Click here to order the June 2015 issue in which this article appeared.
At Age 52, Mary Kay Leads the Industry in Dollar Growth
Mary Kay Ash believed that when you think big, you achieve big things. No doubt she would have beamed with pride that the company she founded in 1963 won this year’s Bravo Growth Award, recognition that it had the highest dollar growth in 2014 of any company in direct selling.
After a string of record-breaking years, Mary Kay Inc. earned $4 billion in 2014—a cool $400 million more than in 2013. It now has some 3.5 million independent beauty consultants, offers more than 200 award-winning skincare, color cosmetics and fragrance products, and does business in more than 35 countries. Euromonitor International placed it in the top 10 best-selling skincare brands and the top 15 color makeup brands globally.
Mary Kay’s approach to growth is to provide all the elements that beauty consultants need as they organically grow their business. Consultants represent a cross section of ages, ethnicities, and locations around the world, and every one of them can take advantage of a growing foundation of products, ways to connect, and marketing strategies to introduce clients to the cosmetics and the business opportunity.
“That kind of growth is certainly not common for a mature company,” says Chief Marketing Officer Sheryl Adkins-Green. “But at the same time, because Mary Kay is always so focused on keeping our opportunity relevant and making sure that our independent sales force has the latest and greatest tools, sustainable growth is an objective we’re very consciously pursuing.”
Marie Swisher, Vice President of Global Brand Development at Mary Kay, accepts the Bravo Growth Award on the company’s behalf during the DSN Global 100 Celebration in April. DSN Publisher Lauren Lawley Head and Ambassador John Fleming presented the award.
Positioning and Products
While the company has a tradition of consistent growth, the momentum of its 50th anniversary celebration in 2013 has kept consultants motivated. Executives used the anniversary not only to celebrate the company’s past and heritage, but also to position Mary Kay for the next 50 years. For example, it introduced several new product lines targeted to specific demographics, including Mary Kay At Play™ for millennials; a fragrance initiative focused on Latin America; and state-of-the-art skincare for mature skin with TimeWise Repair®.
“We manage portfolio growth by making sure we have products for women and their beauty needs at any stage of life,” Adkins-Green explains. “By broadening our portfolio, we can broaden the company’s appeal.”
International growth and expansion have become a larger and larger part of Mary Kay’s revenue and were a big part of its growth in 2014. Its business outside the United States has exceeded the U.S. business, reaching some 75 percent of total revenue. Its largest markets now include Brazil, China, Mexico, Russia and the United States.
Mary Kay’s most recent market entry was Colombia, which it opened in March. The company made an initial investment of $8 million to start its operations in Colombia. Mary Kay executives from the U.S., Mexico, Brazil and Argentina worked in partnership with Mary Kay Colombia executives in all aspects of the expansion, from market research to tailoring the Mary Kay opportunity to the Colombian market. Mary Kay entered the market with 150 select beauty products in the color cosmetics, skincare, fragrance and body care categories.
In choosing an international market, Mary Kay looks for markets where the opportunity will resonate. It’s especially attractive in some markets outside the U.S. where women don’t have as much opportunity as they do in the United States. Then the company carefully curates the best products to help make its opportunity successful for those who start a Mary Kay business. It helps support the culture and brand through the social media platform that consultants in each country prefer. While Facebook and Twitter are popular in the United States, for example, different platforms are preferred in other countries.
|Mary Kay headquarters in Addison, Texas.|
“Our strategy is to provide content that is relevant,” Adkins-Green says. “We make sure that our brand is present on the social media platform where women and our sales force in that specific market prefer to connect.”
The Beauty-Fashion Connection
They have found that activities in one market may find their way to a different one. For example, when Mary Kay was the beauty sponsor for Russia’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, other markets were following the excitement, too. Consultants in Brazil and Australia reposted and shared content from Russian social media. Adkins-Green believes that one of the great strengths of having a global beauty brand is the leverage that can be attained in markets throughout the world.
She notes that since beauty and fashion go hand in hand, Mary Kay has found opportunities to build awareness and new markets through televised programs and events. Two high-profile, perfect-fit, but very different opportunities have yielded great results.
Mary Kay was the Official Beauty Sponsor for Season 13 of Lifetime’s Emmy®-nominated Project Runway™ and its sibling Project Runway All Stars Seasons 3 and 4. Mary Kay plans to continue its sponsorship during this year’s season of Project Runway. In the shows, celebrity makeup artists exclusively use Mary Kay products on models, working with the contestant-designers to coordinate makeup looks to their styles that appear on the runway. Mary Kay’s global makeup artist Luis Casco appears in vignettes to encourage Mary Kay brand lovers to use runway trends in their own way. The prize package for the winning designer includes Mary Kay products and the services of a professional makeup artist.
The show’s heavy use of social media, multiple platforms and interaction with fans is a good match for Mary Kay’s digital presence. Adkins-Green notes that visitors to Mary Kay’s website—more than half of them from mobile devices—and use of its consultant locator spike during episodes.
The company also partnered with the 2015 Academy of Country Music (ACM) Awards as its Official Beauty Sponsor. The three-day event was held in Arlington, Texas, just a few miles from Mary Kay’s headquarters in Addison. The 50th Anniversary celebration in April included the third annual ACM Party for a Cause® festival, which featured multiple stages for live country music performances and a Mary Kay booth where fans received product samples and learned more about how to connect with an independent beauty consultant.
“We are very much about celebrating success and achievements,” Adkins-Green observes, “and both are common to Project Runway and the ACM Awards. We want to associate the brand with things that women are enjoying. Beyond music, there’s a fashion-and-beauty component, especially among country and western stars.”
To support the web traffic from both shows, as well as day-to-day consultant business activity, Mary Kay invests continuously in technology.
“We want to make sure we can provide exceptional customer service to our independent sales force, making it easy for them to order products and receive orders quickly,” she reports. “We have an initiative in the U.S. that we call Guest Checkout, where we’ve made it more streamlined for customers who don’t yet have their own beauty consultant. We have an express lane for them on MaryKay.com. That makes it easier for them to try our products. With the goal of supporting the success of our sales force, credit for the sale always goes to an independent beauty consultant.”
But no matter how streamlined the checkout process, Mary Kay has a formula that allows a beauty consultant to get sales credit online. After the initial sale or when the customer wants to connect with a beauty consultant, they can do a ZIP code search and find consultants in their area.
Mary Kay has long had a commitment to top-notch digital tools that engage customers and create experiences that keep them coming back. Their interactive e-catalog, which has generated over 23 million visits globally as of a few months ago, has users spending an average of five minutes browsing, and viewing on average 34 pages per session. The digital marketing team’s creation and promotion of product trend updates, fashion news, and how-to tips across multiple social media channels has increased Mary Kay’s fan base. Industry expert L2, a subscription-based business intelligence service that benchmarks the digital competence of brands, reports that Mary Kay has one of the highest social media engagement ratings in the beauty industry.
As tech-savvy as Mary Kay is, the purpose behind the digital dazzle is the same one the company has always had: connections with people. Whether the connections are made at a skincare party or on Facebook, they support the company’s relationships with consultants and customers and the values that have always made the company, well, Mary Kay.
Mary Kay partnered with the 2015 Academy of Country Music (ACM) Awards as its Official Beauty Sponsor in April when the event was held in Mary Kay’s hometown area of Dallas.
Even Mary Kay’s philanthropic programs subtly support consultants by supporting the culture they treasure. Adkins-Green notes that giving back is a key component of Mary Kay’s DNA, and it’s one of the things the independent salesforce loves about Mary Kay. In addition, customers have said that they feel it is important to buy from a company that is dedicated to enriching women’s lives and helping women in their local communities.
Philanthropy has been more than talk ever since Mary Kay Ash started the company. Just since 1996, The Mary Kay FoundationSM has awarded $37 million to shelters and domestic violence prevention programs in all 50 states and $22 million to cancer research and related causes throughout the U.S. In Canada, The Mary Kay Ash Charitable Foundation also addresses domestic violence and cancers affecting women. More than $300,000 has been awarded to women’s shelters and community outreach programs across Canada, while more than 100,000 women fighting cancer have benefited from the Foundation’s work with Look Good Feel Better®. In Asia-Pacific, Europe and Latin America the company has supported programs that protect and enrich the lives of women and children, including education, computer literacy and efforts to end domestic violence, as well as healing initiatives that target breast cancer awareness and childhood surgeries.
“I feel my responsibility is to carefully blend the tried and true with the new, while understanding the values that are so important to our community,” Adkins-Green says. “I don’t think values change. Mary Kay Ash herself was never afraid to try new things. Today we continue to have that same spirit of being open to new ways, being willing to try, being OK with lessons learned when you aren’t successful the first time. Our eyes are always open to future techniques and opportunities that are necessary to sustain and fuel growth.”
|Mary Kay’s relevance as a beauty brand is universal, as shown here during the company’s sponorship of Russia’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.|
Even as an industry icon committed to existing customers, Mary Kay looks to the future with an eye toward a younger market. Its consultant profile already reflects a younger demographic—essential to any direct seller’s longevity—thanks to Mary Kay’s strong digital media presence, its sponsorships and its presence on college campuses with its Beauty 101 College Tours and through its sponsorship of the American Advertising Federation Case Competition. The project was a win-win for students and the company. Marketing and advertising students got familiar with Mary Kay as they developed marketing plans for the company during the competition. Adkins-Green says many of them were surprised at how global the company was and at how they changed lives not only through Mary Kay’s business opportunity, but also through philanthropy and through the company’s sustainability program, Pink Doing Green. In return, the company saw students hold skincare parties, sometimes sign up to be beauty consultants, and offer the company some unique business ideas.
Such experiences make Adkins-Green optimistic about Mary Kay’s future.
“We are entering a new age, especially with millennials,” she predicts. “With all the different digital tools and their social media network, this generation is ready to lead a new era of entrepreneurship. I’m more excited than ever about social selling and direct selling. I love the fact that it’s so relevant right now. When I talk with professors, I hear the same thing. It’s a very exciting time to be in the direct selling industry. People are rethinking companies like Mary Kay because they recognize the timeless benefits of our model.”