Ding dong: Avon Ladies learn to tweet, embrace e-commerce

This is ThinkTank, a series in which we quiz brand chiefs and CMOs on where the industry is heading.

Avon has had it up to here with people that dismiss it as a “direct-selling company.” Sure, that’s what they do, but Matt Harker, vp for North America marketing at the brand, says that his mission is to bubble up the bigger purpose behind the beauty brand: how it empowers women and creates beauty in the world around them.

That’s the cornerstone of a new brand positioning and campaign from Avon. Dubbed “Beauty for a Purpose,” the tagline extends into new social content and both paid and earned advertising. This includes a new content hub with articles about makeup and beauty and inspirational stories about representatives, as well as a refresh of Avon’s well-known brochure. The brand is also just six months into an overhaul of its e-commerce offering — Avon Ladies can sell online through a portal instead of going door-to-door — a way for the brand to compete against competitors in the space like Birchbox and Sephora.

Harker chatted with Digiday about teaching the Avon Ladies to get social and why this brand isn’t going to go away anytime soon.

Can Avon ever feel like a modern brand?
I’d rather start with a brand that has a heritage. Because I don’t have to tell you why it has to mean something to you. That gives it a great foundation to start from. We count ourselves fortunate to have that. What I need to do is refresh the presentation and creativity around it, and maybe even the vernacular. But I can’t lose sight of the heritage.

Hence ‘Beauty for a Purpose’?
It captures what Avon is and expresses it with pictures of modern day, powerful, independent strong women. You can put a wrapper of modernity around it, but you’re doomed if you throw out the brand.

So how does the new positioning come through?
We have an Avon brochure with millions distributed, you’ll start seeing that branding coming in that brochure. Beyond that, digital is an excellent spot for the story we have to tell. Avon’s in a special place for owned media especially because we have 6 million reps worldwide. Those people are basically storytellers. Those partners can tell people who we are and how we help women empower themselves.

Do you see millennials buying through Avon?
Why not? We have a powerful story that resonates with millennials because they want brands in their lives that are connected to things beyond their products. Look, if you’re going to wear a lipstick and you can see it’s the same quality, would you buy it from a store or buy it from a friend? Digital is good because it’s a space we can tell our reps’ stories and our story.

Are you teaching the Ladies to tweet?
Yes. We have a social media center where Avon reps get access to content — stories, videos, images, pictures — they can deploy that to their social circles on Facebook and lightly personalize with a message. On the “Beauty with a Purpose” site, there’s also plenty of content. We kept the sales side to a minimum on the site, too. We are getting closer to native advertising. We know that if you come out commercial, you don’t get engagement.

The stock is down 55 percent in the last year. Revenue peaked in 2011. Is e-commerce helping?
It’s going well. People that look at us as a brand that’ll disappear are looking at us narrowly as a direct seller. But we have the power of relationships and social selling. We actually think it gives us an advantage over what companies are doing. Whether you sell online or with brick-and-mortar, there are challenges. Online, there is no personalization. With stores, the Web is eating you.

How do you avoid getting eaten?
What drives us is personal recommendations. If we can power it that way, we can reframe what the business model is about. We’re sitting on the future now; we just need to unlock that sooner. Digital is the secret weapon for Avon. The idea of social media works with our idea of social connections.


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