In Episode 29 of Earned, Conor sits down with Chandra Coleman Harris, General Manager of beauty giant Revlon.
We dive into Revlon’s digital transformation during the pandemic, and learn how the brand leveraged light-hearted “edutainment” content, along with its #ButItHelps campaign, to stay connected with audiences. We also explore how Revlon amped up product categories like nails and hair color as consumers turned to at-home self-care. Chandra discusses the advantages and challenges of existing in multiple product categories, before sharing the tools Revlon uses to observe and anticipate shifts in consumer behavior. We then chat through Chandra’s own career journey, and the lessons she took away from earning an MBA (while interning at Revlon!) and working at P&G for 11 years. Chandra and Conor dissect the “night and day” differences between digital marketing back in 2008 and today, and emphasize the importance of an omnichannel strategy. Finally, we learn how Chandra’s marketing approach changed following the birth of her daughters, including why she feels a greater responsibility to “shape and mold what beauty stands for and how beauty is brought to life.”
We’ve included a few discussion highlights from the episode below, but be sure to check out the full video above, listen to the podcast below, or tune in on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts!
The following interview has been lightly edited for concision.
“We adapted our brand efforts to be in line with consumer behavior”: How Mass-Distributed Revlon Went Digital During the Pandemic
Conor Begley: Let's talk about digital transformation. So Revlon has historically been a very mass-distributed brand, right? That's who [Revlon is] as a company. And obviously during COVID, a lot of those mass distribution points did stay open, but I also have to imagine that there was this big push to be more digitally native. Did that happen? And if so, what was that transformation like?
Chandra Coleman Harris: Yeah, for sure. It did happen. I think we saw across the board, no matter what industry you're in, that there were a lot of shifts that were happening during COVID. One of the main things that we saw was a lot of changes in consumer behavior, just as it relates to the categories that were really spiking and the behavior that [the consumer] was having during this time of being at home, not out as much as they’re accustomed to being. So we saw a lot more self-care, a lot of consumers were not going to salons, as you can imagine. So that had, first and foremost, an impact on how we saw our various categories perform. We saw nails doing really well during that time since consumers weren't going to nail salons, we saw hair color spike, and then we also saw some of our beauty tools really spike just as people were more involved in self-care.
So with that in mind, one of the first things that we did was really focus our attention more on those categories where we were seeing growth. When it came to digital, we had adapted a lot of our brand efforts to also be more in line with what consumer behavior was. So we wanted to adapt to the fact that [the consumer] was at home. When you think about social, influencers and e-commerce were channels that we were really focused on in terms of adjusting how we communicated with our consumers.
[We wanted to be] much more relaxed from a communication standpoint, we wanted to make sure that we were empathetic in our tone. We were all working from home, so we were tapping into some of those things that maybe we weren't doing before, like being on your phone and on devices in general much more. So we started creating different types of content, really focusing on themes that were tied to the fact that consumers were at home. We had different types of edutainment, because we knew that consumers were looking for some type of excitement and entertainment in their daily lives, so we focused the conversation much more to that avenue. We also did makeup challenges and hacks. We had some of our ambassadors come on board and do tutorials, just interactive types of communication. And that was something that really worked well for us.
And another point I'll make is that we didn't have as much access to content. And as you think about influencers and different people that were much more easy to tap into, it was a bit of a challenge. So we also had to be creative in pulling in employees, really doing all types of things to make sure that we were top of mind and a part of the conversation as consumers were yearning to really have that dialogue and interaction.
Another interesting campaign that we did from an influencer perspective is #ButItHelps. That was really tapping into the fact that it was no secret that women weren't wearing cosmetics as much as they used to. They weren't leaving their homes, so a lot of times they just weren't necessarily wearing cosmetics like they used to. So this whole initiative was around the idea that you don't have to wear makeup, but it definitely helps to make you feel better. We know that a lot of people were kind of in a rut of this routine, regimented type of life that we all had to adapt to. So the answer to your question is, yes, we have seen lots and lots of shifts in how consumers are behaving, and we've just tried to be nimble and quick to be a part of the conversation and be relevant for consumers’ lives in general and how they’ve shifted and changed.
Mass vs. Luxury: The Differences in Marketing & Digital Strategy
Conor Begley: I'd love to circle back into this multi-category thing, because I don't think there are many people in the world that have had such a wide variety of experience when it comes to fragrance, haircare, makeup, skincare. So how do you think about marketing to those categories differently? What works in one that doesn't work in another? And because this is Tribe Dynamics and we’re an influencer and digital media company, what have you found in terms of digital activations that seemed to work well across those channels?
Chandra Coleman Harris: I definitely believe that the differences that you see are more embedded in the channels than they are the categories. So if you think about luxury versus mass, as an example, luxury is an assisted sale, so there's someone there that can help you find what you're looking for. You can ask questions, you can try things on, so that in and of itself is a huge differentiator.
When you think about the categories within that, I would say as a result of that, you don't have to market as much about [product] benefits, because it is much more about the emotional connection that you're making with consumers. It's definitely much more emotionally driven, even more aspirational, because there's obviously an aspirational element across all beauty, but I would say even more aspirational from a luxury perspective. There are very strict luxury cues that you have to follow depending on the brand, there may be a fashion house that you have to partner with. It definitely is challenging and it introduces a dynamic that is unique that you will not have in any other aspects. So that's how I would categorize marketing in luxury.
You compare that then to mass and because it's an unassisted sale, you usually don't have anyone there to help you find what you're looking for, so your packaging and your communication at the shelf have to work really, really, really, really hard. So I think the focus from a marketing standpoint is then being a lot more crisp and clear about what your benefit delivery is. It's definitely just a different dynamic, and of course still aspirational as we mentioned, but just different in that regard.
So then the second part of your question was what are some of the digital strategies and thoughts as you think about both? Well, for luxury, if I think about fragrance, as an example, it's definitely much more emotional, and when it comes down to it, it is about the smell, but it's really more about the lifestyle that you are trying to aspire to. And as you think about how you bring that experience to life digitally, you obviously cannot smell the juice in a digital capacity, but how can you emulate that feeling or smell or sensorial overall effect—that online is something that makes that category very interesting, because you're really trying to evoke an association with consumers versus obviously being able to smell it directly.
When it comes to mass and how your digital strategies support that, it is much more focused around being able to showcase shades. That's a big piece of what we work with within cosmetics, so being able to display tons of shades and help guide her or him on what's the right shade for them, being able to use education because there isn't anyone there to help you. How can you leverage digital to really inform and educate consumers on what's best for them to really direct them to the right purchase so that it's not so much of a big trial and error?
I think there are many of these differences that factor into the marketing strategy, but specifically as you think about the digital approach, I think it's first considering the environment, the ways in which consumers are interacting with the product, and then trying to leverage digital in a way that closes the gap for those things that are more difficult for consumers to tangibly grasp, and to ultimately give them the nuggets of what they need to purchase. So it's an interesting dynamic. It is a bit different across categories, but if I had to say what's the biggest distinguisher for me, I definitely would say that the channel is a big deal.
You can watch the entire interview here, or listen to the full episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts. To catch up on our other 28 episodes, featuring leaders from brands like ColourPop, Gymshark, Summer Fridays, and Ulta Beauty, visit our Earned Podcast page.