Sephora CBO Steve Lesnard Joins SOUNDBytes Podcast
Steve Lesnard, recently appeared on the SOUNDBytes podcast to share his fresh perspective on the topic of retail in today’s market. With a career spanning major athletic brands like The North Face, Lesnard has established himself as a thought leader in the industry.
Presently, Lesnard serves as the Global Chief Brand Officer at internationally famous retailer Sephora. Before that, he spent a significant amount of time working with one of the largest athletic brands on Earth. He was also the chief marketing officer and head of product creation for The North Face.
Steve Lesnard’s extensive career and expertise in the retail industry have made him a respected authority on the subject. As a result, his recent appearance on the SOUNDBytes podcast to share his views on the current state of retail has garnered significant interest from professionals and consumers alike. Lesnard’s discussion on whether traditional retail is facing obsolescence or not, as suggested by some critics, provides valuable insights into the industry’s future.
Reports of the Death of Retail Have Been Greatly Exaggerated
In many ways, Steve Lesnard has a story that is just as fascinating as the work he’s been doing for years. He was born and raised in France but, after finishing business school, he decided to move to the United States and take a job with a major athletic brand. During this portion of his life, he learned everything about marketing, product management, general management, and related topics.
After spending a significant amount of time working with businesses and brands that initially primarily catered to men, Steve Lesnard shifted his focus to consider the vast potential of the female consumer market. This realization ultimately led him to Sephora, where he was drawn to the company’s strong customer service, beauty advice, and emphasis on creating a fun and engaging shopping experience. As a result, Lesnard now serves as Sephora’s Global Chief Brand Officer.
These days, a lot of his time is spent helping create the optimal in-store experience for Sephora customers everywhere. This is another one of the points that he wishes more people would think about. Even though retail businesses faced a significant amount of uncertainty during the pandemic amid doubts about whether stores would come back at all, the sector has indeed experienced a strong resurgence. Foot traffic and the desire of consumers to be in stores are both stronger than ever. Businesses need to be able to capitalize on this trend as they move forward.
At Sephora, Steve Lesnard and his colleagues aim to create an environment where their customers can always explore and experiment with new products. To them, everything comes down to the concept of a trial. Each Sephora location offers a plethora of newness, the pace of which is quite exciting. Not only can customers try out as many products as they like, but knowledgeable beauty advisors also play a critical role in this process.
Part of the reason why Sephora has been so successful up to this point—and why they were able to come surging back after the pandemic—has to do with the fact that they consider both customers and beauty advisors to be their bosses. As such, they provide these advisors with only the best tools and training to help make sure that they can spend as much time as possible with consumers.
It’s a move that has paid off handsomely—to the point that the number one complaint Steve Lesnard and others hear involves stores being so busy that customers may not get to spend as much time with a beauty advisor as they would like.
If nothing else, this is a perfect example of what brands need to do to thrive—both in the highly competitive field in which they operate and concerning the post-pandemic “new normal.” Steve Lesnard and Sephora have proven that retail is not dead because they focus on the most important thing of all: the consumer experience.
Yes, shoppers flocked to the internet in droves during the pandemic, purchasing groceries and a wide range of other products. It’s easy, it’s convenient, and in many ways it is cost-effective. But for those things, you’re giving up the in-person experience—something that people have come to realize that they missed dearly over the last few years.
By focusing so heavily on the trial aspect of the consumer experience and by making passionate beauty advisors available, Sephora is giving customers something that they can only get in a physical store. It’s an experience that people don’t just want—they need it.
This type of thing is exactly what other brands need to consider as they innovate. If you want someone to come into a store and buy your products, you need to give them a reason to do so. Something that a person can’t easily recreate while sitting in a chair in the comfort of their own home. If you’re able to do that, there is truly no limit to what you might be able to accomplish.
Other Exciting Updates at Sephora and Beyond
During the interview, Steve Lesnard also discussed a wide range of additional topics that hold interest for brand marketing professionals everywhere.
When asked about the impact that values like self-expression and community can have on consumer behaviors in physical retail spaces, he stated that the goal of Sephora is to make sure everyone feels welcome in the world of beauty. He and his team members understand that the beauty industry can certainly be intimidating. One of their primary focuses is to recognize that there is a lot more work to be done in that regard despite the significant progress achieved in recent years.
While they strive to serve everyone and make sure that all feel welcome in Sephora locations at every stage of life, they do segment customers so that they can better serve these individuals in more personal ways. For example, they accomplish this by collecting data through the Sephora loyalty program. Most customers are members, so this gives organizational leaders huge amounts of insight into their preferences and behaviors. That helps the company anticipate consumer needs and provide personalized, almost intimate experiences whenever possible.
When asked about where he looks for inspiration in terms of what might be next, both about brand marketing and the beauty industry as a whole, Steve Lesnard indicated that he and his team members look at everything through the lens of emotion and efficiency. The emotional element involves going out and getting the best brands and curation, along with creating the right services and experiences both in-store and online. Speaking to that, he says that the idea of storytelling is at the core of Sephora’s DNA. Every day when they open their stores, beauty advisors line up and cheer for the customers. They just opened their first store in London, and the advisors performed a choreographed dance that they put together.
Lesnard indicated that efficiency is also an essential part of the omnichannel experience. Data collection gives Sephora the ability to constantly check and test new ways to offer better services. Virtually everything is beta tested, allowing the brand to scale fast and (sometimes) fail fast as well. When Lesnard and his team try something and it doesn’t work, they either try it again or try it differently. If it ends up working through thoughtful change, it can be scaled.
Ultimately, data is at the core of every decision that they make, and they are in the enviable position to offer their brand partners a lot of specific information about the consumer. The challenge in his mind is always scaling the processing and application of that data. Steve Lesnard says that as of today, Sephora is doing a great job at all of that. However, it’s always a work in progress and it’s something that he believes they can do more with in the future. In other words, it’s not something that they’re willing to “do once and forget about.” They always assume that there are ways to improve that they can capitalize upon. They just have to go out and find these new opportunities.
SOUNDBytes was designed to be more than just a marketing podcast—it’s a true marketing collective in every sense of the term. One that aims to help create a legitimate community where conversation and collaboration can thrive. Since its inception, SOUNDBytes has had sessions with speakers in a plethora of different industries. It’s hosted by Jessica Nuremberg and Michelle Edgar. More information about the podcast itself (including content featuring Steve Lesnard and others) can be found at www.soundbytescollective.com.