As chief marketing officer of Sephora since 2012, Deborah Yeh has seen it all.
As an evp and global chief purpose officer and CMO for Sephora North America, she has bared witness to, and also helped drive, key trends in the beauty industry, from the premiumization of hair care to retail strategies like delivery-on-demand. Before joining Sephora, Yeh led marketing strategy and planning for companies including Old Navy and Target. And in her mind, her work with LVMH’s Sephora is only just getting started.
“Marketing oftentimes is a reflection of the world and community at large,” Yeh said.
“I got into this field because I enjoyed the left brain and the right brain coming together,” she said. “I supervise everyone from data scientists to photographers.”
Over the past 12-months, Sephora added to its diversity, equity and inclusion commitments, which was a central focus of Yeh’s. Its first-ever racial bias in retail study, published in March 2021, revealed that three out of five retail shoppers have experienced discriminatory treatment, among other statistics. Sephora also ran a campaign called “Black Beauty is Beauty” between Aug. 2021 and Nov. 2021. In that campaign, Sephora showed the trends, products and tools in the mainstream beauty sphere and their inherent connection to Black beauty culture. The campaign dovetailed in November with a separate campaign promoting the Black-owned brands Sephora sells, like Bread hair care and Topicals skin care. And most recently in March, Sephora launched an HBO Max documentary series on Sephora-exclusive brand Fashion Fair, one of the first brands dedicated to serving Black beauty customers.
Yeh said Sephora is in a unique position for DE&I for two primary reasons: its open-concept selling model and its participation in the complexion and face-makeup category. The open-concept business model means that Sephora is designed to be welcoming to every type of beauty lover and allow them to freely browse and shop.
“It’s hard to be a successful retailer in America without spending a lot of time with consumers and making sure the brand finds inspiration in meeting their needs,” she said.
While some may think that DE&I initiatives and producing documentaries are outside the wheelhouse of a marketer, Yeh said they feed into her team’s three general areas of focus: brand performance at Sephora, customer growth and flow in-store and online, and team performance. For example, if Sephora is not inclusive to all shoppers, then its customer growth and flow in-store or online is hampered.
“[Inclusion] is not just a theoretical idea. Inclusion is a real idea that impacts the business,” she said. “Beauty is a category of visibility, representation and being seen. So Sephora has a role to play, to make sure we’re bringing to life brands that are relevant to consumers.”
Yeh is also tasked with supporting the Sephora-at-Kohl’s shop-in-shop partnership, which began in Aug. 2021. Because of the nature of Kohl’s merchandising, there are bigger opportunities in-store, when it comes to seasonal sales events like back-to-school shopping and Easter. Yeh said that, broadly, other accomplishments of her team have included keeping up with the “organizational stamina,” after more than a year of “pandemic triage,” and also focusing on massive growth. Sephora plans to open 600 Sephora at Kohl’s stores nationwide by year-end and expects to reach 850 locations by 2023.
Yeh said that, although her team does create campaigns with Kohl’s, the companies are working together to make sure the client experience at both channels is seamless and consistent. For example, clients earn points at both Beauty Insider and Kohl’s loyalty programs, which further increases the reach and long-term customer value of both retailers.
The next 12 months will have Yeh focused on deepening Sephora’s omnichannel strategy, especially around on-demand delivery and its integration with the retailer’s Beauty Insider loyalty program. Promoting Gwen Stefani’s Sephora-exclusive brand GXVE Beauty, which launched in March, is also a primary focus.
“[Sephora is] uniquely positioned to make an impact in two areas: connection to the client and acting on our brand values,” said Yeh. “The client connection is increasingly data-driven. [But] marketers have always had to be amazing storytellers. Today, we tell stories with our actions. By elevating a larger purpose for the brand, marketers need to be prepared to drive change and inspire action.”
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