Nicolas Krafft: Five Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Modern Beauty Industry
Engage and connect with consumers. Beauty is a very personal experience. Today’s consumers no longer want to be told how to express beauty. They are on a constant discovery path to try new things and share their experiences online. Understanding their journeys and connecting with them in a real and authentic way is key to success in today’s world. Look at Glossier defines itself: “Skincare and beauty products inspired by real life.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Nicolas Krafft. He has over 20 years of experience in the professional beauty industry. With international brand expertise across Europe, Asia, and the Americas, Nicolas has a proven track record in brand building, business development, sales, and marketing. Nicolas worked at L’Oréal for more than a decade helping build and run brands like Kérastase, Matrix, and Biolage, and the indie brand Pulp Riot.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I joined L’Oréal after finishing business school in Switzerland. I did not know much about the beauty industry, but the entrepreneurial spirit of the company seduced me. Throughout my career with the professional division, I had the opportunity to work across very different countries and cultures, from Asia to Eastern Europe and, lately, the U.S. Each new assignment was a discovery: different beauty aspirations and routines and different hair types, different distribution channels and structures, and creative people from various backgrounds, often very different from mine.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
That is a tough question. There are so many. I think the most striking thing was working with China in the late 2000s. I was launching a new hair color brand in Asia after having worked for several years in countries such as Germany and Canada. I had to learn everything again; classical hair color technologies needed to be adjusted for darker bases, and consumers were much younger with very different, fast-changing expectations. Young Chinese consumers at the time did not care about damaging their hair as long as they could get it as light as possible — and then they got tired of it and started looking at Korea for inspiration, resulting in a strong shift toward darker shades. Hair stylists lacked proper training but were eager to learn fast from foreign influences. This was a very interesting time.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
The tipping point was when I moved from a traditional marketing role to a larger responsibility and focused on the role of education to train and inspire beauty professionals. One-on-one human relationships are critical for this business, and training brings more trust in a product than any advertising can. It drives long-term loyalty and engagement with a brand. Social media has made it even more scalable with the growth of online tutorials and peer-to-peer training. Consumers no longer want just a product; they want the service that comes with it.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I had the chance to work with many talented people. They had a few things in common: They were entrepreneurs and great innovators, were always ready to take controlled risks, and knew how to manage these within a large corporation. Most importantly, they empowered their teams and led with more trust and shared values than formal authority.
Among them, three names stand out at important moments of my career: Frank Ferlaino, who was the L’Oréal Canada country manager when I joined the company and gave me a chance; Thierry Galiner Warrain, my former boss as general manager for the Asia Zone and then for the Eastern Europe Zone; and Leonardo Chavez (currently head of the Kiehl’s DMI), who asked me to join his team in the U.S.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. The global beauty industry today has grown to more than a half a trillion dollar business. Can you tell us about the innovations that you are bringing to the industry? How do you think that will help people?
The beauty industry has been working with innovation for decades. Some of those innovations have been very tactical, such as shade extensions, to stick to the latest fashion trends, while some are truly game-changing technologies that allow for breakthroughs in performance, such as the invention of a new molecule or a harmless, longer-lasting dye.
Now, the buzzword is beauty tech, which is enhancing the beauty experience and elevating it to new levels. Artificial intelligence and augmented reality allow virtual diagnostics and personal recommendations like never before; consumers can even try on products virtually before purchasing them online.
The digital revolution has also propelled new niche brands, which are addressing the needs of a very specific audience and engaging with their followers directly through social media. The market has become more and more fragmented. This shift has challenged big generalist brands to connect better with their audiences through more authentic relationships. The big brands that have overcome that challenge have become even stronger.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the modern beauty industry?
First, beauty is a mirror that reflects the diversity of the world. There are so many different types of beauty that make this industry so rich. Secondly, beauty is a way for people to express themselves and their cultures, tastes, feelings, and values. It is at the heart of who we are, and social media allows everyone to share it. Last but not least, beauty never stops innovating, and beauty technology will open up opportunities that have never been seen before.
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to improve the industry, what would you suggest?
The first thing that concerns me is the standardization of beauty with the growing role of a few big influencers as they impose a certain vision of beauty through their massive social following.
My second and even more important concern is that the cosmetic industry must endorse sustainability much better and faster. Things are starting to change, but there is still a long way to go: multiple layers of packaging, new business models (circular economy with refill stations, for example), and waste reduction along the entire value chain from production to consumption. This is important not just for brands but also for retailers to consider. For example, hair salons use up to 1,200 gallons of water per month per stylist in the U.S.
You are an expert about beauty. Can you share a few ideas that anyone can use “to feel beautiful”?
Very simple: Be true to yourself.
Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, Can you please share “Five Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Modern Beauty Industry”. Please share a story or an example, for each.
- Engage and connect with consumers. Beauty is a very personal experience. Today’s consumers no longer want to be told how to express beauty. They are on a constant discovery path to try new things and share their experiences online. Understanding their journeys and connecting with them in a real and authentic way is key to success in today’s world. Look at Glossier defines itself: “Skincare and beauty products inspired by real life.”
- Be curious. The beauty world is fast paced. François Dalle — the second CEO of L’Oréal who transformed it from a small French cosmetic company to the worldwide leader of the beauty industry — once provided this guiding principle for success: “Toujours saisir ce qui commence” (“Always seize what is beginning”). In other words, always be ahead of the curve, not beyond it.
- Be a dreamer with two feet on the ground. Beauty is selling dreams. So creativity, vision, and a sense of aesthetics are important, as is pragmatism. That is why this industry is driven by entrepreneurs — from the local salon owner to the founder of an indie company or the head of a global brand.
- Digitization has changed the rules of the game. Massive advertising and access to large distribution networks are no longer the gatekeepers. Engaging with consumers in an authentic way has given indie companies access to a very engaged audience, which they can service through direct-to-consumer and agile omni-channel strategies.
- Clean beauty is the next big thing. Today, clean beauty apps, such as ewg.org (Environmental Working Group ) or cosmethics.com , rate products on the ecological footprint and/or sustainability of the ingredients used in a product and make it transparent for the consumer. Clean beauty is still niche, as products are usually premium. I think this will change in the future and become a mainstream trend across the entire industry.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I think that self-esteem is very important in our society, and I would like to give disadvantaged people (whether because of their education, social background, or disability) the opportunity to feel fulfilled and realize their dreams. For example, the Adaptive Sports Foundation at Windham in Upstate New York allows children with any type of disability to enjoy a full day of skiing, to learn the technique and even attend competitions. I had the opportunity to spend a few days there and see the extraordinary impact that the program had on the children and adults. The kids are physically exhausted but full of energy, and they gain self-esteem through skiing.
Beauty can also increase the self-esteem of women, and many salons offer free services to homeless women. This kind of movement can transform the lives of people through simple steps and increase solidarity within a community.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorite quotes is from Sir Edmund Hillary: “It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” As a passionate mountain climber, I like it very much. It applies to everything that we do. When faced with difficulties, it is not the skills nor the techniques that make a difference. Rather, what matters is our inner work and personality that we have built over the years through our efforts, successes, and failures. This is also informed by the different people we have met on our journey and, especially, those who challenge the way that we think. Taking risks and being open to new adventures is what helps me grow and keeps me moving forward.
How can our readers follow you online?
About the Interviewer: Jilea Hemmings is a staunch believer in the power of entrepreneurship. A successful career revamping Fortune 500 companies was not enough for her entrepreneurial spirit, so Jilea began focusing her passion in startups. She has successfully built 6 startups to date. Her passion for entrepreneurship continues to ﬂourish with the development of Stretchy Hair Care, focusing on relieving the pain associated with detangling and styling natural black hair. For far too long, people with tender heads have suffered in pain. Until now.