When You've Spent Years Building Your Brands, How Can You Learn to Focus on Customers Instead?

When You’ve Spent Years Building Your Brands, How Can You Learn to Focus on Customers Instead?

It’s Time For Multi-Brand Companies to Focus on Customers Instead of Brands

Martin Aubut is the Digital Director at L’Oreal Canada, which owns some 35 brands. When he took the job, he realized that to succeed today, it no longer makes sense for brand managers to operate in silos.

They had to focus on the customer, regardless of which brand interested her on any given day.

They had to become truly customer-centric, across the whole stable of products.

Their range is so diverse that the company has products for every stage of the customer lifecycle. The brands you want to buy at 13, 30, and 73 are not the same. But you are still the same person. So why not leverage the diversity of those brands to follow the customer for years, and always be able to meet their needs?

That’s the change in mind-set Aubut has been working on at L’Oreal for the past five years.

Going From Product-Centric to Customer-Centric

Focus on Customers over Time, Not Just Brands

Focus on Customers over Time, Not Just Brands

Traditionally consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies, like Procter and Gamble, organized themselves by brand. Sometimes they’d even pit one brand against another, to see which could do a better job of grabbing market share.

One big problem with that model is that it loses the synergies all those brands could have if they took a total view of the customer, across brands.

One of the exciting things about technology is that it is now becoming possible to do so.

Where to Start in Changing An Entrenched Corporate Culture

For Aubut, the first thing was to start digging into the people side of things:

  • What was the culture of the organization?
  • What was really driving customer purchase decisions?

Martin Aubut, Digital Director, L'Oreal Canada

Martin Aubut, Digital Director, L’Oreal Canada

He had to be able to get staff “to see l’Oreal as an ecosystem of brands.”

He decided to start by setting up an e-commerce playground of sorts. Picking a brand to sell online so the company could get closer to its customers, who had traditionally only bought from third party retailers.

To understand the customer in a big, multi-brand environment, means collecting and understanding data.

Lots of data.

Data that crosses websites, channels, brands, and even countries.

Not an easy task.

“The first thing that you have to do if you want to transform an organization and be consumer centric is to collect the information the right way and be able to analyse it real time,” says Aubut.

That meant doing things like:

  • Training all the marketing staff (not just those in the digital unit) to understand and use Google Analytics.
  • Putting public relations staff and brand managers on teams together. They have to be able to work on a consistent story.
  • Investing in technology that can connect online and offline data, including advertising and its impact, and, whenever possible, link it all to individual customers.
  • Finding ways to give customers a reason to engage with the company, and particularly to want to share personal information with it. Think about it: how could letting you know more about them help your customers? With beauty brands, consumers want to know which products will make them look their best, so asking things like skin type not only gives l’Oreal information to use in product development, it helps the consumers.
  • Hiring and developing data experts. Artificial intelligence, big data, and predictive analytics “makes us smarter about when to approach the right customer at the right time with the right value.”
  • Setting up a “digital content factory,” which lets them work together to quickly develop stories, produce them, and share them across multiple channels and platforms in ways that are customized to each platform.

Future Challenges for Multi-Brand Consumer Goods Companies?

The biggest challenge, says Aubut, is the speed at which customers are changing. You have to have internal capacity and flexibility to keep up with that change.

Today most customers still use email or contact centers to get customer service, but that’s quickly changing to Twitter and Facebook, and now starting to migrate to messaging apps like What’s App and SnapChat. You have to be able to serve your customers wherever and whenever they need you.

Technology is a big part of understanding and meeting the needs of customers, but to make it all work comes back to people. Getting everybody working together to focus on customers instead of just their own jobs.