Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

New epicenters of influence are growing: Asmita Dubey, L'Oreal global marketing chief

L'Oreal's global chief digital and marketing officer Asmita Dubey on pioneering beauty tech, 'radical inclusivity, conversational commerce, Web3 and women in gaming

Published: Dec 19, 2022 02:15:18 PM IST
Updated: Dec 19, 2022 07:48:41 PM IST

New epicenters of influence are growing: Asmita Dubey, L'Oreal global marketing chief"The future of beauty is diverse and inclusive and it is sustainable, committed and generous. The future of beauty will be fueled by innovation. It will be nurtured by science. It will be powered by tech. And what we are doing is shaping that future with science, technology and creativity," says Asmita Dubey.

We have to move at the speed of culture,” says L’Oreal’s Asmita Dubey who has spent years driving the digitalisation of the world’s largest beauty company. In a wide-ranging exclusive interview with Storyboard18, Dubey, who is the chief digital and marketing officer of the global beauty juggernaut, talks about disruptive consumer trends and creating experiences that marry online, offline and on-chain worlds. She also shares her views on the shift from social to equitable and empowered communities, Live and Conversational commerce, exploring Web3 worlds and venturing into the metaverse at a time when it’s hit a few snags.
Edited for length and clarity.

Q. How is the recovery phase going for L'Oréal after the pandemic hiatus?
Beauty is social by nature. When we talk about the post-pandemic world, people are coming together and meeting each other, and that is a social interaction. In that sense, there is a lot of positive excitement around beauty and fragrance and we're seeing lots of growth. The other thing from a consumer sentiment point of view is health and wellness and concerns about that. Therefore, our dermatology and dermatological skincare business is seeing exceptional growth everywhere. So all in all, we are coming back from the pandemic very well. The beauty market has grown about 6 percent year-on-year this year, globally. Our ability to outperform the market has been great. We've been growing across divisions and zones, and we are gaining market share.

The Indian beauty industry’s potentially so huge. The penetration in categories is growing everywhere. We have beautiful brands like L'Oréal Paris, Maybelline, Garnier and Lancôme, and even on the haircare and hair color side. So we feel very optimistic about the Indian beauty market and again we have outperformed the market.

Q. What are the key consumer trends that you are focused on?
We have to move at the speed of culture because so much is changing around us. Post pandemic, there is a social and relationship reset. A lot of people are thinking that we need to move from casual to close relationship, quantity to quality in terms of relationship and that impacts the way they are interacting. That impacts the ecosystem in which we are playing. So I'm coming a bit to the digital side of it. There are almost 5 billion people that are online now and India has more than 800 million people who are online.

So the social ecosystems are changing because of the social reset that has happened. Then there is the Gen Z and from their point of view what matters most to them. What matters to them is authenticity and proximity. They are also heading out more in the metaverse and gaming. There is a lot of social concern in terms of sustainability and radical inclusivity. At the same time, there is a need for a personalized, relevant, individual beauty. And what we do today in beauty tech, with data and AI, allows us to offer something very unique and individual.

Also read: G-beauty, C-beauty, T-beauty: Beauty takes on the world and the alphabet

Q. Can you elaborate on the trend of ‘radical inclusivity’?
We believe that the future of beauty is diverse and inclusive and it is sustainable, committed and generous. The future of beauty will be fueled by innovation. It will be nurtured by science. It will be powered by tech. And what we are doing is shaping that future with science, technology and creativity. So all of that is helping us to bring that personalized, unique beauty for everybody. And I can pivot to the point of pioneering Beauty Tech and moving from products to services. We are offering a lot of services to our consumers today. Services like fragrance finders and virtual trials, which are based on augmented reality. These services are both offline and online. For our brand Lancôme, for instance, we have the skin diagnostic service that’s available at the counter in store and it is an online diagnostics. You take a 360 image and it analyzes the skin and gives you routines that are personalized. So that brings an extremely personalized beauty that the consumer is looking for. They look for relevance in the offerings.

Q. Social and live commerce presents exciting opportunities for marketers especially in countries like India that are witnessing a digital surge. What is L'Oréal doing on that front? Are you excited about the prospects here?
We have been experimenting with some fantastic social commerce models because it is an opportunity for our consumers and our prescribers - beauty advisors, the dermatologist, the hairstylist, to get closer to our consumer, but then also offer products and services to them. And maybe make a sale. There can be different business models on social commerce. The first one can be on the platform itself. So if you look at a market like China or Indonesia, TikTok and the commerce there tends to be very interesting. That is the platform commerce.

Also read: Storyboard18 - Live commerce and the rise of shopatainment

There's also affiliate commerce with our partners, where it need not be an external platform, but we could be bringing them together. So the Experts Salon Care in India for our professional products division happened during the pandemic, actually. The salons were closed and we had the whole ecosystem of hair stylists, salons, consumers who wanted to connect with each other and who wanted products. At that point, L'Oréal was the facilitator. What we did was we said we will provide you a platform (on WhatsApp) in which you can come together, share the products, have the conversation, find something, and get it. That is the business model. It now moves into services where they can do a booking there and create a deeper relationship with the consumer.

What is working well in India, and that’s also because WhatsApp is for everybody in India, is what you call conversational commerce. It is really growing and here we are working with a lot of our partners to look at what conversational commerce means. How do we empower our consumers and prescribers to have the conversation, create the relationship and then be able to sell a product or give information or offer a service. And the last point is things like live streaming or live shopping. These are just tools to be able to do all that well. In fact, we do more than 10,000 live streams in a year!

Also read: From Rihanna to Kylie Jenner, celebrities building business empires thanks to beauty industry

Q. As a marketer what’s your take on influencer marketing coming under greater scrutiny from consumers and governments that are calling for more regulation?
There are new epicenters of influence that are growing. We are continuously moving from social following to more equitable and empowered communities, which means that we are moving into more personalization and more relevance. Individuals talking to each other or more opportunities for individuals to talk to each other. Because the digital transformation itself is transmuting from digitalization to virtualization, from Web2 to Web3. So creation is moving from social to empowered equitable communities, from a look-down smartphone to probably new unabashedly face-forward devices. So, we will have to be prepared for a world which behaves a bit differently.

We work with a lot of influencers and brand ambassadors - some of them are artists, some of them are stars. We work with prescribers - beauty advisors, dermatologists, makeup artists, hair stylists, and all of them have influence and all of them create advocacy for us. The way we work is we create a values charter. That value charter is available publicly and it's online. We say that these are the values on which we work. So it is an equitable, empowered community. It is about their expression of our brands, but so long as we are within those values charters, which are based on mutual respect, transparency and integrity. That's how we work with all our influences everywhere in the world.

Also read: Betting on beauty: What's driving sudden investor interest in the business

Q. Moving to things like NFTs and metaverse. Mark Zuckerberg’s Metaverse plans have hit a few snags. The sheen seems to be wearing off. From your vantage as a marketer, was it just the shiny new toy or is there a long term strategy in place for these new worlds?
It is a charged digital space. More than 15 percent of the economy today is based on the digital economy. There are 5 billion people that are online today. And over the coming years it will become 7.5 billion, which means 90 percent of the world will be online. So that direction of change and that positive charge will continue.

Now, the second thing is digital infrastructure which is the backbone of the digital economy and digital infrastructure continues to grow. 5G connectivity is becoming a reality. One of the lowest 5G costs is going to be there in India. So there will be more immersive technologies that will become very mainstream and consumers will start experiencing it because of that accessibility.

The reason I say it is a charged space is because there is innovation and in that innovation, we can talk about the metaverse, but startups are fostering innovation. And they continue to question the way we do business otherwise, whether it is the future of work or health and wellness or energy transition, all of that is digitalized. So that direction of change is just inevitable. It is going to happen.

Also read: From growth to sustainability, the role new technologies play in luxury brand management

Yes, there are new digital realities. We are moving from Web 1.0 to Web2 to Web3. It is a reality which is taking shape today. And in that sense, what we are saying is that we have our feet firmly grounded in the Web2 deployment because it is about digital transformation. It is about image recognition, video, live streaming fast, cloud, data, automation all that is very much here. So at L'Oréal our feet are firmly grounded in the deployment. And then we are exploring Web3, the metaverse and gaming. Moving from offline to online, to offline plus online plus on-chain, based on the blockchain and on the vision of Web3. It comes back to the point of empowering communities, more equality, changes in platform, and a new vision. Beauty has always been about self-expression. And what we are doing is exploring these new codes of beauty on the web.

Q. L'Oréal seems very bullish on the metaverse and the Web3 world, and committed to carving out a competitive edge there.

In fact, we had a first-ever multi-brand beauty partnership with Ready Player Me, the leading cross-game avatar platform for the metaverse. Maybelline New York and L’Oréal Professionnel premiered exclusive makeup and hair styles for avatar creation that can be used on more than 4,000 platforms and apps worldwide. We are working with makeup artists, hair stylists, and also new kinds of 3D artists and developers like Evan Rochette. They create those looks together and that is about an expression of beauty. We have a lot of other partnerships.

We just announced a partnership with Meta to launch the first startup acceleration program dedicated to creativity in the metaverse, located at STATION F which is one of the largest startup accelerator programmes in the world.

Creativity in the Web3 is about moving from 2D to 3D buildings, understanding virtual avatars, looking at new kinds of creators, finding the answers to what is loyalty tomorrow. All that is in the making and we are very excited to explore it. We are digital-first. For the last decade we have been digitizing and we continue to explore and remain number one for the coming decades.

Also read: From window shoppers to hardcore gamers, Indian users are ready to spend on gaming

Q. Gaming is another space which L’Oreal has plunged into especially targeting women gamers.
There's more than 3 billion gamers today that may be casual gamers or very serious gamers. Within that 3 billion, more than 40 percent are women. So it's a very large women audience there. We do a lot of work on that and we are working with gaming influencers to bring an expression of our brand’s salon experience in the gaming world and do it with credibility with these gaming influencers. Armani Beauty worked with Fortnite to create a game called “Rewrite the Code.” It is inspired by the brand’s new scent for men, Armani Code Parfum. So we are very much into the gaming space.

The interview first aired on Storyboard18 - CNBC-TV18.

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