L’Oreal UK’s new marketing philosophy: Q&A, Michel Brousset

A year into his tenure as L’Oréal UK managing director, Michel Brousset tells Marketing Week about the brand’s motto, ‘disrupt or don’t do’, how the global company operates on a local level and why hiring L’Oreal’s first UK chief marketing office will be a catalyst for focusing on the consumer. 

Michel Brousset, L'Oreal
Michel Brousset, L’Oreal

“The motto we are implanting is ‘either disrupt or don’t do it’,” says Michel Brousset, managing director for L’Oréal UK and Ireland.

Brousset believes that in a cluttered beauty market, the way to break through is game-changing innovation. 

The Peruvian-American, who has an MBA and an economics degree, says he thinks like an economist and uses his financial background to bring discipline to the planning process, although from 1998 until his first move into general management two years ago every role he held was a marketing one – and all at Procter & Gamble (P&G). 

Brousset’s thinking at L’Oréal is that any brand activity that does not break through or is not disruptive is a waste of resources, time and money because it does not fundamentally change the trajectory of the company or its brands. There are 28 international brands in the group including Garnier, Maybelline, Yves Saint Laurent and Lancôme. 

Disruption is now pitched as L’Oréal’s way of standing out in a competitive beauty category on a competitive high street, and it is an important part of how the company innovates at the point of sale (see Brousset’s tips for stand-out, below). 

An example of ‘disrupt or don’t do it’ in practice is the launch of Elvive Fibrology, a haircare range that claims to penetrate the hair fibres and expand from inside to make hair thicker. It is a similar process to that which is used for repairing cracked windscreens, according to Brousset. For this launch the brand had the claims verified by scientists at Manchester University. 

L’Oréal also hired its first UK chief marketing officer (CMO), former Diageo marketer Hugh Pile, in July. As well as marketing, Pile’s responsibilities include consumer and market insight, consumer affairs, media management and ‘social listening’. Brousset hopes his appointment will spur the UK business’s contribution to the group’s global target of reaching a billion new consumers by 2020. 

Brousset believes that profit, loss and market share take care of themselves as long as brands remain relevant to customers. 

Marketing Week (MW): L’Oréal’s new CMO is to support a growth strategy that stretches to 2020. Can you explain what that strategy involves?

Michel Brousset (MB): A billion new consumers is the global target; in the UK it’s 11 million. 

Our new CMO is key and instrumental to our strategy to make us connect with consumers in a more meaningful way. We need to continue to be innovative and at the forefront of the way brands connect with consumers.

Hugh [Pile] asked me what success looks like and we do have key performance indicators, but most importantly it’s whether he will be able to become a catalyst for making us a much more consumer-centric company.

MW: How will you be getting closer to consumers and in what way is it different from what you are doing now?

MB: The world around us is changing dramatically. When I started in marketing in the US, product features and benefits were a big part of why consumers buy a product. Today, consumers are interested in the values of the brand. 

We’re thinking about how these values manifest themselves in the way we interact with consumers. The key is having someone who is a bit removed from the day-to-day part of the business and has the space and resources to think about how to shape the future of the company. 

The world has changed: when I started in marketing product features were the draw; now it’s the brand’s values

Michel Brousset

MW: Which marketing channels provide the best opportunities to connect with consumers?

MB: The diversification of channels makes the job of marketing very complicated today. At L’Oréal each media channel serves a different purpose and each category has a different market.

For example, in the skincare category trust is important, so marketing tactics such as online tutorials enable us to gain a greater degree of trust. For cosmetics, television and broad-reach media continue to be important drivers.

MW: Where does innovation sit in the company? 

MB: Most people think of L’Oréal as a marketing company – and we are very good at marketing – but fundamentally we’re a science company.
We spend €1bn [£790m] on research every year to try to come up with the next scientific advance.

A solid foundation of research and a connection with what’s happening with consumers in the market – that’s where our innovation comes from, matching consumer needs with great technology. 

MW: You’ve been in the role for a year now, how do you get a grasp on what the consumer needs are in the UK to make that connection? 

MB: We believe our connection with the local market rather than centralisation gives us an advantage. 

I move from country to country and one of the things I love to do is read. I try to get an insight into who the Brits really are and read a lot of books – I’m now up to 19 books on British and Irish history, iconography and sociology. 

I also have a general understanding of consumers, but it’s quite a different thing to have a granular, meaningful level of understanding as to why British consumers behave in a certain way – why they love sport and their obsession with the weather – and how that manifests itself in their perspective on beauty.

Garnier Blends promoted by The Saturdays
Garnier Blends is a product of the ‘disrupt’ ethos that Brousset follows

MW: What does this granular level of understanding of UK consumers bring to the business? 

MB: If we first put consumers at the centre of what we do, our retail partners next, and third try to make this the best possible place to work, everything else takes care of itself. Profit, loss and market share take care of themselves. 

MW: You spent time working at L’Oréal Peru. How does working in an emerging market compare with the UK, and what did you learn
that you have bought to this role?

MB: I was born in Peru and I went back there after 20 years [working in the US], which was personally gratifying but also professionally interesting. 

In a country like Peru, and in developing countries in general, there are not a lot of resources or time to have debates about strategy or how to proceed. You become much faster at making decisions and it’s driven by practicality – the fastest way we’re going to drive this business. 

These economies are growing fast and consequently there is a sense of excitement and possibility that is refreshing. I bring that sense
of optimism to what I do. 

MW: What did you learn from your time at P&G?

MB: P&G is a great marketing school so in a sense it has shaped who I am and what I do. It’s a company that provides a sense of operational discipline and does a lot of the fundamentals of marketing well. 

L’Oréal provides an opportunity to apply that in an environment that is entrepreneurial, flexible and where I can own more of the resource and destiny of what I run.

MW: You started your career in a variety of corporate finance roles in Latin America. What has the transition from finance to marketing and management in beauty taught you?

MB: Studying finance and economics has given me a certain discipline in my thinking process that I still apply today. I think a bit like an economist – I think of variables that drive an outcome and the weights of those variables. This has helped me in marketing because although marketing has an aspect of creativity that you can’t quite quantify, there’s also an aspect of science in it – what works and what doesn’t. This has allowed me to bring something different to my career in marketing – and now in management. 

Michel Brousset’s tips for stand-out in the beauty sector 

Focus. Disruption and breakthrough only come from critical mass. Focusing on fewer, bigger innovations allows you to disrupt the market better than doing good enough jobs on several things.

Respond to consumer needs. Create something that is real, out there and rooted in true consumer insights. 

Have a compelling, beautiful story. L’Oréal believes that making products with a great degree of care and detail is important.

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