How a digital makeover in tough times drove Sephora’s customer engagement

 

Ecommerce has seen an increase in adoption among consumers during the pandemic. According to a study by Facebook and Bain & Company, the growth of digital consumers in Southeast Asia had hit 310 million by the end of last year. This growth was originally forecasted for 2025 in the 2019 study, and indicated a five-year acceleration within 2020 alone.

One brand that can attest to this trend, and which has kept ahead of the curve amid this rising digital hunger, has been Sephora which has witnessed exponential growth in eCommerce adoption among its consumers. Sephora noticed that many customers, who used to be retail-only before the pandemic, started moving to eCommerce.

Amrita Balaji, head of marketing tech at Sephora, told Jess O’Reilly, Salesforce’s area vice-president (digital360 ASEAN), at the recent Salesforce Live: Asia 2021 conference that its eCommerce stream in Southeast Asia saw a “definite growth last year that would have otherwise taken [the brand] a few years to get to”.

With this shift in consumer behaviour, Sephora also adapted to become more empathetic while interacting with consumers instead of being “super pushy” in its sales.

“We wanted to make the experience a little bit more personal and a little bit more guided for [our customers] – just as what a beauty advisor would do for them in a store,” she explained.

Hence, the brand invested in creating a specific and personalised customer journey through its eCommerce onboarding experience.

Seeing the growth in eCommerce, Sephora also analysed the last-mile experience for customers placing orders online to ensure an elevated experience for them. Balaji explained this required the various functions across Sephora – from the supply chain to marketing – to work in tandem to keep the customer experience at the forefront of all its marketing efforts.

While marketers are often seen as now being a key player on customer acquisition, and driving revenue, it is ultimately the customer experience that will offer a competitive advantage for companies. When asked about Sephora’s personalisation strategy, Balaji said it was able to build “a super cool and personalised customer journey” due to the amount of data it had collected from consumers over the years.

One such example is when Sephora used the data it collected to create an automated personalised reminder for consumers to stock up on their favourite products.

“I think we struck the right chords. We got the content and the timing right and the results showed the same. We actually saw a two-times increase in the engagement of these journeys as compared to our usual email performance,” she explained.

How can marketers get started on the digital transformation journey?

Balaji, who has been with the company for five years, currently heads up Sephora’s martech function for Southeast Asia. She cited three key steps marketers need to take note of when starting out on their digital transformation journey.

  1. Zero to one

It is important to get the internal commitment and alignment in the form of dollar investment, as well as the right teams to work on the transformation. “Be open to changing your processes towards the digital transformation, and finally even getting people to change the way they think, which is I think is the hardest of them all,” she said.

  1. Set ambitious goals and targets from day one

According to Balaji, those goals can be very hard goals such as top-line sales and cost savings or they can be very soft goals such as process improvements and automation, among others. However, she said it is very important to nail those goals and KPIs so that marketers will have a reference to what success should look like for the organisation.

  1. Prioritise effectively

Marketers should prioritise effectively towards those goals that they have set out for themselves. “The little mantra that my team and I always work towards is ‘prioritise projects with maximum impact in the least amount of time’,” she said. That way, the team is at least able to show the company the ROI of the platform that it invested in and keep the excitement and momentum of internal staff and management going.

This article is written in collaboration with Salesforce. 

How marketing has evolved

Clearly, the world of marketing we knew even 10 years ago is no longer the world we live in now. The pandemic has pushed the industry to break boundaries and rethink marketing strategies and tactics.

During the Salesforce conference, author and marketing guru Seth Godin said many companies approach marketing by asking marketers to reach masses with an average product portfolio. However, that is not the case in the new world anymore as such a strategy moves marketing to a commoditised role, which ultimately results in a race to the bottom.

“You don’t want to be in the race for the bottom. You want to figure out how to matter,” he explained.

In fact, this requires a different kind of marketing and approach in a society where the proliferation of digital has resulted in a massive and fundamental shift. There is, however, a silver lining to this shift and that is the ability for marketers to reach the right people at scale at the right time.

He also said marketers need to move from viewing the internet as a medium to reach everyone to a medium to reach someone.

“And this someone has to be an individual who truly wants to hear from the brand,” he added.

Godin added that in the new world of marketing, it is important for marketers to add value to everything they do and say to stand out. If the brand and its competitor are both pushing out the same messages, unfortunately, the cheaper product will ultimately win – and this is what the marketing industry needs to now move away from.

At the end of the day, he added: “Low price is the last refuge of the marketer with nothing left to say.”