Her thoughts on choosing direct selling over retail and managing growth
Location: Dallas, Texas
Consultants: 3.5 million
2019 Revenue: Estimated $3 billion
This month, SSN interviewed Sheryl Adkins-Green, chief marketing officer at Mary Kay Corp.
SSN: With a company history of over 55 years, how do you keep Mary Kay’s legacy alive for new consultants?
The fact that everyone from the executive team to the mail room embraces the culture is one of the unique things about Mary Kay. There are so many different ways the company has woven the culture into the fabric of what we do and how we keep Mary Kay Ash, her wisdom, and her words front and center.
For example, everyone who’s hired full-time goes through an in-depth, three-day orientation. Many people who have joined us from other companies say, “Wow, I’ve never seen a company devote so much time.” We have so many members of the executive team who are really a part of not only sharing what they do, but sharing why they feel the connection to the culture. It sets the tone and sends a very powerful message about how important it is to us that they understand our culture, our values and principles. As Mary Kay Ash would say, “Yes, profit and loss is important, but it’s really about people and love.” That phrase really guides us in how we conduct our business, while at the same time keeping our business and our brand modern and relevant.
SSN: How have you kept Mary Kay one of the world’s strongest beauty brands for decades?
It’s a powerful combination of the advice and service of the independent beauty consultant combined with some really great products. This category is so competitive, so the products have to be amazing. They need to deliver on what they promise. The advice and the recommendations of our independent salesforce are so important, because these are women who use the products and can share their experience. They also share the knowledge and make recommendations so that their customers are selecting the products that are best for them. There are a lot of great products out there, but there’s not always a lot of great personal advice. An independent beauty consultant sits face to face with her customers. So, when she recommends something, she knows exactly what she’s recommending for a specific individual.
Also, Mary Kay has always invested in research and development with a team of scientists to make sure that we stay not only on top, but ahead as it relates to the science of ingredients and how they do take care of the skin. We have over 1,500 patents.
SSN: As a marketer, what would you say are the most important principles for other marketers who would like to see their brand grow?
In each role that I’ve had over the course of my career, the thing that enabled my team and me to successfully evolve and grow a brand sustainably was taking the time to understand what consumers love about the brand, and then asking ourselves how to build on that. Our brand is the independent beauty consultant. She is the source of the products and the advice.
Additionally, it’s about making sure the DNA of the brand is carefully managed. To earn trust, one needs to be consistent, which means those who are manning the phones in customer service and those who are responding to inquiries all the way up to the executive team. We’ve been able to deliver a consistent voice and a consistent feel of the brand that really permeates the whole company.
SSN: How do you maintain that consistency globally?
We work with regional leadership around the world to communicate the brand strategy and brand ID. Then they, in turn, make sure that the strategy is cascaded to their market. We always leave some room for local customization, making sure the words resonate. A large part of my team’s role is to work very closely to make sure that the brand strategy is coherent and consistent around the world.
It’s important that our independent salesforce not only sees a consistent message in the product, stories, and marketing messages, but also that they practice consistency in conducting their businesses. Of course, they will bring their individual personality to their business, but the net impression is that you come away with an experience that is true to the Mary Kay brand and our heritage, whether you’re in Russia or Brazil.
SSN: What is the Women’s Entrepreneurship Accelerator program announced in September 2019 with the United Nations?
Our mission is to enrich women’s lives, and throughout the years there have been a number of initiatives that we have supported and sponsored. Recently our Mary Kay China business became involved in a UN-related project that helped women earn more income. By earning more income they were able to reunite with their children, because many of them had left their rural areas in search of an earning opportunity. This program wasn’t about the women becoming Mary Kay beauty consultants. This was just Mary Kay educating and mentoring these women to help them earn more money in whatever occupation they had secured in China. The success was measured by them being able to reunite with their families.
As we learned more about that program, we learned there were more opportunities for Mary Kay to get involved. It was that connection that led to the discussions around this Entrepreneurship Accelerator program. We were thrilled to be in the right place at the right time and step up as an enabling partner to help make this happen. As it progresses, we are really looking forward to continuing to help support its success.
SSN: You recently tweeted: “I believe the #CMO of the future will be the Chief #Collaboration Officer.” What does this mean?
This ties back to something Mary Kay Ash said: “People embrace that which they help to create.” It’s a very powerful insight, representing collaboration and co-creation; taking advantage of different perspectives. It’s about recognizing that the best ideas come from the conversations and integration that you have while collaborating with others. A lot of my time and effort is spent fostering relationships in order to facilitate collaborations. In this day and age where the “consumer is queen,” it’s essential that we as marketing leaders hear their voices and incorporate their desires.
People embrace ideas, products and projects that they contribute to. That enthusiasm and sense of ownership—that sense of, “I’m a part of this, I want it to succeed”—is priceless. You can’t buy that kind of energy; you can’t inspire it with a slogan or a T-shirt. It comes from people feeling important, feeling involved and feeling a sense of ownership of the success.
SSN: What advice would you now give to your younger self?
To take more chances. I think being the firstborn in my family, I tended to have what I thought was a good game plan for myself. And then, over time of course, you develop. You have the experience and confidence to take more chances. If I think about career highlights, things that I’m most proud of, it was when I took chances. So if I got to talk to my younger self, I probably would have started doing that sooner.
SSN: Who has influenced your career the most, and why?
I’ve been fortunate to have some great mentors, but I think my grandmother was a big influence on a couple of different levels. She was a career woman, she worked for the government and also invested in real estate. She had a good head for business, and I saw her in that capacity. She also had a strong love of fashion and beauty.
She was so important to me as a role model, but also she just encouraged me. She was always very confident and would say to me, “Well, if that’s what you want to do, I think you can do it.”
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