L’Oréal’s UK CMO: The role of the marketer is getting harder and harder

Lex Bradshaw-Zanger, L’Oreal UK and Ireland CMO, discusses innovation, team structures and why the 1980’s was the best time for TV.

Lex Bradshaw-Zanger misses the ads of old. Specifically 1980’s British TV ads. L’Oréal’s UK and Ireland CMO often reminisces about the reel of inventive marketing that would pop up on his television as a child.

“In the 80s TV ads were exceptional,” he explains. “You remember that quality and you can’t help but think to a certain extent we’ve lost that now. When I watch TV nowadays it [often] doesn’t have that humour.”

Bradshaw-Zanger “likes to talk about historical things” and his marketing beliefs are often rooted in traditional marketing theory. This doesn’t mean he isn’t thinking about the future though. Being a regional CMO for the world’s largest cosmetic’s company, he is often working out how to fuse technology and push marketing further. However, he tries to do so with the techniques of old firmly in his mind and he believes this balance may be “the biggest challenge in modern marketing”.

He explains: “We started with TV which was qualitative and then we went to a very digital era where everything was very quantitative, everything was measurable, everything got an ROI. Then maybe now we are getting to a new point where we’re asking how do these two stick together? How do I take what I knew about a qualitative era and how do I take what I know about a quantitative era and pull that together?”

One area where this is playing out is product placement. Last summer, L’Oréal UK collaborated with online retailer Look Fantastic and ITV show Love Island to ensure its products were not only in adverts but also used by the contestants.

“We are in some ways harking back to the old days of the soap opera but then we are using less traditional media at scale [like social and TikTok]. It’s taking something from the past and putting it in a modern environment,” Bradshaw-Zanger notes.

You can’t get through two questions with Bradshaw-Zanger before he references qualitative and quantitative. Whether about marketing or his employees welfare.

He muses that “not spending enough time on the qualitative elements of employees working together” is something he regrets earlier on in his career.

“I am not saying it’s a particular failure but it was something I really understood and learned – that for teams to gel really well there has to be a human relationship there. Careers are part of our lives,” he explains.

He now spends time coaching his team members to understand their motivations and career projections. He is also fervently passionate about teams – specifically how to “elevate” both their structure and ways of working.

He says: “It’s about putting the right skill sets together and mixing the right skill sets together. We have put all our media teams together both our traditional and online and our in-house trading team. They all work together on one team so they can learn from each other and they can understand how TV impacts programmatic.

“In our marketing teams we have data digital specialists and more traditional product marketers [working closely] because they need to learn from each other and stay very linked up.”

This passion for teams is particularly important during coronavirus when working from home is the norm. “People need stability and continuity when working from home so [it’s important] not to change structures” Bradshaw-Zanger says.

He adds: “All the managers are focusing on wellbeing, they are [making time] to chat about what they did at the weekend and having drinks together or talking about their kids.”

However, as important as stability is for his employees, Bradshaw-Zanger says it’s vital that marketing is flexible during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It’s about being very agile. There’s a lot of things changing and happening every day in terms of how we react. It’s an interesting period in that sense and we are going in two different phases. There is the first stage of lockdown when there is chaos and everyone is trying to buy online, and then there is the second stage where it becomes the new normal.”

Not only is the brand, unsurprisingly, seeing more media consumption at home it is also seeing an “enormous rise” in interest in its skincare and homecare jair colour products.

“Pampering yourself and staying fresh and beautiful even when you’re not going out is still needed. Beauty is important from a mental health perspective too,” he notes.

Pushing for innovation

Bradshaw Zanger credits his time working at agencies, including WPP and Leo Burnett, as pushing him to always look for the next new thing.

“I am lucky because I have managed to be at the forefront of different things. My first role was at an agency in the US and it was a brand role and that was really moulded by my marketing. I feel very strongly about brands and how do we do that for the consumer.”

Now that he’s on the other side, this experience has helped foster a greater  understanding and empathy for L’Oréal’s agency partners. He adds: “It gave me a lot of front end experience about what it takes to do stuff whether it’s staying up late to develop data etc”.

Bradshaw-Zanger jumped brand side to Facebook in 2012 to work on partnerships before moving to McDonald’s as senior director of digital strategy, marketing and CRM in Europe in 2014.

Despite the obvious difference in product, Bradshaw-Zanger notes that the two iconic companies are “very similar” in a number of ways.

Sometimes I stay up at night thinking about the bigger strategic questions: How can we change the mix? How do we build deeper strategic partnerships with our retailers?

Lex Bradshaw-Zanger, L’Oréal

“Big organisations, big marketing teams, big budgets trying to work on how they shift the mix for marketing and comms,” he explains.

“Those two companies are going through exactly the same challenges. How do we use more data to educate our decisions? I don’t think it’s about automation, it’s about using data and making data-driven decisions. How do we change the way we communicate and make it more of a lifestyle communication versus product focus? How do we work differently?”

READ MORE: How L’Oréal drives marketing effectiveness and media neutrality

He adds: “The challenge is always that consumer’s evolve very very quickly organisations less so and we need to figure out how we are at the forefront.”

His desire to innovate and “always do better” has also lost him sleep once or twice, specifically when he is balancing strategic and operational thinking.

“There aren’t enough hours in the day and sometimes I stay up at night [thinking about] the bigger strategic questions: How can we change the mix? How do we build deeper strategic partnerships with our retailers?”

For someone who thinks so deeply about the future he is honest about how unclear the sector looks.

“I am relatively sure something will come out in the next five years that will be game changing. Whether it is Google and Facebook getting into ecommerce or a new player on the market I couldn’t tell you but something will come”.

He is equally as philosophical about his own marketing: “I would hope in five years time our marketing mix will evolve again and who knows what that will look like as it changes so much. Will there be more community elements? Influencer element? More one to one consultation.”

Evolving L’Oréal’s marketing

However, while L’Oréal waits for that game changer Bradshaw-Zanger is ensuring that it’s marketing is evolving to keep up whether that is in ecommerce, which is approximately 15% of L’Oréal’s global sales – and higher in the UK – or in improving online experiences around skincare and makeup .

While “everything we are doing is making the online experience better” Bradshaw-Zanger is also conscious that to be a truly successful modern company it must influence bricks-and-mortar retail as well.

He cites Modiface, a virtual reality company that L’Oréal bought in 2018, as a prime example of this. “At a first level it is helping e commerce but we were also using this to engaged beauty advisors [both online and offline] and before all this happened we were working in store. Because the UK is a very omni channel market. So it’s working across the whole purchase process and I can only see that growing. It’s all about brand and consumer proximity.”

The melting pot of channels is necessary for any modern marketer but especially in the UK. “The UK is probably one of the most advanced omnichannel markets in the world because of click and collect,” Bradshaw-Zanger notes which is why he hammers home the importance of top and bottom funnel performance marketing.

Bradshaw-Zanger doesn’t have a clear cut answer for how he measures effectiveness either.

“I don’t think there is a single measure and depending on different things you can look at the top line or brand above all but as you work your way down into activation or a campaign you start having different data points.”

“That’s probably one of the challenges – all these multiple data points and me being clear about what those are and what the right thing behind that is.”

Within the company there is a clear team that consolidates this data to help marketers engage with it but ultimately “it is the marketers who have to take that hard work and understand what they really mean.”

When asked what makes a successful marketer today, once again Bradshaw-Zanger looks to the past. “Can I quote Oscar Wilde? ‘Everything in moderation including moderation’.”

Loosely translated he argues this witticism means “somebody who understands the consumer first and foremost, and then understands the environment in which they operate”.

Luckily, Bradshaw-Zanger is keen to elaborate: “It’s about really understanding all the channels and how the consumer engages with those channels. So outdoor versus TV versus online versus YouTube and TikTok. That role of the marketer is getting harder and harder. And that’s where we need experts in certain areas to help pool that together.

“The ‘including moderation’ bit is we still have to be innovative. On the one hand you need a really balanced media plan and balanced channels and touching the consumer in different ways and different places, and then you need to go to do something really innovative and different, for example with startups and media channels.”