Sephora’s new Global Chief Brand Officer Steve Lesnard has an impressive history of helping brands climb to new heights. During his time as Chief Marketing Officer and Global Vice President of Product Creation with The North Face, Lesnard not only led the premium outdoor retail company successfully through the turbulent times of the Covid-19 pandemic, but he was also responsible for developing several impressive initiatives that boosted the brand’s status and performance, including the launch of the revolutionary Futurelight apparel technology, the new Vectiv footwear platform and collaborations with Maison Margiela and Gucci.
Now, Lesnard is leveraging his extensive brand experience with the beauty monolith Sephora. Lesnard plans to further globalize the already multinational brand by doubling down on Sephora’s impressive omnichannel approach. Here, we explore the reasons behind Lesnard’s career move, the omnichannel retail method that the beauty brand is so famous for, and Lesnard’s vision for a golden age of customer experience.
Steve Lesnard: From Athletics to Beauty
To an outsider, Lesnard’s transition to the beauty industry after more than 25 years in the athletics sector could seem out of left field. For the brand marketing and general management expert, the pivot to Sephora was the next obvious step in his career for several reasons.
After his time working for The North Face, a global leader in the outdoors industry, and before that one of the largest athletics brands in the world, Sephora impressed Lesnard with its reach and ambition. He explains his attraction to the brand's reputation as a "true innovator and disruptor" and added that Sephora is "the only global beauty prestige retailer with the big ambition to continue to grow and scale across the world."
A shared set of values with the company also helped him decide that Sephora was the right match. Values lie at the core of Lesnard’s approach to his work, and Sephora’s perspectives on beauty, sustainability, diversity, and inclusion, as evidenced by the 15% pledge initiative, all resonated with the new Global Chief Brand Officer.
Lesnard was also drawn to the brand’s expertise and leadership in omnichannel retail, believing it to be “at the forefront of continuing to re-invent the omnichannel experience.”
The Power of Omnichannel
The Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated that a strong presence in the digital space was essential if retailers were to continue serving consumers who were unable to go to brick-and-mortar stores. Ecommerce websites, mobile devices, and social media have given customers new ways to engage with brands, whether researching products, making purchases, providing feedback and reviews, or connecting with like-minded communities.
But the pandemic also made evident something that many brands clamoring to make the jump to an online space missed: Humans crave social and real-world interactions. A survey of 46,000 shoppers found that only 7% shopped exclusively online. By contrast, 20% were store-only shoppers. However, the most illuminating statistic is that 73% of shoppers moved across multiple channels, with another study finding that these multi-channel consumers made purchases more often. Though many companies are now favoring a multichannel approach, Sephora has been ahead of the curve since before the pandemic and has taken multichannel to the next level — omnichannel retail.
What Is Omnichannel Retail?
Omnichannel and multichannel have become buzzwords in the brand marketing world and are often used interchangeably, but they are two distinct ideas that represent two different mindsets behind a company’s approach to digital channels.
- Multichannel means that a brand utilizes many channels, such as physical stores, websites, mobile apps, etc., and manages each as a separate entity.
- Omnichannel means that a brand utilizes many channels, which it connects with centralized data management, synchronizing and blurring the boundaries between channels to create one seamless customer experience. So, whether the customer is shopping through a mobile device, a laptop, or at a store location, their experience of the brand is an entirely cohesive, unified one. Omnichannel looks at the big picture, the entire customer experience, instead of the customer’s different experiences on various channels.
What Makes Omnichannel Retail Special?
Omnichannel retail represents a unique competitive advantage to brands willing to harness its power. Not only does the “big picture” approach have the power to recruit new customers through both physical locations and online touchpoints, but this approach also re-engages consumers based on their past experiences.
For many brands, the challenge is not about recruitment but customer retention; loyalty is the new currency, and omnichannel is the way forward. This is partly down to its ability to accelerate personalization by tracking-in store or online interactions and attaching these interactions to a customer’s unique digital profile. This data, in turn, can provide brands with the ability to test new products or services and scale them faster. It’s an area where Lesnard already has much experience and makes his match with Sephora all the more powerful.
Sephora: The Omnichannel Queen
One of the world-leading premium cosmetics retailers, Sephora originated in France in 1969. The powerful beauty chain has since scaled globally and now boasts a presence in 35 countries and 2,700 retail locations. While some retailers struggled with the pandemic-enforced transition from physical stores to an online space, and back again, it was relatively smooth sailing for Sephora.
Pre-Covid-19, a huge part of the brand’s essential sales experience was the in-store “try before you buy” approach, with samples available for individuals to browse and experience for themselves, as well as technique demonstrations, classes, and consultations. By March 2020, nearly all of Sephora’s retail outlets, including malls, stand-alone boutiques, and pop-up shops temporarily closed. Instead, the brand rolled out virtual reality demonstrations and appointment-based virtual tutorials, consultations, and personal shopping. Once physical locations reopened in 2021, virtual experiences remained alongside in-store interactions.
Years of work before the pandemic meant that the beauty brand had already substantially built up its e-commerce services and capitalized on personalization technology. Sephora boasts more than 165 million customers in its database and, according to Mary Beth Laughton, Executive Vice President of Omnichannel Retail at the beauty brand, “omnitude" (optimizing the customer experience wherever they are shopping with the brand) is the key to Sephora's success. In a letter to shareholders in the summer of 2020, Sephora's parent company LVMH mentioned the "inventiveness and the effectiveness of its omnichannel strategy."
Steve Lesnard’s Views on Personalization
Steve Lesnard is no stranger to this strategy. During his time at The North Face, he focused on creating increasingly personalized consumer interactions across various platforms. Lesnard believed that thanks to the “incredible amount” of first-party data collection shared by consumers, brands like The North Face could replace generic brand marketing with a personal, individualistic approach. This would “fundamentally change” and galvanize the brand-consumer relationship.
Customers engage with Sephora in multiple ways across diverse platforms, so presenting a consistent, personalized experience is crucial. Creating this kind of value-focused experience builds customer relationships that transcend individual channels. “Personalization at scale is really exciting,” Lesnard says.
The Power of Technology
Walking into a physical store and seeing, touching, and trying out products, as well as engaging in real-life exchanges with beauty advisors, is an enormous part of the Sephora omnichannel approach. Physical stores are crucial for Sephora, as they’re where approximately 75% of its customers make a transaction for the first time. It’s also where the brand collects valuable consumer data unavailable for capture online, which again improves personalization. Sephora can track the entire customer journey from online browsing and app usage to in-store interactions with sales representatives and purchases.
Sephora leverages technology not only for data capturing but also to boost the consumer’s experience while shopping in-store. Beauty advisors use iPads and other mobile devices to showcase hundreds of products and order and ship these products straight to interested consumers. If a client enjoys an in-store makeover, another popular service Sephora offers, beauty advisors scan every product used and send a list to the customer, making it easy for them to shop the products and recreate the look at home.
Some locations offer welcome screens and menus and interactive tools that allow shoppers to try makeup “virtually,” using artificial intelligence and facial recognition software. This is also available on the Sephora mobile app; the Virtual Artist feature scans users’ faces and allows them to experiment with products wherever and whenever they like. Once customers decide on a particular product, the app directs them to the relevant place to purchase the product, whether online or in-store.
Sephora’s Online Channels
The Sephora experience blends seamlessly from the store to the online world. Its mobile app offers video tutorials, insights into new products and beauty trends, and early access to products with priority delivery. This constant flow of content is a key brand marketing strategy that keeps customers up to date and excited about the latest products.
In turn, the app gathers mobile data on consumers’ in-store and online habits, which Sephora uses to suggest relevant products and influence future purchasing decisions. The app sends notifications informing customers of new items, announcing upcoming events, and offering birthday gifts. It also has a barcode scanning function so that users, when in-store, can research product information, reviews, and personal purchase history; another example of consumers blending their use of multiple channels at once.
The app also geo-locates to find the nearest physical stores and real-time information on in-store services, as does the Sephora website, linking back to facilitate the in-person experience. Speaking of the website, Sephora’s innovative chatbot is an artificial intelligence chat function that provides product and beauty advice and personalized recommendations, similar to its human counterparts in-store.
Steve Lesnard’s Experience with Brand Influencers
Meanwhile, social media is another frontier for omnichannel growth. The Sephora website hosts the Beauty Insider Community, where users can gather to connect with like-minded shoppers, share knowledge and photos, and recommend products. Across its social platforms, the brand produces tutorials and evocative brand marketing to inform and entice followers, recruiting the power of brand ambassadors and influencers along the way to reach wider and more niche audiences.
Lesnard used a similar approach at The North Face during the pandemic, as responding to the changing needs of consumers meant creating a drastic shift in brand marketing strategies. Providing a positive experience and helping to connect individuals, Lesnard worked with athletics influencers to create meaningful content for the brand, delivering more value to customers and opening up The North Face to a wider range of perspectives.
Steve Lesnard and the Future of Omnichannel at Sephora
As the new Global Chief Brand Officer, Lesnard is approaching the role with a growth-focused mindset. Under his leadership, Sephora’s long-term vision is to continue elevating the brand and expanding its identity and desirability worldwide. His expertise is set to accelerate the company’s international growth ambitions and strengthen its unique presence as the only global, multi-brand prestige retailer to launch, scale, and develop brands internationally.
Part of Lesnard’s campaign will be to develop the brand’s omnichannel strategy, which is essential to meeting the evolving demands of consumers and boosting brand engagement. This will also mean establishing a consistent brand identity in the face of a customer experience that consistently switches between accessing multiple channels. Lesnard is confident that Sephora’s thoughtful, personal, and omnichannel brand marketing approach will grow and deepen customer relationships. He may have moved away from the athletics sector, but Lesnard has an impressive game plan for the beauty brand.
About Steve Lesnard
Steve Lesnard is an expert in global product and brand marketing. He grew up in Corsica and attended school in Paris, where he studied international business and entrepreneurship. He traveled the world extensively as a student, earning an MBA and an MBE from Babson College in Boston, Massachusetts. His drive to experience new cultures has led him to manage many multinational teams throughout his impressive career.
Before working in marketing and product creation at The North Face, Lesnard served as general manager of one of the largest athletics brands in the world, driving a $5.3 billion business, and before that he was the Marketing Director at Wolford North America.