#InnovatorAtWork is a series of interviews where we meet people who are at the cutting edge of customer engagement and commerce. What inspires them? And what insights can they share that might just change the way you look at things?
This week features Thomas Wasser, Global CRM manager for prestige brands, Shiseido Co. LTD.
Tell us about yourself
I was born and raised in The Netherlands, in a small village of around 1800 people. Now I live in one of the biggest cities in the world, Tokyo. I like being out of my comfort zone and being challenged, whether in sport, debate or professionally.
And what are you up to now?
I’m leading Global CRM for prestige brands at Shiseido, focused on Shiseido Ginza Tokyo and the Clé de peau beauté brand. Shiseido Co. ltd., founded in Japan, is a 147-year-old company that has a wide array of cosmetics brands. There’s Shiseido itself of course, but also Nars, Laura Mercier, IPSA and more. I work with colleagues around the world on tactics and plans to connect with our users. We aim to share our passion and deliver the right experience at the right time through our channels, whether online, social or in person at a beauty counter.
Okay, so we need three things done by other people that inspire you…
- Heston Blumenthal, who inspires enjoyment as well as craft. I have always enjoyed cooking and experimenting. In his book In Search of Perfection he deconstructs every single part of a dish and perfects each element before bringing them together to make one complete meal. That dedication and teamwork really makes me want to be a deeper specialist that can oversee the entire experience.
- Finally, I’m inspired by positive creators, people with open personalities who improve people’s lives on a daily basis. I’m lucky to have many examples around me. Friends in completely different fields but with a passion that radiates energy, and who will go to great lengths to deliver that ‘best experience’; colleagues I have worked with over the years who were truly dedicated and inspired me to be my best; and the leaders of industry I engage with who always manage to bring energy and optimism.
- Something that might sound odd: failing. Hearing, reading, about the success stories from renowned entrepreneurs always revolves around how they got up after failing, learned, transformed their approach, and succeeded. not in one go, but over the course of years. I believe that if you haven’t failed you also have not succeeded; you just stopped trying to reach more. In our current society, with the data and technology we have, we should apply this approach (call it PDCA) to everything we do and grow ourselves and our businesses
Why, when, and how did you get started?
My passion has always been design and innovation. I studied Industrial Design Engineering at the Delft Technical University. This was the first one in The Netherlands and one of the first worldwide that focused on design thinking and user-centric development. Being close to end-users really gives you a kick when you are actually helping to make a difference in people their lives. Attending a technical university made me into a hybrid, able to be creative and in touch with the emotional parts as well as technical and being able to focus on the functional parts. This blend I believe is extremely valuable in the current field I am working.
What was your first job like?
After graduating I kept working at Unilever, positioned between the product development and consumer insights teams to provide direction on portfolio/product development for laundry detergents in emerging markets. Since many end-users were still washing by hand, they actually had a very strong emotional connection to products and what these should deliver.
It taught me that no two consumers are the same in what they want or expect, but that there are groups to be defined with the same commonalities that we could support.
When we do this, we can truly contribute to the quality of their lives. Ever since then, I’ve been hooked on the tension between consumer expectations and brand deliverables.
Looking back, what’s your favourite thing that you’ve done?
At the moment I am doing my favourite thing, leading CRM on a global level to work with amazing colleagues on creating new touchpoints and experiences, helping users to experience our products better and assist them in their journeys towards their goals. But also one of my first jobs at Samsung really stands out.
I was spending nights crunching numbers in databases to understand trends and insights, creating reports for senior management to propose new directions. Doing something new and needing to work hard to succeed gives the greatest reward. Doing this as a team and sharing in success makes it even better.
What do you love most about what you do now?
Skin-care products and make-up are incredibly emotional product, and end-users are very much connected to the brand when using our products. You literally put them on your face so we need to be extremely trusted and prepared. Being able to be part of a company with such a heritage of making the best products and the best innovation is humbling and inspiring.
The colleagues and culture is truly about working together to provide our users the best experience from the start till the end. There is a Japanese word, ‘omotenashi’. It is hard to translate but it means always thinking about what the other needs and making sure you deliver this. Providing the very best on all levels, to everyone. This is deeply ingrained in the company and I invite everyone to walk into our parlours and experience how I believe everyone should be treated, always.
Looking back, how do you think consumers and customers have changed?
People are smarter about things that are happening around them, yet still very similar on emotional level.
The world has changed though, a lot. It has not become an easier place despite, or because, of all the new technologies.
This is just one of the many paradoxes that consumers have to live with and deal with. Another is that there are so many choices and information that it again makes things less clear than it was before. This has changed consumers in 1 big manner for sure; there is a much higher demand for transparency now on how companies operate.
How they run their business, create their products and execute marketing to make consumers buy products and services. It is not just the actual product and its use anymore, but consumers want to be very close and involved to the brands they decide to trust, for CRM and consumer experience this brings a great responsibility on using that trust well, but a very exciting one at that.
How has your tool chest evolved? What do you use now that you didn’t or couldn’t before?
My tool chest has grown both organically and through dedicated courses. Last year I took a specific follow-up course around Design Thinking which gives me more grip on the process around opportunity identification and solutioning to make sure we create new experiences our users will appreciate. Another course I took was around ‘Arbinger’ – how to become a better team/organisation. This was an eye-opener for me to make sure everyone was much more open to support each other rather than staying in our own little bubble.
Outside of processes, however, perhaps what helps me most are things like cloud-computing and data speed.
Being able to get all data close to the fingertips for almost real-time analysis and understanding, and activating directly after that is truly amazing. Plus of course algorithms, how and where to use them. I think understanding these is an essential tool for everyone in marketing and consumer experience. It helped me do things like automatically select relevant users for activations based on other data. Moving forward I am sure it will help us with so much more we cannot even imagine it yet.
And what are the big challenges you face?
“What will the next big disruption be, and how do we ensure we are ready for this?” That’s my big question. We live in an exciting time but being ready for a future that is hard to read can be challenging. Mostly we are trying to set ourselves up for success by staying flexible and lean. Working with partners that can shift easily and trying to work on a foundation that is scalable and easily adaptable.
Also our mindset should be an open and flexible one where jobs, roadmaps, etc should work more towards matrix organisations with an agile approach.
That is how we are trying to be ready for the future where AI, Deep Learning, IOT but also privacy regulations and consumer expectations will surely throw some amazing curveballs.
What do you think clever marketers should be looking at?
Actually the same stuff the good ones have always looked at: your users, current and future; what they need and expect from your products; and what goals they want to achieve with them. The big difference now is that we can go much deeper into the journeys and expectations because we have the data to proof/show things to us. This allows us to see trends, segments and will generate opportunities and chances we should take in order to optimise step by step the specific experiences our users are looking for.
One top tip for companies trying to stay relevant and engage in your arena?
There is always a bigger boat. Look at where you are yourself and work on improving your situation to be more relevant for your consumers. Go out there and experience how consumers actually engaging with your assets since clicks/views do not mean anything if you do not understand what the experience is your users are really having. Consumers do not buy a drill, they buy a hole. Understand what they want to achieve and make sure you relate to that. When you’re working on a product it is easy to get obsessed by it, so it is good to take a step back and understand how real consumers are looking at your products and what they are expecting.
How can we get in touch with you?
You can always message me over LinkedIn to discuss the future of connecting brands and consumers or even better visit me in Tokyo or at events where we are together. I believe we should share more together to improve the way how we use our resources and be able to focus on what we aim to achieve, create better lives across the globe.