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L’Oréal’s Lex Bradshaw-Zanger on brand-building in a mobile-first marketplace

CMO Spotlight: Lex Bradshaw-Zanger of L'Oréal

Lex Bradshaw-Zanger of L'Oréal / Shutterstock / The Current

Say the word Lancôme.

Sure, it’s a line of luxurious makeup, skin care and perfume products. But what does it signify? Is it, as the tagline would have it, synonymous with the word for beauty? With its distinctive rose logo, it’s certainly a name that evokes French elegance.

That kind of brand equity has been built over decades. But while it needs to be protected, it is also evolving, says Lex Bradshaw-Zanger, the chief marketing and digital officer for L’Oréal in South Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and North Africa (SAPMENA). The classical glamor of the Lancôme brand, associated with the likes of Julia Roberts and Penelope Cruz, is making space for Gen Z celebrities like social media personality Emma Chamberlain, its newest global ambassador.

This choice is deliberate. The brand is targeting the much-prized Gen Z beauty customer, notably in Asia, where under-30-year-olds are the core clientele, which is less true in Europe. In an interview with Vogue Business, Françoise Lehmann, Lancôme’s global brand president, explained that Gen Z customers are “shaping a new aesthetic” that is linked to different content formats, such as social media, which she says is a departure after “50 years of a very cinematic aesthetic.”

As a lead marketer for L’Oréal based in Singapore, Bradshaw-Zanger is on the front lines of a marketing strategy in a mobile-first marketplace, where potential customers are looking at content across many different channels.

Lancôme is just one of L’Oréal’s 37 (now 38, with the signature of Miu Miu) brands. Bradshaw-Zanger compares his role to that of an orchestrator — harmonizing brand equity across these channels, from TikTok to livestreaming video. There is “mega complexity” in marketing these days, he says, especially after the surge in performance-driven media post-pandemic. To hear him tell it, something like a rebalancing is going on, wherein brand is no longer neglected in the rush toward ROI.

“Marketers must be super clear on their strategic objective before going to a channel,” he says, balancing the science and measurement of performance media with the creativity of brand-building. He tells his team that everybody should be a brand guardian, always thinking hard about “what it means to build a brand.”

When it comes to data-driven strategy, Bradshaw-Zanger says that measurement needs to adapt to the “efficiency and effectiveness of channels…and also be broad enough to understand the objectives of our business.”

He points out that managing identity across a fragmented marketplace, which includes walled gardens, remains a challenge. But, he adds, the proliferation of retail data allows for better segmentation and targeting. “The addition of purchase data to the traditional socio-demographics and interest data of publishers will continue to enable us to optimize targeting,” he says. 

Retail entertainment

As a lead marketing executive for the company, he’s worked for L’Oréal at HQ in Paris and London before landing the regional SAPMENA Singapore role. One takeaway from his globe-trotting lifestyle is this: “Human beings are very similar around the world. Their intrinsic desires are very similar. They live in different contexts, but digital, mobile and connectivity is leveling people,” Bradshaw-Zanger says. For instance, he notes, someone in India can follow TikTok in the U.S. in real time. “It’s almost like living there.”

That said, one major difference in his region is the way consumers engage with content. “Definitely here in Asia, we’re talking a lot about livestreaming and influencers, not to mention the explosion of TikTok,” he says. For this reason, L’Oréal has invested heavily in commerce platforms on marketplaces like Shopee, Lazada and Tokopedia, in addition to TikTok. According to an article in Campaign Asia, L’Oréal has built 14 different studios at its Jakarta offices alone for livestreaming the company’s brands such as Maybelline New York, Biolage and Garnier. The livestream hosts sit in front of a green screen with L’Oréal products arrayed before them, available to answer consumers’ questions on the e-commerce platform.

“Livestream shopping is not even campaign based. It is almost retail entertainment that’s always on. It’s part and parcel of the way brands come to life now [across Asia],” he says. “We could be extreme and say the future is in Asia — starting in China, then it goes to Southeast Asia, and then filters across the rest of the world. We’ve seen that a little bit in things like livestreaming, but maybe not so much in live-shopping yet.”

“The next few million consumers will be even more e-commerce savvy than the previous ones. E-commerce will just be the easiest way for them since they’re almost born with a mobile in their hand, particularly in Asia where mobile usage is much more prevalent than fixed computing,” he says.

Growing the market

What’s more, he adds, the mobile-first mindset in Asian markets has evolved from a different relationship with technology, which is much more utility based. “The Western world is very much about consuming content but Asia, driven by China, has grown up with finance, banking, payments, taxi transport — all these things that are very functional. So there’s trust in the device and in payments, which means that adoption of anything new is much faster.”

Bradshaw-Zanger is hyperaware of the growth potential in his region, which he says is 40% of the world’s population, but so far only about 10% of the L’Oréal Group’s revenue. “So there’s an arbitrage opportunity here, and obvious growth opportunity,” he says.

Every other week, Bradshaw-Zanger hops a flight to different cities within his region to connect with his teams as well as to gain insight into the local business, asking questions like “Do we need to push e-commerce?” or “Do we need to push a different media mix?”

And then there are what he calls “consumer connects,” where Bradshaw-Zanger goes to visit L’Oréal consumers in their homes. He was recently in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital, listening to a mother of two children talk about her family, her life and her beauty routine. In this instance, the woman showed some of the products she uses, and talked about how she discovers new products — all helpful insights for a marketer. “You get a really clear vision of someone in their own environment,” he says. “Every TV has got multiple cables coming out of it, regardless of how advanced the rest of the house is.”

Bradshaw-Zanger sees all of this as important on-the-ground research. He’s the listener-in-chief. But all of it leads back to his focus on brand-building. “Particularly in the markets where we operate where there is a lot of consumer acquisition, with many new consumers entering the beauty market, entering our categories, entering our levels of income or growing through those levels from mass to professional to luxury, you have to build a brand slowly through multiple touchpoints.”