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Avon is ramping up its speed to market to take on the DTC players.

The original direct-to-consumer beauty brand, US giant Avon is in the midst of an intense period of brand rejuvenation and digital transformation.

Starting out in 1886 with the ambition of giving women the ability to earn an independent income, Avon pioneered a model of direct selling via local representatives which has grown into a network of five million women across more than 50 markets.

Yet, despite boasting 90% name recognition and awareness worldwide, Avon is acutely aware that scale and heritage are no longer enough to succeed in the fiercely competitive billion-dollar beauty market.

Beauty industry stalwarts are being squeezed from every direction by a wave of millennial-friendly direct-to-consumer rivals, including brands such as Glossier, Fenty Beauty and vegan range Milk, as well as membership services like Beauty Pie.

Conscious of the need to modernise the business and demonstrate its relevance to beauty consumers, Avon recruited James Thompson as chief brand and beauty officer in November to lead the brand’s global turnaround.

Thompson believes most people would say Avon’s business model of direct selling built on word of mouth advocacy, influence and authenticity is a good fit for the 21st century. However, he acknowledges that in a world of one-click purchases, shopping with an Avon representative can feel like “an extra step in the process”.

We are in a turnaround mindset and we are trying to affect change very quickly.

James Thompson, Avon

“We should be winning, but we’ve let our system get a little bit out of date and a little bit tired,” Thompson admits. “So, our three priorities are to convert awareness to relevance, create a real-world perception of the quality of our products and then communicate that, making that one extra step worth it.”

The strategy underpinning the turnaround is to turn Avon’s business model into a “modern, high touch and high-tech organisation”. And rather than being afraid of the competition, Thompson wants to use their success to propel Avon forward. He is a big admirer of direct-to-consumer rivals, describing them as inventive, with a “fabulous eye, lovely service orientation and a real great grasp of tone, look and feel”.

“What we’ve got on the other hand is the advantage of 133 years of history and more than five million people’s worth of scale and therefore we’re trying to learn to move at the same kind of pace as those insurgent companies, while recognising we’re a very scaled business,” says Thompson.

He appreciates that will be no easy task, but change is underway. Take product development. Avon has cut its time to market for some products from a typical cycle of 24 months to just over three months, as part of a wider move to “open up” the business to new supply routes and third-party collaborations.

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Avon took its K-Beauty range to market in 20 weeks.

Tapping into the multi-billion dollar Korean beauty market, Avon partnered with Korean innovation expert Bonne to launch its new K-Beauty range of masks, going from concept to consumer in 20 weeks. The brand debuted in Russia, becoming the first Korean beauty range to go on sale in the country, before rolling out to the UK.

Meanwhile, Avon took its range of Molten Metals metallic eye shadows from concept in August to launch in November, while its Lip Tattoo lip colour pen launched in the UK on a 23-week turnaround and became the company’s biggest make-up launch of 2018.

Alongside speed to market, Thompson is conscious of the need to bring a stronger design aesthetic into its packaging, to develop a clearer idea of what the Avon brand stands for and gain a better grasp of the brand architecture by cutting out “a lot of the undergrowth” that’s crept up over the years.

Turbocharging communications

Modernising the way the brand communicates with consumers and its million-strong network of representatives is another central element of Avon’s transformation strategy.

Thompson’s vision is to mix the best marketing communication techniques of a consumer goods company, with the social selling tradition Avon pioneered. To do so the company has teamed up with MediaMonks, the creative production company owned by Sir…