NEW YORK: L'Oréal, the beauty giant, is adapting its digital marketing model in the US, reflecting major changes in shopper habits.

Speaking to Forbes, Marc Speichert, L'Oréal's US CMO, suggested the customer journey is defined by four stages - consider, buy, evaluate and advocate - the balance between which is rapidly evolving.

"Consumers are clearly moving outside the traditional purchasing funnel, changing the way they research and buy products," he said.

"It used to be that consumers would select what to purchase from a large portfolio of brands and products."

"Following their purchase, a customer's relationship with the brand was relegated to their experience with the product or service."

In contrast, the current landscape is increasingly being shaped by digital properties such as social networks.

"The path to purchase has changed enormously becoming more multi-dimensional," said Speichert. "There is an extended evaluation phase in which customers consider what brands to purchase."

"Following that, they often enter into a relationship with that brand and share their experience online. The bottom line is that your customers wield power and control over your brand like never before."

In August 2010, L'Oréal rolled out its Destination Beauty channel on YouTube, the video-sharing platform owned by Google, in a bid to influence the "consideration" stage.

This offering hosts videos containing updates on emerging trends and guides on how to apply make-up for certain "looks" or events.

Content on Destination Beauty can be spread virally via Facebook, Google Buzz, MySpace and Twitter, encouraging word of mouth among shoppers.

"It is the most viewed program in YouTube history with 22m partner videos viewed garnering 287m impressions," said Speichert.

Elsewhere, L'Oréal is working with Flite, an advertising company using cloud technology so clients can modify display ads in real-time, including incorporating the latest social media material.

"This allows us to enter the customers' path to purchase during the 'consider' stage by allowing them to actually interact with the ad in real time thus engaging them in a unique way," said Speichert.

Turning to the evaluation phase, L'Oréal has allied with web publisher Demand Media, leveraging two specific sites on behalf of 15 brands in all.

The first of these is, providing hints and tips to suit different cities, body sizes, hair colours and demographics.

The second, eHow Style, presents similar output for a wide variety of product categories and age-groups.

"These platforms enable us to deliver a meaningful, personalized experience in contextually relevant environments," said Speichert.

"This multi-dimensional initiative combines custom content and exclusive media to connect L'Oréal brands with women seeking personal beauty solutions."

"We are able to create unique opportunities for brands to engage with qualified purchase intenders."

In an example as to how the "buy" stage can be impacted, Kiehl's has attempted to transfer the offline retail experience onto the web, therefore integrating across channels.

"The retail experience - storytelling, design, attitude, sampling and customer service - for which Kiehl's is known in its brick and mortar stores is translated in a very consistent manner online," he said.

Looking to advocacy, L'Oréal has partnered with Telemundo Communications on Club de Noveleras, a multi-brand loyalty scheme mainly targeted at the Hispanic audience.

Alongside an internet fan club, this programme - announced in March - has featured a wide range of events where consumers can meet the stars of their favourite telenovelas and trial L'Oréal goods.

Data sourced from Forbes; additional content by Warc staff