We are still working on chapter on Non-English blogs, thanks in a large part to Six Apart’s Loic Le Meur, who has been taking us on a guided tour of Europe and introducing us to many of blogging most interesting participants. One of the cases was on Vichy, a division of French cosmetics giant L’Oreal. We like the story because it is a shining example of what happens when bad blogs go good and how it helps both customers on one end of the equation and companies on the other. In fact we have three good places to plug this into Naked Conversations, so it may end up in a later chapter.
When Vichy was ready to bring a new anti-aging cream to market, it decided to use a blog as part of an integrated marketing program that linked the blog to advertising and PR efforts, etc. It was awful. They started with a fake character named Claire who whined about the difficulties of getting enough sleep while attending too many parties in a voice that was clearly cut, polished and contrived. Claire, who lamented her advancing years, looked amazingly like a professionally photographed model and not like someone who should be concerned with wrinkles. Comments were filtered. Neither RSS feed nor Permalink were enabled. In fact, the whole thing was not really a blog at all, but a creation of the advertising agency who created it, perhaps with an eye toward incremental revenue on their own behalf. In fact, the ad agency had issued a press release, boasting about their fictitious character blog. Before Naked Conversations goes off on a tangent however, bloggers can learn one thing from ad agencies and marketers. A simple compelling story will grab the attention of an audience more than quickly than will pontifications. The catch is that in the blogosphere you should use only true stories unless you have masochistic tendencies.
In Vichy’s defense, LeMeur is quick to point out that the giant cosmetics company was a neophyte to the blogosphere and did not yet understand the rules of the new communications channel. They received a quick lesson. Within an hour, bloggers, Le Meur told us, were “bashing the brand for presenting a false character.” A few days following the launch, the story was quickly picked up by France’s two leading advertising publications and Le Monde, the most popular national newspaper wrote about it. Stratégies wrote: ““Brands that try to disguise themselves as authors are no longer credible. Reading product instructions done up like a blog is silly. Vichy continues to do top-down marketing: the exact opposite of the blogger philosophy.” The company was a bit stunned. They thought their innovation would be toasted. Instead they were becoming toast when they turned to Le Meur for help in the crisis, and, to their credit, followed his counsel closely.
The blog was re-launched using Movable Type, which allowed them to enable all the functionality that makes a blog more than a website. Vichy’s first act was to apologize for having offended. They introduced the actual Vichy team with a photo showing the real people, which started to build trust. Next, they asked bloggers for advice on how they could best use the blog in conjunction with their new product. The bloggers were not shy in telling them to establish conversations with real customers and let the blog reflect all comments including negative ones.
The result was an entirely new, authentic transparent blog intended to serve customers and prospects as an information resource. Sophie Kune, a French blogger with influence on cosmetics, agreed to blog—as herself—alongside the Vichy team. With Kune’s help five women bloggers agreed to undergo the four-week program posting unfiltered comments on Vichy’s blog. Le Meur told us Bloggers and the Vichy team formed “a real friendship.”
As the authentic blog started to take root, other bloggers linked to it, praising its reincarnated authenticity. Vichy customers and prospects started reading it, accepting company invitations to try the product and comment on the experience. “The whole experience turned into a success as the customers were happy to get such a feedback and close relationship with Vichy and the Vichy team learned a lot,” according to Le Meur. The French press, including the leading financial daily has even covered this story in a light that has Vichy looking like a rose without thorns.
We interviewed Lynn Serfaty, group manager international marketing for the L’Oreal’s Vichy brand. We must confess a gaffe on our part, in that we ready, fire aimed in this case. We had not heard the details of the Vichy experience yet, and therefore did not ask the most appropriate questions to Serfaty. Nevertheless, we found her comments useful and share them—with some edits—below. We are hoping to also speak with an officer from L’Oreal corporate because we understand that L’Oreal, a world leader in the huge cosmetics business has plans for extending its blogging efforts.
Serfaty’s comments :
1. How and when did Vichy get interested in blogging?
Vichy got interested when one of our products - Peel Micro-abrasion Rejuvenating Kit - was approaching its initial launch in December 2004. We were looking for a way to get in touch with our consumer and give them a chance to ask questions and get customized answers about the kit. We thought it was important because this product was new and unusual and required more follow up and a closer relationship between us and customers. Moreover, the web is a link that helps users go from the ad to the point of sale. And we chose to make it a blog, since we thought it was the easiest way to interact.
2. When did Vichy start blogging? Was it internal or external? What did it learn from the experience?
The blog was definitely a real learning experience. The first thing we learned was that blogs were based on complete transparency, individual testimony and free interactions. Once we understood that, we started learning about our users and about our relationship with them:
• We learned that we could talk directly to the users. They had questions for us and we had answers, so the brand didn't have to be anonymous to have status.
• We also learned that communication could be spontaneous and a work-in-progress. We re-adjusted as we discovered their needs and heard their questions. A perfect example was sun protection : we had a precise answer to whether you could use the product and go into the sun but bloggers asked us questions we had not previously considered: what happens if I spend a week end in the sun ? What if I live in a sunny place, and so on.
• We thought we had anticipated their answers, but we only had it partially right.. For example, we expected questions on sun protection, but hadn't expected a question about home-prepared masks.
3. Is there a blog strategy? How would you describe it?
The strategy is not about the blog. The blog is only a means to a strategy of getting closer to our customers and adding value by providing product-related advice and good customer follow-up. The pharmacy, where people buy our products and dermo-advisers remain our main support in implementing this strategy, but the web and in this case, the blog, is a way to reassure customers and help understand the product, and decide if its appropriate, before buying it. At the pharmacy, a customer can customiz the application of the kit for her skin. The blog is part of an integrated vision of how we can advise and help customers, with a new product using new technologies.
4. How is blogging organized at L’Oreal? Is it centralized or decentralized? Is there one person in charge or is it ad hoc?
Vichy is the first and, for the time being, the only brand that has been blogging. Six members of the Vichy blog— a scientific relations director; training manager; web master and product mangers all post on the blog. It is decentralized in the sense that the Vichy team is responsible, but centralized since we get advice from the L’Oreal group Internet team.
5. Is there a blog policy?
No blog policy. But rules to be followed which actually are the blog rules : complete transparency, individual testimony and free interactions. These rules are synthesized in the Vichy blog charter : comments are open. The site is dedicated to people interested in skin care users. It does not matter whether or not they use Peel Micro Abrasion specifically. We also adhere to the usual legal requirements. We will remove any illegal activity such as racist or injurious comments, etc.
6. What has been the result of the blog experience so far?
Everyone at Vichy has learned from the blog. It has helped us to clarify our product position. And better answer customer questions that we had not previously thought about, such as what products should be used at the same time. The interaction with customers on the blog has impacted our PR and sales efforts.
7. Are there any people at Vichy who object to blogging? Why and what is your response?
The objections would be on time-consumption. Blogging requires lots of attention, and time for reading, answering etc. And this time is required at any time since the blog always live, even on nights and week ends. I respond to objections by saying the PR benefits are considerable.