Never stop learning: Why staying ahead of marketing matters today

Stéphane Bérubé / October 2018

Stéphane Bérubé is L’Oreal’s CMO for Western Europe. Obsessed with attribution modelling and an advocate of evolving KPIs, he discusses what it takes to be a great marketer and how brands can embrace digital transformation with three key pillars.

During my 22 years in marketing, I have been exceptionally fortunate to spend 16 years working to help build and grow L’Oreal, striving to achieve our goal of delivering connected, sustainable beauty for all.

When I joined L’Oreal in 2002 the marketing industry was on the cusp of understanding the impact of digital. In the intervening years, shares in L’Oreal have risen from €75 (£65) per share to around €210 (£185) per share.

When I attended a meeting in Paris about four years ago, hosted by members of the Executive Committee, me and my team were expecting a “good job, well done” and a pat on the back. Instead, I received one of the most valuable lessons I have ever had in my career as a marketer.

Our host, looked around the room and said “well done, we have set record shares and L’Oreal has never been bigger or wealthier — but we are doing a terrible job. We need to rethink the way we are working. We need to look at what we are doing well and ask: what do we need to reinvent?”.

Initially I was a little shocked. But quickly, the wisdom behind these words became evident. You need to change while the business is good — not wait until you face problems.

This message has been at the forefront of my mind in everything I have done in business since, but particularly when it comes to devising our marketing strategy in a digital age. I feel lucky to work for L’Oreal, and with businesses like Google, who are ambitious, strive for impactful change and constantly want to redefine what progress really looks like.

““New tech is driving consumer habits and these new habits are driving new tech. The marketer of tomorrow needs to be in tune with these trends and be bold in embracing the new.”

– Stéphane Bérubé, CMO Western Europe, L'Oréal

Understanding digital

Digital has fragmented things — now media is more complex and faster than ever. It has also brought a fresh tech layer to marketing; 20 years ago, a creative mind with solid businesses instincts would be enough to make it as a marketer. Today everyone needs technology expertise.

We no longer need a vague digital jack of all trades, we need specific expertise. I don’t want a digital manager — I want a precision marketing specialist. I want an audience manager. I want a community manager.

Great marketers are able to understand how consumers really think. In day-to-day life, consumers are not thinking “I think I’ll do some digital now... maybe followed by some offline shopping later” as they fly through a newsfeed on their phones. The days of one person knowing the consumer and another knowing the tech is over — marketers now must be able to bridge the gap.

You might think you are on top of digital — and this could be true — but it won't be true for the next five years. Everything has changed in marketing in the last 25 years. And it's not over. But the one thing that hasn't changed is the brand. Companies are still able to build strong brands with strong services for their consumers.

“The days of one person knowing the consumer and another knowing the tech is over — marketers now must be able to bridge the gap.”

The consumer doesn't need only a reason to buy the product — they also need to form an emotional connection. Search Google or YouTube for Red Bull and you are more likely to see someone careening down a mountain on a bike or a snowboard than to see any refreshing beverages. Red Bull is not simply selling a drink, they are selling a lifestyle — the brand owns the territory and everything comes from this connection to the brand.

Working with Google, L’Oreal has evolved from a 110 year old company working with print and TV to completely embracing digital transformation. For L’Oreal, this transformation has three key pillars.

#1 Talent and culture

About five years ago, we had 300 digital experts, all with the same title. Today we have over 2,500 digital experts, with a diverse range of roles and specialisations. It’s crucial for brands to be agile, flexible and move with the times — and this means continuing to develop and upskill employees to stay best-in-class. If L’Oreal can continue to reinvent itself as a brand, it's because every individual in the company is pushing to reinvent themselves.

#2 Performance management

The key question for any manager is “how are the KPIs I set for my colleagues turning into ROI for my business?”. It’s important to understand that KPIs are innately in a constant state of change; four or five years ago everyone was obsessed with CPM, then it quickly became VCPM. Attribution modeling is my current obsession and we are working with businesses like Google to crack this code — we want to go further than simply knowing the “last click”.

#3 Technology

It can be difficult to know what technology to “bet” on — if you make a mistake you can end up paying for next-to-useless tech for years. As a marketer, you need to take in as much information you can from experts and it’s essential to spend time with tech companies and start-ups to understand how it works from the ground up but also develop a partnership and evolve with them.

Technology is completely revolutionising the way we are working in marketing — new tech is driving consumer habits and these new habits are driving new tech. The marketer of tomorrow needs to be in tune with these trends and be bold in embracing the new. I want my employees to ask “how can I reinvent the beauty industry like Uber did for taxis or Airbnb did for travel?”.

In this new, ever-changing world, I find myself turning to old, wise words from entrepreneur Peter Drucker: the best way to predict the future is to create it.

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