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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with SK-II: setting a new tone for skincare social retail

SK-II STUDIO, the new film studio division by global prestige skincare brand SK-II, returns with a groundbreaking animated anthology series – the ‘VS’ Series.

Featuring top Olympic athletes including world’s most decorated gymnast Simone Biles, world-record swimmer Liu Xiang, two-time Olympic medalist and table tennis player Ishikawa Kasumi, badminton duo and Olympic gold medalists Ayaka Takahashi and Misaki Matsutomo, surfer Mahina Maeda, and Japan volleyball team Hinotori Nippon, SK-II’s f­­irst-of-its-kind series aims to inspire every woman that they have the power to #CHANGEDESTINY.

Source: SK-II

A collection of six films based on real-life experiences of these Olympic athletes, each explores different aspects of societal pressures that women often face. Each set in its own independent universe and style, the films treat viewers to an inspiring visual experience where the athletes battle to overcome societal pressures stylized in the form of “kaijus” (or “strange beast” in Japanese). With the ‘VS’ Series, SK-II STUDIO sets out to show that destiny is not a matter of chance, but a matter of choice.

The ‘VS’ Series films created in collaboration with world-class content creators from across the world, including award-winning animation studios such as Imaginary Forces, Passion Pictures, Platige Image and C3, and feature original soundtracks by renowned singer-songwriters John Legend and Lexie Liu.

Along with the release of the ‘VS’ Series, SK-II is also launching its first-ever virtual city – SK-II CITY – where visitors can binge-watch the ‘VS’ Series in a virtual cineplex and take a backstage tour of the SK-II STUDIO to access exclusive content behind the ‘VS’ Series.

On the day of the series’ global premiere, SK-II also brings the VS experience to life with the opening of its VS social retail pop-up store in the Haitang Bay Duty Free Shopping Centre in Sanya, Hainan. The pop-up store is open for visitors in Hainan throughout the month of May.

Source: SK-II

The immersive pop-up store is designed such that shoppers are engaged at every stage of their shopping experience, inside and out of the store. It is designed such that the line is the ride, i.e. while queuing to make their purchase, shoppers can interact with the installation along the line to watch the VS series films and unlock exclusive content via a WeChat mini program created exclusively for the pop-up.

For the occasion, Retail in Asia had the chance to interview Sandeep Seth, CEO of Global SK-II, Yoegin Chang, Senior Brand Director of Global SK-II and Liz Caton, Global Vice President of SK-II Travel Retail.

SEE ALSO : Shiseido and Dolce&Gabbana partially terminate their beauty license agreement

Source: SK-II

With almost two decades of omni-channel experience leading local, regional and global organizations across 11 countries in APAC, Greater China, India and U.S and a deep expertise in the Beauty and Prestige industry, Sandeep Seth is currently Chief Executive Officer of Global SK-II, Procter and Gamble’s multi-billion-dollar prestige beauty business. A change agent and business and brand transformation leader, he has transformed SK-II to a become a human brand that is a force for good and a force for growth in the world today. Under his leadership, SK-II has been globally recognized for its thought leadership in brand-building with award winning campaigns such as #ChangeDestiny with the multi Cannes Lion award winning viral film “Marriage Market”.

Source: SK-II

Yoegin Chang is the Senior Brand Director and content, media, consumer experience and innovation leader for Global SK-II, Asia’s #1 skincare brand and one of P&G’s fastest growing Billion Dollar Brands. YoeGin leads the brand’s end to end brand function organization across strategy, innovation, marketing, communication, commercialization and go-to-market to bring to life SK-II’s global vision.

A strong believer of the power of brands as a force for good and a force for growth, Yoegin is the driving force behind the SK-II #CHANGEDESTINY platform that celebrates how destiny is not a matter of chance, it’s a matter of choice and SK-II STUDIO which is the brand’s first film studio division and content hub dedicated to tackling social pressures impacting women today through the power of film and storytelling.

A brand building veteran, Yoegin has spent 11 years as a brand builder in SK-II across
Korea, Singapore and Japan.

Elizabeth-Caton (1)
Source: SK-II

Appointed June 2020, Liz Caton is Global Vice President, SK-II Sales & Travel Retail at Procter & Gamble. She is responsible for all of P&G’s business globally with Travel Retailers, and for the P&G organisation dedicated to this sector.

Her previous role was leading P&G’s global business with A. S. Watson Group, the world’s largest Health & Beauty retailer. Prior to this she has led Corporate Market Strategy & Planning as Director for P&G in Northern Europe, Beauty Director for UK and Ireland, where she led the Olay skincare and Max Factor cosmetics to growth, and leadership of P&G UK’s business with Boots The Chemists, a leading Drug and Pharmacy retailer. Liz has also held Europe regional leadership positions for P&G in our European Headquarter in Geneva. Liz has also led P&G Diversity & Inclusion efforts for P&G Europe region, and contributed to P&G’s global efforts to foster a diverse and inclusive culture and workforce.

In the following Q&A, the three leaders share with us about SK-II’s growth strategy.

RiA: What are the key features which enabled SK-II to grow?

Sandeep: SK-II’s been on a phenomenal growth journey over the past many years marked by double-digit growth, driven by a consumer-centric approach.

With that, there are three elements from a brand point of view that we focus on, which we call our three P’s. They are People, Purpose and PITERA™.

Of course, People is at the centre of it because everything we do aims at creating a better experience for more and more people across the world. Everything we do is around building a human connection between the brand and its consumers, because that is what makes the difference in terms of brand love and brand desirability.

For SK-II, purpose is rooted in the brand campaign of #CHANGEDESTINY. This purpose is not just a campaign, but something that goes across every aspect of the brand. It is based on three pillars; changing destiny of skin, changing destiny of life and changing destiny of the planet.

PITERA™  is the core of the brand. PITERA™ is the miracle ingredient that defines SK-II. You can experience that through our iconic Facial Treatment Essence, which is 90% PITERA™ concentration and unchanged formula since its inception in 1940. Our mission is to spread this miracle of PITERA™, Facial Treatment Essence, to men and women across the world.

Source: SK-II

RiA: What is the purpose behind the “VS” Series and other upcoming films from SK-II STUDIO?

Yoegin: #CHANGEDESTINY is really specific to the pillar of Life. It has been a journey and over seven years, we have been sharing human stories that inspire our target audience, especially in the territories of all societal pressures that women face. It is really the purpose that every one of SK-II members really believe in, and also the reason why our consumers would want to listen to the brand voice.

The “VS” Series is our latest addition to that. We also have launched SK-II STUDIO last month, and “VS” Series is a product or the outcome of our SK-II STUDIO. It is in the same realm of societal pressure and we are tapping into six different athletes and their personal story of highlighting their personal or societal challenges that they face.

We are trying to really bring in the most authentic way possible, in an interesting way mixing real shoot and animation as a treatment. The magical bit is that it is still a real human story. But also some of these pressures are very sensitive, sometimes hard to depict in real life. We are borrowing this technique of animation to bring emphasis on some of those. We bring them in the form of ‘Kaiju’, which is the inner beast, the monster that we all have in our internal mind.

RiA: How SK-II has evolved and innovated in how they engage with today’s consumer in Asia?

Sandeep: The main objective is to create a human brand, with a human connection with the shoppers. Everything we have done over the years is really how do we engage our consumers through stories that inspire them with stories about the product itself. We have engaged authentic testimonials, we partnered with National Geographic to take up SK-II to different harsh environments to test the product and show its efficacy on that.

Storytelling has been at the heart of the brand’s marketing and we have then taken it to the next level through these life stories that we have shared through our #CHANGEDESTINY campaign. Now the stories are taking the new and the next turn, wherein it is becoming more physical experiences and moments.

A lot of what we are doing in the retail space, either through pop-ups, or through our retail experiences, is to create the new chapter of experiences and storytelling that we can bring to life. When we look at brand building and marketing and connecting with consumers, we are focused and centred on our obsession with consumers. I always say that the art of brand building is something that is core to Procter and Gamble, something that we have inherited over the years, even if I were to go back to the 1930s and talk about the invention of soap opera by P&G, that has been a whole art of storytelling that connects the brand with its consumers. And at SK-II, we invite that spirit of storytelling in everything that we do to connect with our consumers.

RiA: We touched upon the aspect of social commerce and with that, what can we expect at the Hainan pop-up store?

Liz: We know Hainan is the brightest spot in travel retail right now because it is the main holidays destination and shopping. So during Golden Week in May our social retail pop-up is expected to welcome plenty of visitors.

Yoegin: The Hainan pop-up is very unique in the sense that we are bringing to life the social retail experience. This is also our premiere venue for our “VS” Series globally. We have designed a gamified skincare shopping experience powered by the WeChat mini program, and there are several features that we are introducing for the first time.

Source: SK-II

First of all, we are driving the cinematic, hyper-realistic universe of the “VS” series. “VS” Series is an animated series, which is beyond your life, and we are trying to bring that to life. While online shopping has been accelerating in the past few months, we also know that there will always be the need for physical experience in skincare.

We are working on identifying consumer habits in Hainan and try to elevate their experience. For example, we know that consumer wait in long lines in Hainan, so we have leveraged on the waiting time by combining their mobile screen with the physical store walls to create an AR-enabled life experience, where they can immerse themselves into the “VS” Series.

For the skincare, we have worked on skin diagnosis tool, which also is one of the reasons why consumers visit offline stores. We are also introducing SK-II’s latest innovation on contactless counselling to meet the demand for contactless experience.

RiA: What is next for SK-II in terms of retail innovation?

Yoegin: You will be seeing the Mini Magic scan.

We are expanding our live streaming and social commerce where we have the two-way shopping and engagement with our shoppers.

YUMI, she is our brand ambassador powered by AI. She is something that is going to enable a 24/7 brand connection, on demand, wherever, whenever consumers want to.

We are also transforming our beauty consultant experience into a much more beauty influencer-like experience, which is what consumers are looking for both online and offline.

Source: SK-II

RiA: How does retail innovation play in SK-II’s purpose of #CHANGEDESTINY?

Yoegin: I think it will flow across skin, life and planet, the three legs of our purpose of #CHANGEDESTINY as Sandeep has started off with.

On Skin, because there is always going to be the skin diagnosis, there is always going be the sensorial experience, around her skin, around our product that will continue to evolve.

On Life, the Hainan pop-up will be instrumental to set a new benchmark in terms of immersive experience.

On planet and sustainability, we are strengthening our internal processes to create less waste and become net zero impact company. We are also partnering with external communities for doing much more positive programs for our planet, and our shoppers will be empowered to be able to contribute to good cause at ease by enrolling into our SK-II’s NOW program which stands for Nourish Our World. And so that we will see across markets.

RiA: How is the brand integrating omni-channel within travel retail? And what are the strategies in terms of engaging new customers or retaining existing ones? 

Liz: I think the event we put together with CDFG in Hainan, the social retail pop-up store is a great example of exactly that – how we are integrating omnichannel into the travel retail experience.

I think travel retail consumers’ expectations are rising all the time. Travel retail is a great channel to engage our consumers and engage our users in a more meaningful and more immersive way.

Source: SK-II

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Sandeep: Liz talked about travel retail as a big opportunity for us. It is a growing channel and we expect the growth rates to continue to explode as travel begins. For us though, this is an opportunity to continue to connect with our consumers in more meaningful ways. Sharing our #CHANGEDESTINY to life, as we say change the destiny of skin, life and planet.

I am very excited with how things are moving. I see a very bright and positive future for both the skincare and the beauty category, as well as travel retail as a channel. But I think more importantly, consumers are getting much more demanding and we need to act much more driven by a purpose versus just a commercial need. The big thing for us at SK-II and P&G is for brands to be both force of growth as well as being force for good, that is what I am hoping we will continue to drive.