Rampant store closures across the world due to COVID-19 posed a particularly unique challenge for beauty brands. Leaders like Aida Shenkute wondered: how can we replicate the in-store experience – that allows consumers to touch, feel, and interact with products in real-time – online? In other words, how can we promise the same level of personalization and customer service to consumers in this new reality?
But digitally innovative companies were able to weather the storm, adapt, and find new ways to connect with customers. As the second quarter of this Monday of years whizzes past, we sit down with Aida Shenkute, Brand General Manager at Fresh Canada, to understand how Fresh is staying agile, collaborative, and optimistic for the future by adapting to change and listening to its community.
Fresh found ways to adapt and stay relevant during the COVID-19 crisis: from creating Fresh backgrounds for Zoom calls to delivering free products to frontline workers, you innovated to stay connected to the realities of the minute. Can you tell us what you learned throughout this process?
Two things have been very apparent during this time:
1) Change has been the only constant during this crisis, so adaptability is key.
2) The importance of listening. We realized very quickly that our brand would not be able to stay relevant if we weren’t open and ready to embrace the changes that were happening, and able to adapt our offerings to these emerging needs. So, we spent time doing some much needed listening to our customers, our teams and our communities. And we made time and space to reconnect with our field teams at an individual level to support them through the challenges and stresses that they were going through. This allowed us to identify needs that we could address in meaningful ways, and ultimately to pivot our strategies and budgets into areas that were relevant for our communities and markets.
In your role as the Brand General Manager for Canada, you touch various aspects of the business and collaborate across multiple departments. Did COVID-19 add any new dimensions to your role?
As you mentioned, a key part of my role has always been cross-functional collaboration, but this Covid-19 period has amplified aspects of my position, particularly in the digital space. Digital acceleration has been the key focus of these past few months for not only brands like fresh but for every Canadian. With Brick and Mortar stores closed, we all had to resort to getting most of our non-essential goods online, even if we hadn’t done it in the past. Shifting our budgets to point everything online has been a first and I think has fast-tracked our future plans of the digital penetration of our business.
There’s no question that brands have recently had to take a stance on political and social issues, and prove to their customers that they’re actively contributing to bettering the world around them. How do you see this renewed brand responsibility evolving over time?
In this digital era, where you no longer have the constraints of borders and everything moves so quickly, brands must understand and embrace cultural differences in order to be relevant. When a brand fails to incorporate cultural diversity, it creates barriers and alienates potential customers. It is no longer acceptable for brands to target only one group, or to have messaging that is not inclusive. Now more than ever, it is imperative to have a diverse team sitting at the table executing strategy and making decisions. A brand needs to understand that inclusive hiring isn’t about ticking a box, but the only way a company can truly succeed and stay relevant. This diverse team will understand the complexities of various cultures of the world and ensure that the products or services a brand sells are relevant, and that the brand’s messaging is inclusive.
Our upcoming webinar is all about retailers finding ways to build resilience in times of uncertainty and change. What are your leadership strategies for building resilience within your team, and ultimately the Fresh brand?
A team needs to be resilient before adversity strikes, so it is important to be proactive in building a resilient, agile team. As a leader, one of my primary goals is to build a cohesive team that works towards a common goal. Specifically, I work with each team member to understand their values, motivations and ambitions so that I can create a working environment where each member feels valued, respected and that they are contributing to the success of the team. This builds trust. Once there is trust, there is inherent resilience in the team that can help us navigate pressure and uncertain times. Fresh as a brand follows a similar model. When Covid-19 hit, we already had the dynamics in place that allowed us to be flexible, creative and adapt quickly to the changes.
Stores are slowly but surely reopening their doors! How do you expect in-store sales to rebound this year, and what are you doing to ensure a smooth reopening?
We all have projections on traffic and conversion but as this year has shown us, you never know what will happen. So at the moment, our priority is to go back to stores in a way that ensures the safety of our teams and our customers. We are also working on social distancing protocols that will allow us to drive traffic to stores in a safe and responsible way. Lastly, we are continuing to invest in our online presence and channels to give our customers the opportunity to reach us through the channel that suits them best. The key to making this a smooth reopening is doing it in a careful, thoughtful and measured way so that we are able to adapt to our new normal in a relevant way.
Looking for more strategies that you can implement for your beauty brand? Look no further! Raphael Abescat, General Manager at MAKE UP FOR EVER Canada, reveals that digital adoption is a core brand philosophy that keeps his team focused at every turn. Read the full article here.