Raphael Abescat has been working in the beauty industry for just shy of two decades. From kick-starting ecommerce strategies for brands such as Lise Watier, to building international go-to-market plans across Europe for LVMH, adapting a beauty brand to meet the changing needs of consumers is in his professional playbook.
Today, Raphael is the General Manager for Canada of LVMH’s MAKE UP FOR EVER brand. MAKE UP FOR EVER is sold at Sephora and MAKE UP FOR EVER boutiques across the world, and is known for its high-performance formulas suited for makeup artists. The brand has a vibrant community of pro creators and enthusiasts across the world, including a cool 6.6M Instagram followers.
For many, the journey of purchasing makeup is often a tactile one in-store. And for good reason: the feeling of a product on your skin. The opportunity to test colours against your complexion. The alluring myriad of colours illuminated by runway-grade lighting. Plus a knowledgeable makeup artist to help bring it all together.
But what happens when you take the store out of the equation?
When COVID-19 hit and in-store sales came to a screeching halt, Raphael and his team didn’t have to go back to the drawing board to see how they’d reinvent the wheel to fill the gaps. They’ve been future-proofing their digital ecosystem and online experience for years now, and, as a result, the only question they had to ask was: “how and what can we multiply to build and maintain the strongest sense of community right now?”
We asked Raphael six questions to learn how he overcame arguably the most challenging quarter for businesses in recent years. Below, he shares his unique insights and the brand philosophy that keeps his team focused at every turn.
Suffice to say, it has been a challenging Q2 for many beauty brands. When COVID-19 hit, what was your first decision as a leader to pivot and adapt?
As we closed stores and offices to keep our employees safe, the main thing all teams were asking was; how can we stay connected to our customers during this time? This is what we stayed focused on constantly. This meant listening to the needs of our community, and also staying informed with what was happening in the rest of the world. Our brand is global, so what’s true for one group of customers might not be true for another. Even in Canada, the concerns on the West Coast markets versus those on the East Coast are slightly different. Listening and adapting to localized markets was more important than ever.
PR and events are a key part of the beauty marketing playbook. How do you supplement these strategies when in-person interactions have more or less disappeared?
We found every way to express our two core pillars that guide our brand’s philosophy: our product’s high-performance, and our ability to express that high-performance by empowering people with knowledge to ensure they have the best possible outcomes. Our task was bringing both of these aspects online. That meant doubling down on Instagram and Facebook live events and social media takeovers. It also meant adapting to a broader audience range: from those who are just learning to those who are experts. To achieve that goal, we had to diversify our online content to speak to a wider range of customers.
Plus, we have our large professional community that’s always looking for elevated ways of using our products. For them, we ramped up our online masterclasses by 20x and reached thousands of new audiences with webinars and learning events.
Many beauty brands have moved towards offering virtual consultations. Do you think this trend will continue to rise, even when stores open their doors again?
Virtual consultation has become a huge aspect of the beauty & cosmetics customer journey. It’s important for customers to ensure they’re finding the right shade and the right product for their skin. Having virtual consultations was crucial during lockdown, and prior to COVID-19, it was a “nice to have.” Now it is an essential part of our business and all of our makeup artists are trained on how to leverage this channel. And in terms of how this might play out, this will be a lasting feature of the customer experience. Even as stores open, testing products will still be further into the future, so having this virtual consultation experience and guidance on how to use products is critical.
Technology can help bridge the gap between the physical and the digital world. How do you leverage tech that makes connections at MAKE UP FOR EVER in your current strategies?
Bridging the gap between in-store and online became a focal point of our strategy two years ago when we started working with Heyday. Ultimately, we wanted to find a way to better connect our massively growing digital awareness with sales. Without question, our AI chat is a key piece of that puzzle: we turn visitors into retail buyers.
Customer experience and a sense of community is at the heart of the MAKE UP FOR EVER. How can you translate that community essence online, and what are you doing to stay close to your makeup artists when being “distanced” is the norm?
We remained true to our DNA by showcasing the performance of the product and sharing our education on every possible channel. For our social audiences, we offered weekly Pro Facebook lives for everyone, and for our pro community we elevate our online tutorial offerings. Staying close to our audiences is all about customizing our message to answer the questions and needs of specific groups of MAKE UP FOR EVER customers, and really leveraging the right channels.
Looking ahead to the rest of the year — what’s something that you’ve learned in the past 3 months that you’ll carry with you on your next phases of planning?
Many of the digital tools that we considered “nice to have” became essential and core to our business. When we see the results from our masterclasses and our webinars, it is clear that it’s something we need to keep up -- and we will.
Now, we’re going to work on further customizing online events to make events more curated for language, region, themes, and more. Essentially, we will be continuing on our journey of bridging the gap between the physical and digital worlds to make our brand stronger and omnipresent for our customers.
Previously, on this series, we spoke to Howard Chan, Director of Product Management at Goodfood. Howard shares first-hand experience on how the DTC meal kit provider coped during COVID-19. Click here to learn more.