Barbara Lavernos has had a storied 30-year career at L’Oreal. She has had multiple promotions in recent months going from Chief Technology and Operations Officer of the company to President of Research, Innovation, and Technology in February 2021 to Deputy Chief Executive Officer in charge of Research, Innovation and Technology in May 2021. She indicated that her background and passion for tech-enabled innovation aligns with the company’s focus on science and innovation, which she noted: “have been at the foundation of our pioneering spirit and the success with our consumers as the L’Oréal DNA.”
Lavernos’ has driven a remarkable digital transformation at the company at the intersection of science and technology to create a powerful platform to develop advanced, personalized, innovative beauty products, services, and devices. “The science; agronomy and biotechnology allow us to renew completely our portfolio of raw materials,” noted Lavernos. “Green sciences are at the heart of the exploration of our innovation when it comes to product. Then with the exponential advance of tech, we think we are unlocking new breakthrough algorithm-based services and products. That is the idea of combining research and innovation—our roots, our DNA—with this revolution of technology. We look forward to developing innovation that pushes the boundaries of science and reinvents beauty rituals thanks to technology.”
Lavernos is passionate about what she refers to as BeautyTech. She defined the term as, “exponentially augmenting L’Oréal’s science that we have rooted [in] cutting-edge technology at scale.” She added that the company has the advantage of 112 years of knowledge and data about beauty rituals related to skin and hair. One of the biggest changes in recent years has been the focus on personalization. “In the past, most of the companies provided global products that [were believed to] suit everyone,” Lavernos said. “Today, we [have the capacity to know consumers] in real-time, to know their expectations, to know their environment, to know their skin because with virtual reality, with virtual try-on, we can have this dialogue with our consumers.”
By way of example, Lavernos highlighted an offering that was introduced at CES 2021 with the company’s Yves Saint Laurent brand. It is called Rouge Sur Measure, and it is a smart at-home method for consumers to create their own personalized lipstick, choosing from thousands of shades with one single touch. It is done through an app that can be installed on a smartphone or on a tablet. The app leverages artificial intelligence to allow the consumer to explore and try the color or the looks they want. Also, a consumer can take a picture of a pair of shoes or a handbag and match a lipstick color to them.
A second example that Lavernos offered is Lancôme Custom Made Foundation, which offers Le Teint Particulier, meaning a unique tint. It is a patented technology that creates a foundation that matches the skin tone of each individual. “The experience starts with taking a scan of the consumer’s skin, and it is done at the point-of-sale with three different places to have the perfect skin tone,” Lavernos explained. “Then this data is interpreted by the highly sophisticated algorithm, which predicts the ideal color using those three measurements taken from your skin. The algorithm goes on to determine the correct amount of each ingredient required. Then you have the mix of those ingredients. 20 minutes after, you have the perfect foundation you are dreaming of!”
Lavernos also highlighted that consumers today are much more interested that in the past about the ingredients in the products they use but also where they come from and how they are sourced and manufactured. L’Oreal now provides QR codes that provide product origin, production, manufacturing conditions, sourcing, supplier details, and the like.
Customers are also more interested in the environmental impact of the products they use. L’Oreal has established a partnership with Gjosa, a Swiss innovation and environmental company that integrates technology into everyday products to make them more environmentally friendly. The partnership has developed a multi-channel showerhead that integrates Gjosa patented In-Flow technology, that will make it possible for beauty salons to use 80% less water when washing customers’ hair. Lavernos indicated that a version for consumers to use at home is in the offing, as well.
The pandemic has pushed some consumers who had little or no experience with virtual try-ons for make-up, for example, to use the latest technology to do so. Many have enjoyed the experience so much that Lavernos believes many will continue to interact with the company virtually for try-ons even when the health crisis subsides. In 2020, more than 25% of L’Oreal’s revenue was derived via digitally via e-commerce. That represented an increase of 70% over the prior year. “Here again, there will be no way back,” said Lavernos. “Not to say that people will not come back to physical shops, but they will go to physical shops for other experiences [than in the past]. Here again, technology will play a key role for entertainment, for precision advice, for our professionals taking care of them [personally].” She believes that e-commerce sales will eventually behalf of the company’s overall sales.
Lavernos believes that her ascent to the Deputy Chief Executive Officer role at L’Oreal was aided by her background in technology. “Technology is business today,” she underscored. “My appointment in this position is really only the translation of this belief…. [technology] became fully, completely strategic, let’s say, eight years ago when we transformed into Industry 4.0, when we entered this digital shift and more and more IT came into everything. When you speak about advertising…it is tech-based today. When it comes to innovation…it is about technology. When it comes to supply chain e-commerce, it is about technology. Finance? If you are not real-time, at scale, capable [of leveraging] AI, how can you properly manage your Finance [function]?”
Therefore, Lavernos believes that her journey will be replicated many times over, as technology and digital leaders increasingly are seen as ideal candidates for the top ranks within companies. She provides a remarkable case-in-point for others to ponder and emulate.
Peter High is President of Metis Strategy, a business and IT advisory firm. He has written two bestselling books, and his third, Getting to Nimble, was recently released. He also moderates the Technovation podcast series and speaks at conferences around the world. Follow him on Twitter @PeterAHigh.