100 Years of Mary Kay

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Apr 7, 2018 · 3 min read

This year marks the centennial of the birth of Mary Kay founder Mary Kay Ash. As the brand celebrates a century of history, it also works to establish a commanding presence in the 21st century, largely through re-telling the story of its iconic founder to a generation of makeup enthusiasts who came of age after her death in 2001.

Mary Kay CMO Sheryl Adkins-Green spoke to ICC 2018 about keeping a legacy brand timeless. A veteran of brand work for Altoids, Snapple and Citibank, Adkins-Green laid out Mary Kay’s six-step strategy for forging ahead.

1. Honor Heritage

“I’ve seen a lot of brands fail because they aren’t true to who they are. Live your brand values. Our North Star is always Mary Kay Ash. We resolve situations by asking ‘What would Mary Kay do?,” Adkins-Green says. Projecting Mary Kay Ash’s “glamorous grandmother” legacy externally means playing up her image as a pioneering female executive and positioning her as a feminist icon. One way this is done is by colorizing Ash’s clothes in old black and white photos with a blush shade. It also means accenting certain remarkable details of her biography, such as, Adkins-Green says, when Ash took the company off of the stock market because, allegedly, financial analysts where blasting her for paying her independent beauty consultants too much.

2. Leverage Influencers

Mary Kay does not hire celebrities to promote its products. Why? “Even the best celebrity can have a bad day,” Adkins-Green says, meaning anyone famous can encounter a scandal. Instead, the company considers its frontline independent sales force, its 3 million independent beauty consultants, to be its influencers. They are the ones demoing the products in live situations across the world.

3. Live Your Value

“We’ve been about girl power since 1963,” Adkins-Green says, before adding that this messaging is well-suited for a 2018 environment dominated by women’s issues. Of course, her claims need to backed up by more than a nod to history, and they are: The work done by Mary Kay’s charitable arm, the Mary Kay Foundation has poured significant resources into combating domestic violence and funding cures for cancer that disproportionately affects women.

4. Plug Into the Present

Mary Kay’s direct selling model can appear outdated. Adkins-Green told the “Answers in Action” podcast that market research showed millennials and Gen Z have a particularly tough time grasping the concept. What they don’t need help understanding is the gig economy, where almost everyone supplements their earnings with a side hustle of some kind. Mary Kay repackaged the direct selling concept into a be-your-own-boss model of entrepreneurship to appeal to future independent beauty consultants.

5. Create a Cohesive Brand

“Every day I’m waking up and looking at social media to make sure it’s being leveraged correctly,” Adkins-Green said. That means flagging and removing what runs counter to Mary Kay core values. Adkins-Green stressed that those at Mary Kay headquarters get it, they need to adapt to current cultural and market conditions to continue to thrive. But there are certain images the brand won’t take on, so as not to alienate the long-faithful who remain an important part of the brand’s customer base. Things you won’t see Mary Kay do include being edgy. It will never turn heads by being provocative or controversial. Instead it will trade what it believes to be a long-lasting formula for success in the cosmetics industry: talking about the beauty of confidence.

6. Have the Best Technology

Innovation is afoot behind the scenes at Mary Kay, Adkins-Green says. Not only is the brand about to open a brand new state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in the Dallas area, it has also rolled out a “Mirror Me” app that used augmented reality tech to show consumers what their faces would look like with different types of Mary Kay cosmetics applied. The app is similar to popular filters used on Snapchat.

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