The CMO Club caught up with Violaine Basse, CMO of Ruinart. We asked her to share perspectives on the career trajectory which has taken her to the top marketing role at the world’s oldest champagne house. She highlights defining moments in the journey, offers insights, and talks about how personal and professional values can be interwoven to create the conditions for individual fulfillment and business success. We asked her to first share the three themes that have been present throughout her career
Three Defining Themes
When I reflect on the themes present in my career the power of the brand stands out. I always wanted to work on brands that I could relate to, brands that have a rich history. I started at DIM, which has an advertising saga in France with A-list filmmakers, and that’s what drew me to them. In 2000 I joined Guerlain with jewels like Shalimar in fragrance and Terracotta in makeup. At Hennessy of course it’s such a powerful brand at the same time very inclusive. It’s a brand that is relevant in the hip hop culture in the US, the Cantonese cuisine and dining culture in south China, and in the entrepreneurs and the makers culture in Africa. Today at Ruinart, which is a jewel, the brand is synonymous with conscious luxury. Ruinart is a product – more than a product, an experience – that you want to share with those that really matter to you. The first theme that stands out is the power of brand and brands that really radiate
The second theme is that I chose to work with people who elevate and energize their coworkers. I have had great managers – people who generously share their knowledge, their know-how, and also are true to what they believe in. So really the choices were made when I could find meaning and I could see it was going to be meaningful work.
The third was always trying to explore and learn and go beyond the comfort zone. Exploration was the key thought of the project of sailing around the Atlantic ocean with my husband. Exploration was also the key when entering the world of perfume and beauty that I knew nothing of when I joined Guerlain in 2000. Or moving to Asia with my husband and family to take charge of marketing in Asia Pacific for Guerlain and serving the many markets each with a very, very specific culture of its own. Exploration and learning when I started working in the wine and spirits industry. Being a woman, a Parisian, I had no credentials in wines and spirit. I was not a connoisseur. It takes a lot of courage to go beyond and explore those unknown territories. Reflecting on my career, I can say those choices really made me grow and enriched my work life.
The Power of Brand. The People I Worked With. The Spirit of Exploration and Learning.
I became a better leader when I managed to more closely unite the person I am in my personal life and the person I am at work. As a working mother, family has always been my inner compass. It is my true north. I had my children while I was working. We found balance by regularly assessing whether everyone in the family was able to blossom given the configurations that work introduced into our lives. Being a parent also helped me in my management at work. It made me recognize I couldn’t succeed without sharing responsibilities. That is true at work and it is also true at home, at first with my husband and now with my kids because they are grown up–they are now 21, 19. 15.
The unity of the person I am at work and the person I am at home is what makes me stronger.
My leadership perspective has changed over time. When I was a young professional, I expected my manager to show me the way, to be a role model, and to help me sort out the good ideas from the less good ones. Like everyone, I had very good and inspiring managers and less good and inspiring ones. I realized what’s needed from a leader is less knowledge and more know-how, listening, and giving back. It’s being able to have conversations that will elevate and drive you towards a higher purpose and more ambition. To me, ambition is not to get to a higher hierarchical role, but it’s to realize one’s self. It has to be with this unity of your integral person. What I am trying to do as a leader now is to give my coworkers guidance, but not on how they should work, or what they should work on. It’s more to be an inspiring partner and give them freedom to experiment, and fail and learn from their failures. It’s also really the collective. I believe no one can achieve anything alone. It’s giving this room for collective intelligence.
I couldn’t succeed without sharing responsibilities. I believe no one can achieve anything alone. It’s giving this room for collective intelligence.
The Path that Isn’t Well Traced
When my husband and I had been married for a couple of years we were thinking about what’s next? Maybe we’ll found a family, have children and continue our careers. We’ll look like our parents, who are wonderful people. But that road ahead of us was well traced already. And we had this idea of traveling around the world. We formulated this project and saved for months. We quit our jobs. And we left our home. I was 23. We’ve lived fantastic encounters in many different countries. What I remember from those times were the people we met.
In business when the path isn’t well traced, you have to trust in your skills and in your ability to succeed. Sometimes it’s really challenging in situations when there’s a lack of trust. Either when I don’t feel trusted or if I feel that I can’t trust someone because we don’t play by the same rules. These are the hardest situations for me. But if there is trust and confidence you can do something you haven’t done before. It’s really very, very rewarding to realize that you can take a road you’ve never followed before. You can bring value to your work environment and to the brand you take care of. You do this by making sure good ideas are spotted and relying on the people that you work with. These are the keys to success.
When you enter a road that is not already well traced, you have to stress the power of collective. You have to get the new ideas that appear and nurture them so they can become the ideas that are powerful and successful.
Empowerment and Sustainability
I think we can make a difference. It’s a matter of integrity. What matters in our personal life matters in our work life too. Because empowerment and sustainability are so important to me as a person, they are also important at work. No brand can avoid those topics, or should avoid those topics today. That’s why I’m so happy at Ruinart, which I joined a year ago. Ruinart is championing sustainability and manages to craft a sustainable luxury. It’s nice that everything Ruinart does is very beautiful. It has this elegant simplicity. Ruinart has been eco-designing everything, every element of packaging with a continuous improvement approach for over 10 years, long before I joined. This beautiful jewel is also the result of its commitment to sustainability.
Evolutions and Redefinitions
Marketing used to be brand centric, then it moved to more consumer centric activities. Because I work in luxury marketing, it’s not just looking at what consumers demand but also what truly motivates and has meaning for them so we offer products and services that embrace those insights
I think consumers are beyond being at the center of everything. What really is important now for a brand is to be really relevant within different local communities.
Today, marketing is evolving from consumer centricity to brand as being a cultural agent interacting with communities. I think consumers are beyond being at the center of everything. What really is important now for a brand is to be really relevant within different local communities. By communities, I have in mind much more than demographics. Communities that are defined by their senses of interests, or by their commitments, or the way they see the future and how they want to impact the future. A community can be beyond geographies and generations
It’s the evolution of luxury to what I and many call a conscious luxury. People make carefully considered choices around what is genuinely important when they consume luxury. There’s a true redefinition of luxury that is happening today. COVID-19 has accelerated and accentuated trends that were there already. Today people are willing to spend more on the essential elements that enhance the quality and help the utility, the uniqueness, and sustainability of what they consume.
It’s a view of what I come back to as the job of marketing and marketers. There is an appreciation of the relationship our luxury choices have with the broader ecosystems surrounding them: the people and communities involved; the processes employed to create what we offer; the relationship it has with the planet. We’re moving to a luxury that adds up to more meaning than simply status as it used to be. It’s a luxury that enriches us.
To learn more about Violaine’s thoughts on the power – and responsibility – of brand and brand purpose, explore the CMO Club’s Virtual Roundtable on Brand Leadership: from Selling to Solving.