L’Oréal on why artificial intelligence is ‘a revolution as big as the internet’

The beauty giant’s chief digital officer believes “conversational artificial intelligence” (AI) will transform how brands interact with consumers.


L’Oréal has launched an artificial intelligence-powered Facebook Messenger bot as part of a drive to produce services for its beauty brands and learn more about consumers.

In partnership with startup Automat Technologies, the beauty giant has developed a series of beauty services that will launch in the coming months on the Facebook Messenger platform.

The first L’Oréal service, launching in Canada, will be a gifting service on the Messenger platform. The service looks to help consumers to find the right beauty box gift for their friends based on a series of questions that define their friend’s beauty profile and help consumers select the right brand and product mix at the right budget. The company says it hopes to launch the service in the UK early 2018.

Over the past two years, L’Oréal has embarked on a journey of digital transformation, in which it has aimed to build more services and products for its brands. Earlier this year it unveiled the ‘connected brush’, which uses algorithms to score the quality of the user’s hair and provides customised product recommendations.

The company’s chief digital officer Lubomira Rochet says the focus on Messenger bots is the latest iteration of its “service strategy”. L’Oréal believes conversational marketing and commerce in combination with AI will allow it to have more personalised conversations with its consumers, and in turn increase sales.

She tells Marketing Week: “I believe AI is as big a revolution as the internet itself. It’s going to power more of our interactions with our consumers, be it through advertising, CRM or even ad serving. All those compartments of marketing will be transformed by AI. It’s a great way to get more personalised than we’ve ever been.”

Conversation commerce is of particular interest to the cosmetics brand, as it allows consumers to be “more open and reveal much more about their preferences than they’d do by filling in a form on a website”.

I believe AI is as big a revolution as the internet itself. It’s going to power more of our interactions with our consumers, be it through advertising, CRM or even ad serving.

Lubomira Rochet, L’Oréal

“When you are in conversation, it’s easier to reveal more about your preferences. As a result, it’s easier for the conversation to lead to a transaction,” adds Rochet. “The moment of truth between conversation and transaction will be shortened within platforms such as WhatsApp, Messenger or whatever new platform we’ll have.”

When asked whether there is a risk of Messenger bots being seen as nothing more than a gimmick, Rochet instantly refutes this claim. She says L’Oréal didn’t rush into launching a Facebook Messenger bot when its ad service came out last year and instead took a more patient approach.

“We did a ton of interviews with consumers as to what they’re expecting from bots. We wanted to provide a real service that people are waiting for, and not start a conversation bot for the sake of it. The platform is still very new, so we also benefited from watching other brands who launched their bots before us,” she says.

Digital becoming the ‘backbone of marketing’

The Messenger bot is part of the company’s broader digital strategy, which is made up out of three pillars. Besides honing in on ecommerce, L’Oréal also looks to become a “data-focused” company and overhaul its marketing by focusing on content and influencers.

READ MORE: L’Oréal says brands are using influencers the wrong way

In 2016, its ecommerce business grew like-for-like sales 32%, with L’Oreal having “very strong ambitions” to further expand its online offering. Besides partnering with the likes of Boots, Sephora, Amazon and Alibaba, Rochet says the brand also wants its own ecommerce platform and try out new interfaces such as Messenger.

“Digital [is all about] creating a connection with consumers. By getting the right insight and products and by personalising our advertising, this whole value chain that digital has allowed us to create at scale has become the backbone of our marketing operations,” she adds.

That’s not to say that digital advertising has not had its drawbacks. An ongoing investigation by The Times found that ads from brands including L’Oréal had appeared next to extremist content. However, Rochet remains optimistic, and insists it has “long-standing relationships” with Google and Facebook and that it has put in place new safety guidelines following the scandal.

She concludes: “In terms of internet advertising, they have new rules and new pitfalls you need to be aware of. So we needed to train our media directors and marketers internally. As much as we had an issue in the UK, especially with Google, it’s something we’ve cleared up pretty fast and we now are very confident.”

Mobile and apps marketing is one of the categories at Marketing Week’s Masters of Marketing awards, taking place in October. For more information on the awards including a full category list and how to enter, visit www.festivalofmarketing.com/awards