonald’s and Facebook. He is a recovered ad-man having spent over 10 years in the agency world, with both WPP and Publicis – his last role was Regional Director for Digital Strategy & Innovation for Leo Burnett MENA.
Alongside his day job, Lex is a board member of the Mobile Marketing Association for EMEA and the Oxford Saïd Future of Marketing Initiative, a Fellow of The Marketing Academy and The Chartered Institute of Marketing; he is also committed to giving back and using hiss kills for good; as an adviser to multiple start-ups, and part of The School of Marketing mentoring programme.
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