Avon – The Lost Story

Avon - The Lost StoryThe rush continues to turnaround Avon to satisfy investors, but what about the turnaround needed to satisfy female shoppers? Avon has been cranking out innovation at a hyper speed and if you pick up one of their catalogs it hurts your eyes to look at it—the pages are full of cosmetic confetti tossed about the book without a unifying Avon brand or story.

The Avon Company today is a shadow of its former self after years of cost cutting, continuous employee layoffs, zigzagging into and out of underdeveloped markets and buying jewelry businesses to expand the portfolio. Then Coty stepped up for a marriage and Avon rejected their proposal. Avon is a classic example of how a company cannot shrink its way to greatness. Eventually you run out of costs to cut and there is no investment to deliver the business to a new competitive position. Today the vision for Avon is about as clear as mud and that is reflected as much in their catalog as it is in the company’s financial performance.

Avon needs to imagine a new future. That does not mean it should abandon the business model of women selling to women. They have a robust network of six million female sales reps worldwide and vibrant businesses in countries like Brazil and China where their model has taken root. But, it does mean they have to define their business to compete more effectively. Questions like, “What is Avon best at?” starts to get to the heart of their problem. If they know women better than anyone else how do they leverage that with the female shopper? Innovation for them should go beyond product with the aim of owning that relationship with women better than anyone else. No doubt their strategy has to differ in mature markets like the U.S. versus underdeveloped markets like China. However, the universal shopping experience they want to have with women is likely to be more emotionally similar than different.

The Avon brand has a great heritage and it must focus on becoming dynamically relevant to women again. Levi’s revival, and its return to their authentic story, offers an interesting learning example for Avon. Levi’s has contemporized their master brand and is retelling its authentic American story beautifully in their new retail outlets. Brands can be made relevant again through a strong strategy and competitive innovation.

Avon - The Lost Story

The hardest thing for the Avon team to do right now also is the most important. In the midst of the many demands for senior leader’s time, they have to center on defining the Avon brand and communicating the essence of that story in everything they do, whether they are addressing shareholders or shoppers.

The key question before them is, “What is the vision of the Avon business?” Once defined, it must be told over and over again to create value in every customer touch point from the catalog, to the website, to the face-to-face selling experience or the Avon brand will continue to decline and eventually die one market at a time.

image credit: writerscaife

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Donna Sturgess is the President and Co-founder of Buyology Inc and former Global Head of Innovation for GlaxoSmithKline. Her latest book is Eyeballs Out: How To Step Into Another World, Discover New Ideas, and Make Your Business Thrive. Follow on Twitter: @donnasturgess

Donna Sturgess




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