Julie Bornstein, Chief Marketing and Digital Officer at Sephora, was a speaker at L2 Think Tank’s recent Global Prestige Forum at Manhattan’s Times Center. Interviewed by L2 Founder and NYU Stern Clinical Professor of Marketing, Scott Galloway, Julie talked about the evolution of the CMO role, the beauty brands she thinks are doing it right and her thoughts on Amazon entering luxury beauty.

Scott Galloway: The CMO of the Nineties was someone who oversaw a brand and award winning creative. Now a CMO is someone who runs brand digital. Is it all about selling stuff online?

Julie Bornstein: I think the creative space is very relevant both for figuring out how to do ecommerce but also just to connect with the consumer. I was talking with a friend yesterday who said how hard it is to hire digital talent and we talked about how in 10 years it won’t be hard to find because every person will have grown up in a world that’s digital. Today it’s still an evolving skillset.

SG: What’s the unique attribute to Sephora that’s made it so successful?

JB: Sephora broke the model for how high-end prestige beauty could be bought. So we came to this country as an innovator and with a whole new model. You could for the first time touch and feel and play with makeup and see the prices right then and there and shop across the brands. That didn’t exist before and it made the big brands nervous at the time and it took some of them a while to come on board, although they did. A disruptive spirit is part of our DNA actually. We were early in ecommerce, we started in 1999, before I was there, and they hired a team that was interested in being first out, so we are looking at ourselves compared to everyone who is out there, not just the beauty world, for constant ideas on shopping and how to take that specific to beauty and make the buying experience interesting, educational and fun.

SG: What percentage of your efforts in digital are about trying to change in-store behavior or motivate a purchase in-store versus actually getting them to buy online, has it evolved?

JB: It’s evolved a lot. When you have responsibility for store business as well as ecommerce it opens your mind to thinking about how the consumer is thinking about shopping. The reality is consumers are online all the time so the idea that you are creating a connection and inspiration and driving reasons—whether its conscious or subconscious—to come to the store is an obvious one. We also have an ecommerce business that we are trying to grow and build and run. We have a number of efforts, some are specific to ecommerce, some are really for both channels and some are specific to drive more connection with the store. I do think the digital investment to drive local business and activity and giving stores another way to reach out and communicate with their consumer at a store level will definitely become a bigger focus of ours and many retailers over the next few years.

SG: Of all the social media platforms, where have you been most pleasantly surprised?

JB: I think that Pinterest has been a really great platform for us because while smaller than Facebook—at this point—it is extremely shopping oriented and it’s a great place for people to really put out there in-store what they’re interested in. All of us use it in my office and have seen great response in terms of our ability to create a community and people doing it on their own. I think Facebook has done a lot of interesting things around advertising, so we are really interested to test and learn with them. But they are definitely re-orienting themselves more towards how retailers and brands can make legitimate connections and drive marketing efforts. While Facebook is about friends and your community, Google Plus is really trying to be around interests so whether you love running or blush, or anything in between, I think they’re trying to build more off of topic than off of people and friends. The disappointment has been finding a social shopping platform that really lends itself to shopping. We did a number of tests with little startups and none of them really made it. I think Pinterest is really the closest thing today. But we continue to look for how we can really make social relevant to when you’re in the shopping mindset and connect the two.

SG: I think that when Amazon thinks about the retailers they think about disrupting I have a sense that Sephora is on the wall with a big bulls eye. How do you compete against an organization that has limitless capital?

JB: Amazon is a mass merchant that has inspired us to be better. Prestige and luxury brands all want to control and manage their distribution. That’s not what happens with a mass retailer. Luxury and Amazon will not mix.

SG: What beauty brands are really killing it right now?

JB: The brand I most admire is Benefit.

SG: They’re owned by the same company as you [LVMH]…

JB: They are. I just think they’ve done really cool digital things and we are run very separately. I think that Josie Moran is a brand that found a niche with argon oil and really lives and loves her product. There’s a lot of authenticity and purity. I continue to be impressed by the Lauder brands, they all have been able to maintain their unique voice and position, they’re very innovative and they really understand the consumer and how to find products that connect.

SG: Is there a specific brand in the portfolio?

JB: Clinique, which after all of these years is still so relevant. That’s a very hard thing to do.

SG: What about other specialty retailers?

JB: The retailer that I actually look to a lot, not suggesting I want to go work there, is REI. They’re small and innovative and based outside of Seattle. They were the first to do buy online and pickup in store. I also look at William Sonoma. I’m obsessed with Apple. There’s no better retail experience than Apple. You buy a product and they are committed to you post-purchase. They make it fun and easy on the front end but also on the back end. It’s an interesting model to look at.

Photo courtesy of Brian Hatton for L2 Think Tank