How The Estée Lauder Companies Leverages Biology, Chemistry, Digital and Data


Chaz Giles is currently the Global Head of External Innovation for The Estée Lauder Companies reporting to the CTO. He is also the founding partner of a platform consultancy and investment firm. Having taken ‘scars’ from all sides of the table, Chaz brings a unique perspective to innovation and growth challenges. In an interview with Connect Intelligence, Chaz shares how Estee Lauder Companies remains competitive and engages with new and potential, consumer markets.

Q: When it comes to effective marketing strategies, what approaches enable The Estée Lauder Companies to remain distinct in its brand approach?

Brands are the core of The Estée Lauder Companies. Our brands are all driven to create unique, best-in-class experiences for their consumers. Creating and continually driving that unique consumer experience and brand equity is a daily focus for each brand and for the Company as a whole. We recognize that consumers have an increasing number of choices within the beauty space, and enabling each brand to focus exclusively on serving their consumers helps to deliver superior products and experiences. Strategically, that approach manifests in several ways:

Consumer-Centric Approach: The first and most important strategy in creating distinct brand experiences across our portfolio is our consumer-centric focus. Each brand deeply understands its consumers and filters decisions, big and small, through that consumer-first lens. Every process from Research and Development, to Packaging, to Creative Design is built around the brand’s core consumer.

Being a Brand Led Company: As a Company, we are brand led. In my work, that means understanding each brand, its consumers, and its needs to deliver technologies that serve each brand’s unique consumers.

Q: For individuals leading teams driving growth, what do you believe are the hallmark traits that can enable brand innovation for a reputable global beauty brand like The Estée Lauder Companies?

I believe that there are several key components to enabling brand innovation for companies across industries.

Clarity of Objectives: Too often, companies and teams look to external analogues for what innovation or growth should look like, but fail to ‘convert’ that back to the goals and objectives of their specific organisation. The objectives for growth and innovation must be spelled out, aligned at the most senior levels and reflected in the company’s strategy.

Talent: This is arguably one of the most challenging areas for companies on their disruptive journey. Companies are often a balance of innovators and executors, and generally, one without the other fails. Companies must identify the right set of talent that can push the organisation without breaking it—finding the right balance of innovators and executors, measuring their appetite for risk, and understanding the required reward models that motivate and drive each group.

Organisational Structure and Support: There must be clear support and alignment for the innovation objectives at the most senior levels. Without it, programs will never scale. Structurally, the growth and innovation teams should have a path to market to test in the early stage that does not interfere with the day-to-day business operations. Enabling an early ‘sandbox’ to test and iterate allows the innovation teams to drive data on feasibility before requiring business unit resources.

Landing Zones – Integrating and Scaling: Incremental innovation is generally easy to integrate into the existing system, but disruptive innovation is much more challenging. Innovation that undercuts current models or profitability to capture an emerging or future opportunity requires a degree of separation from the core. Companies can dramatically improve their success rates by having dedicated structures (whether incubators, test regions, or swat teams) where new models can be integrated and scaled into large successful businesses. The landing zones must have the appropriate talent, timeliness, and resourcing.

Q: In light of ever-changing beauty trends and demands, how does The Estée Lauder Companies anticipate upcoming beauty trends and engage with new and potential, consumer markets?

Trends and consumer demands are changing faster than ever, and keeping pace with the change is definitely a challenge for the industry. I believe that because The Estée Lauder Companies is brand led, it has created competitive advantage by staying in touch with its consumers. Our brands have thousands of artist and beauty advisers across the globe, so we are literally in touch with our consumers every day. That connection is invaluable at identifying early needs that could be met better or trends among our consumers. We also recognize that beauty is personal, so, in addition to our global presence and identifying trends in aggregate, we are investing in technologies and activities that engage our consumers individually and create a stronger link between our brands and our consumers.

Responding to trends is one aspect; creating and setting trends is another. Creatively, our artists and product developers are deeply integrated with cross industry trends and understand where fashion, art, design are headed and translate that into new concepts. At the same time, our scientists and formulators continue to explore new areas of biology and chemistry to enable better benefits.

My group spends a considerable amount of time outside the beauty industry to identify technologies within other industries that could solve some of our more vexing problems or that could enable completely new products and services for our consumers. These may be new biotech and science technologies or new data and digital technologies. We see these areas continuing to merge in future of beauty.

Q: Having worked in innovation advising growth across several sectors in the past decade, what key insights can you share from diverse experience and wide-ranging competitors?

I’ve spent time in several industries ranging from FMCG, to Fintech, to prestige beauty, and the challenges around innovation in each are not that dissimilar. The first insight I would offer is that the work of innovation and growth is messy, hard, and starts small but with a big vision. This is especially true of growth within large organisations, but it is also true in startups and small companies. Building something new and challenging existing models is never easy. Further, it is not a hands off exercise. In innovation and growth, the successful rolled up their sleeves and got their hands dirty.

The second insight I would offer is around culture. Whether the organisation is large or small, building a culture that supports and drives innovation is essential. I would highlight two elements:

Enable innovation from every seat. Recognizing ideas and breakthroughs can come from anyone at any level changes the dialogue around innovation. It flattens and unleashes the full potential of the organisation. Further, it acknowledges that many of the employees innovating are the company’s core consumer target.

Have a clear, concise mission. A clear, inspiring mission unifies the innovation efforts. As leaders in innovation, our goal should be to reduce the noise and friction that can mute a team’s, or organisation’s, ability to innovate.

How Do Partnerships Strengthen The Estée Lauder Companies?

Partnerships are a big part of the work that I do for the Company. I am continually working to forge partnerships that augment or complement The Estée Lauder Companies’ capabilities. By building a network of partners across industries and geographies, we are able to bring new benefits and experiences to our consumers.

I believe, in the future, some of the most innovative products and experiences will stem from the intersections of biology, chemistry, digital, and data. Partnerships help us to combine our strengths with emerging technologies to create these new models. In my previous role as an investor, I regularly saw software companies build a strong core technology and then leverage APIs and other partner technology to innovate faster and with more agility. As we create bigger innovations faster in beauty, partnerships play an important role for me.

Chaz Giles will be expanding on this interview at the Brand Forum, 21 & 22 February 2018, Sofitel Wentworth, Sydney. Register here.

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