Jane Hertzmark Hudis, group president of Estée Lauder, is fascinated by storytelling. As she describes her business strategies for the eight brands she oversees globally—that’s Estée Lauder, La Mer, Bobbi Brown, Aerin, Origins, Aveda, Darphin and Bumble and bumble—she talks about each as if they’re a person with an individual story to tell. “Each has their own DNA, their own point of view,” she says excitedly, “their own identity and purpose.” As group president, a main part of Hudis’s job is to be both a storyteller, making sure each brand’s story is communicated correctly, and a listener, being attuned to the consumer’s story to better understand her needs.
In order to discover what that consumer wants, Hudis dedicates herself to seeking out her story, constantly travelling to connect with beauty users around the globe. With her brands available in over 150 countries, Hudis recognizes that each potential buyer comes with her own unique perspective. “The way we connect,” she explains, “what consumers are interested in, is different in every single country in the world.” While one woman in the United States may end her day with a routine involving one or two skincare products, a woman in China might use seven or eight. “There’s a connection that all women have, all over the world, and that’s the language of being a woman,” she says, “but the tailoring of this to each country is critical. Storytelling is king—or should I say queen?” she laughs.
The age of social media is the perfect time for a storyteller to be at Estée Lauder’s helm. Hudis seems partial to Instagram for this. “You can be in Russia and know what’s happening in New York. You can be in Paris and know what’s happening in Dubai. It’s the great connector,” she says. “It has made for understanding and making consumer connections all around the world, and it has made for a super visually exciting and entertaining platform.” YouTube also affords new opportunities for telling stories. “From all the video content and the how-to’s, it’s really taught women how to use beauty products,” Hudis explains. “We create media for YouTube. We’re inspired by YouTube, and we raise the level of our game because of YouTube.”
Hudis seemingly feels no nostalgia for a pre–social media era. No longer are marketers focusing all of their energies on print or TV campaigns, which take months, or even years, to produce. “Brands are posting four, five times a day, constantly creating media for this new world,” Hudis says. Her eight brands are active across Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter, Snapchat and Weibo in China. With Estée Lauder’s brands creating content 24/7, Hudis goes so far as to say that the company has evolved from a solely product-driven company to a media company as well. The storytelling doesn’t stop with the brand though. Hudis recognizes the importance of influencers in contributing to each brand’s narrative. She elaborates, “My Bobbi Brown brand just celebrated the launch of Crushed Lip Color, and we hosted a three-day global influencer activation in New York City leading up to Fashion Week. We invited twenty-five top beauty and fashion influencers with a combined reach of over 25 million in 16 flagship markets to experience the city through the eyes of interesting and influential women—including designers, entrepreneurs, chefs and mixologists—who are the brand’s ultimate ‘girl crushes.’”
For Hudis, being at Estée Lauder Companies isn’t just about driving the performance of her brands—although that is something she does quite successfully—it’s an opportunity to connect with women across the world and to be a visual storyteller. Formerly an Art History major at Vassar College, Hudis has always had a love of culture, history and visuality. She sees beauty as an art form. “I think that art and beauty are fundamentally connected. They’re intimately connected,” she says. “Interestingly enough, I see many people in this industry who started as art history majors. We are very visual, we’re storytellers.” And Hudis is committed to continuing to hear, and tell, the beauty buyer’s story.
The beauty picks she won’t travel without.
Main photo by John Midgley