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​Liz Bacelar: creating the missing link between tech, lifestyle and retail

esteelauder

She founded a company to advise top brands like Gucci, Tiffany and H&M about innovations. The combination of lifestyle, retail and tech brings new opportunities for growth. Now Liz Bacelar is working as executive director of global tech innovation at Estée Lauder. In her current work she focuses on NFTs and the metaverse. 'It is an evolution of the internet that CEOs and CMOs cannot ignore'.


Many fashion companies are struggling to find a strategy. "If you were right now doing a virtual catwalk with avatars and you don't have a plan how this catwalk transitions to sales and if you cannot speak beyond just that event, you don't know what you are doing," Bacelar says during a talk at London & Partners. "Innovation is knowing why you are doing it right now, what is the behavior in society that calls for it and that would give you a result in your business." She expects that new digital worlds will interact with physical channels. "We are looking at ourselves, how can metaverse technologies make our company better," she explains at GDS Summits. "Digital doesn't mean weakening the physical channels. The metaverse and NFT adoption could be for instance a huge physical store play." She notices how the physical and virtual world are already intertwining. "Using a digital asset and pick up a product at the store, or buying a physical product and winning a digital asset, this is already familiar."

Connecting leaders in retail and fashion to technology
Liz Bacelar, known as an innovation specialist, started her career as a journalist. "It was all about finding stories, sometimes about natural disasters or investigational stories." She received an Emmy nomination when working as a TV producer for CBS News. At that time, she noticed how tech was accelerating and wanted to work on it, but her employer was hesitant. "Talking up tech was an invitation to hurt your career and then I realized this place is like the Titanic. There's got to be a place that if you move with the speed of light and have great ideas you are rewarded and it wasn't the media," Bacelar recalled during a video talk at Bellwether Culture.

So, she started her own companies, one after another. First, she created Decoded Fashion, a worldwide event series connecting leaders in fashion and retail to new technologies. Under her guidance the company hosted networking events and pop-up summits in twelve countries. But these were meetings and she also wanted to see actions. Then she founded Current Global, a platform for innovation in the fashion and retail markets, based in London and New York. The idea was to create the missing link between technology, lifestyle and retail. The firm gathered brand and retail leaders to form partnerships with top innovators and startups. She advised CEOs and CMOs in the luxury and fashion world, including Gucci and H&M, finding technical solutions to maximize consumer engagement and conversions. In 2020 Current Global was acquired by the brand consultancy platform Together Group.

What we can learn from Ready Player One
In her current work for Estée Lauder, Bacelar focuses on the metaverse, NFTs and other emerging tech opportunities. She is convinced that the metaverse is the evolution of the internet and believes TikTok and YouTube will eventually migrate to it. "We are moving towards web 3.0, a secure and decentralized 3D internet. We already know that it is an internet in which the physical and digital are intertwined with products having as much or more value in virtual form. The metaverse is meant to be a vast universe that is immersive and social." She refers to the novel and then movie 'Ready Player One', that made the metaverse concept understandable. "I really recommend you re-watching it. At the very end it suggests a new way of life, in which we would balance the physical and digital self. Oasis, the operating system in the movie, looked sci-fi, but it is increasingly becoming a mass market experience."

One of Estée Lauder's brands, Clinique, was the first in the company to establish a presence in the metaverse, with the launch of the Skin School x Clinique Laboratories. In the virtual space visitors were able to attend virtual skin classes, participate in live chats or have a look behind the scenes of Clinique beauty products. "I can discover products online, I can talk to an avatar, or present myself as an avatar," as Bacelar explained during CES 2022.

Testing NFTs
Many marketers are still skeptical about the use of NFTs in virtual worlds. Do consumers really care? "We decided to test it while working on an NFT project," she recounts at GDS Summits. "We have our own initiative Tech Day of Pink which was inspired by the company's breast cancer campaign." Tech Day of Pink aims to unite technologists worldwide around breast cancer awareness, education and fundraising. "It was created by our Chief Information Officer Michael W. Smith and we released about hundred NFTs to raise money for breast cancer research. There was no grand marketing plan, we were just trying to test it out. And we were surprised, maybe a little shocked, to see that the entire collection sold out in days. We gave no explanation of what NFTs are or how it works. It was clear there was a very real appetite for digital assets within our consumers. They understand the basics of it and are eager to know more."

The question for brands is where to invest if you want to be part of the emerging metaverse. Should you invest millions buying a plot of land in a virtual world like Decentraland and build your own virtual flagship? "The first investment you need to make is developing the knowledge in your teams to understand what is ahead and how to make informed decisions." She acknowledges that the metaverse is not easily accessible for everyone. "It is no longer male, but there is a need for inclusivity. There is a need for doors to be open and education mechanisms to be implemented to make this more accessible to different audiences. We think we have a role in there. We are deep into the space to work with the entire portfolio of brands we have."

Imagine the metaverse through the eyes of the consumer
For Bacelar, it is all about innovation. "Innovation means creativity. It is exactly that. It's you being able to think outside the box. I get really upset when people ignore what innovation actually means," she says during the London & Partners talk. She was surprised to find out how many CEOs work. "We see people doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result, like expecting growth from a company without revamping what you are doing. There is not going to be any growth because you are doing the same thing. You need creativity and courage to be able to do things in a different way."

Although there are still many uncertainties around the metaverse, some brand leaders make the mistake to wait too long. "They wait for the adoption curve to accelerate and then to catch up and strategize. But it is not like social media platforms where we were given years to strategize and catch up. We are not going to be given much time. More and more brands are bringing their consumers to these platforms. The first step in this journey for you as an individual marketer is to play with these concepts. (…) As you immerse yourself in this, even in the smallest possible way, you start understanding how to see all of this through the eyes of your consumer. So, stop just reading about it and start doing things in these virtual worlds."

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