L'Oreal's Chief Digital Officer on Programmatic Plans, Startups and Org Charts

An Outsider to Beauty and L'Oreal, Lubomira Rochet Charged with Transforming Giant

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L'Oreal Chief Digital Officer Lubomira Rochet
L'Oreal Chief Digital Officer Lubomira Rochet

Top leadership at L'Oreal is heavy on seniority in the company and the beauty industry. So it came as a surprise last year when it not only became the first big beauty player to name a chief digital officer, but also added an outsider with no beauty experience to its executive committee -- Bulgarian-born and French-educated Lubomira Rochet, now 37.

Ms. Rochet's charge, as Chairman-CEO Jean-Paul Agon put it at the time, is to "accelerate L'Oreal's digital transformation regarding consumer experience, service-based innovation, customer service and technology platforms."

It's a tall order that has big implications for marketing. The beauty giant, with global sales of $25 billion, ranks as the third largest global marketing spender with $5.9 billion, according to the Ad Age Datacenter. In an interview, Ms. Rochet said that among her many projects, one is working to determine how L'Oreal will handle programmatic media buying.

"We all know that programmatic is going to be a big shift in the way we buy media," she said. "In terms of the underlying technologies, it's like a matrix. We'll go through a lot of test and learn in the coming months, so we can prove models to see what's best for L'Oreal in terms of technology, governance, setup and everything."

That includes looking at whether to bring programmatic buying in-house, as rival Procter & Gamble & Co. has done in the U.S.; use a single-client unit within one of its media agencies, as Unilever has done with Mindshare in the U.S.; or leave everything with outside agencies.

While the answer is important, she said, "It all comes after having a well-crafted consumer engagement strategy." And that's not just about media, or even marketing.

Her last stop prior to L'Oreal, as a founder and managing director of Valtech, a Paris-based digital consultancy, provides a glimpse into her thinking.

"Our role is to help clients orchestrate experiences around their customers, making it intuitive for them to consume products and services when, where and how they desire," Valtech explains on its website. The firm also believes "the high-value skills" today are "no longer found within 'industrial design,' but 'service design' instead."

In a packaged-goods industry where marketing, sales and product development have been largely distinct silos, that implies some organizational redesign too. Already a growing number of jobs at L'Oreal and elsewhere combine marketing and e-commerce -- and with good reason as Ms. Rochet ses it.

"What consumers really want is a consistent experience with the brand and product at all touch points," Ms. Rochet said. "We also know that in e-commerce it's really important to have great content. … We definitely need to have our e-commerce specialists working more and more with marketers. And it really questions the way we are organized."

One example Ms. Rochet points to of a digital service that joins marketing, service and e-commerce is L'Oreal Paris' Makeup Genius, an app with more than 7 million downloads to date that lets women try on makeup virtually. It came from L'Oreal USA's Connected Beauty Incubator, which worked with startup Image Metrics. Ms. Rochet said working with startups in such places as New York, Paris and London as key to her mission.

New entrants are just as important in media, as she sees it. Asked whether she shares concerns expressed by Group M Chief Digital Officer Rob Norman about the growing power Facebook and Google wield in mobile advertising, she said: "I think the mobile ecosystem is quite open in the sense today we have of course Google and Facebook, but then you have also emerging models like Pinterest, Twitter and Snapchat. So I'm not concerned."

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