Shreyas Kulkarni

"We don't put our e-comm partners like Nykaa, Flipkart, Purplle, JioMart, BigBasket in any type of bucket; consumers do": Anil Chilla, L'Oréal India

A chat with L'Oréal India's chief digital officer on seller partners, consumer segmentation, the value of landing pages, and more.

Since last year, India’s direct-to-consumer (D2C) personal care segment has shot up, like the stock market does right after a solid budget announcement. It is good news for L’Oréal India, one of the country’s leading personal care brands.

But on the flip side, or the B2B side, the salons are shut due to COVID-induced lockdowns, which has pinched L’Oréal’s wallets quite a bit. It’s quite the conundrum for the brand.

Anil Chilla
Anil Chilla

We (afaqs!) spoke to Anil Chilla, L’Oréal India’s chief digital officer, about this, the value of a landing page, outlandish learnings, digital mix, among other things.

Edited excerpts:

What is the break-up like when it comes to L’Oréal’s sales on multi-brand outlets like Flipkart and Amazon versus the likes of Nykaa or Purplle, which are specialised e-commerce firms?

India has around 600 million Internet users, of which over 250 million shop online. For us, at L’Oréal, every online shopper is important… Our goal is to reach every beauty customer in India, and for this, our e-commerce partners are very important.

Last year, we launched Giorgio Armani, an Italian luxury fragrance brand. Thirty-three per cent of its sales are coming from Tier II or III cities.

Whether it is Nykaa, Flipkart, Amazon, Purplle or even grocers like BigBasket, JioMart, we work with all of them. We don't want to put our partners in any type of bucket. It’s the consumer who does that. We want to be present wherever our consumer shops.

Have you ever thought of directly targeting these 'beauty' consumers before they reach these e-commerce stores?

We don’t have an e-commerce site because we’re a foreign company. The Indian government has certain restrictions on what we can do, from a retail and e-commerce perspective. However, we have a partner for Kiehl’s, our skincare brand that launched a website last May. The site is operated by our Indian partner.

We also do off-platform marketing with partners like Google, Facebook, various television channels and also the e-commerce partners which I spoke about earlier.

We are connecting with our consumers using traditional online or offline media, and building a direct relationship with them. In that sense, we do reach out and have a marketing plan…

L’Oréal hasn’t done any animal testing for its products since 1989… How do we communicate this to the users? That’s where the digital medium is important.

Landing pages can make, or break your sale. How do you balance aesthetics that keep your offline ethos alive online on apps, or websites?

… the consumers experience a lot of digital assets and all of them matter to them, even the landing pages. These pages could come in multiple forms and formats… They could be from our brand websites. They could also be for a certain campaign we’re running, or our brand pages on e-commerce sites.

We intend to ensure consistency across the board from a creative and usage of digital assets standpoint. Different brands should reflect the ethos, personality and tone of L’Oréal. We try to respect the templates of brands when we’re building assets, while customising them for the local consumers, regardless of our site, e-commerce sites, or places like YouTube or Facebook.

How has L’Oréal’s consumer segmentation changed since last year?

As we’re in the digital space, so location doesn’t matter to us... It doesn’t matter where the consumers log in from (Google or Facebook). These are media platforms and there’s similar experience on e-commerce sites.

Last year, we launched Giorgio Armani, an Italian luxury fragrance brand. Thirty-three per cent of its sales are coming from Tier II or III cities. We used to segment Indian consumers as metro cities, then Tiers I, II and III… I think it’s all changed. I’d now segment the consumers basis behaviour, rather than location.

Today, the consumers possess an Erin Brockovich level of awareness of products, and what goes inside them. What has changed for you? Also, does it pressurise the brands to stay in sync with the times?

The world now has virtually no boundaries, thanks largely to digital and social media. An Indian consumer is as worried about the issues as the consumers in other parts of the world. I’d say even more so when it comes to the younger audiences, who're more digital-savvy.

As a marketer, it’s a very interesting area for us to look at, especially digital marketing. Information awareness is there...

L’Oréal hasn’t done any animal testing for its products since 1989… How do we communicate this to the users? That’s where the digital medium is important.

… the consumers are really smart. You just can’t go plant a tree and say I am a green brand. It’s all about genuinely doing things.

The B2B sector is one of the worst-hit ones due to the COVID pandemic. How are you keeping it alive?

When the lockdowns struck, it was difficult for the consumers to come to the salon. It was hard for the salons to generate revenues to keep themselves going and also pay their employees.

One of the things we did with our salons and partners was to build a social commerce model for them. The thought was that the consumers can’t come to the salon, so let the salon go to them. We trained more than 90,000 people and built a tech platform that enabled a consumer to come online, browse and then place items in a cart, or make a wish list. The salon would then respond with the products.

The second part was around training, which was all very physical. Last year, we couldn’t do it physically, so we changed the training model. All our trainers now have equipment that allow them to train hairstylists.

The third thing we did during the lockdowns was to build a playbook around safety, procedures and reopening protocols. We hand-held our partners throughout the opening process. So, they were completely prepared from a safety perspective for our consumers.

How do you split your digital media mix? Give us some numbers. DIY is going big, so should we expect more spending on tutorial videos, tie-ups with beauty influencers…

We work with the usual suspects, like Google and Facebook, in terms of short-form or long-form videos, which range from inspirational to informational. We are working with influencers too, more so this year as compared to last year.

In terms of the split, it is quite dynamic. Digital medium is as big as offline. Influencers are a big area of focus for us, along with other channels.

What are the outlandish trends (makeup for men, etc.) you’ve seen, or your team has thrown up?

COVID has accelerated a lot of things. Our former CDO Lubomira Rochet mentioned that what we’ve done in terms of e-commerce and digital in three months is what would have taken us three years.

The second point is that while traditional consumers are resistant to change, but in my view, it’s the other way round. If shown a purpose, or a frictionless way in which they can easily do things, they are more than happy to change their behaviour and adapt to new things.

Also, the growth of hyperlocal, or social commerce has been phenomenal. Every brand now seems to have some conversation capability.