The following is a re-print of an article that I found in the NY Times and I wanted to share it with you. Please take a moment to read it and let me know what you think. Thanks and enjoy!
Kristiauna Mangum, left, an Ohio State University student and the campus sales manager for Mark cosmetics, with Amanda Heintzelman, a sales representative.
By CAMILLE SWEENEY
Published: January 13, 2010
KRISTIAUNA MANGUM, 22, a senior at Ohio State University in Columbus, said she always had a flair for makeup, but never considered it a professional calling. Then she heard about a pilot college program offered by Avon’s little sister brand, Mark, two years ago. “My mother was an Avon Lady, so I thought, huh, maybe becoming a Mark Girl could really be the way to go,” she said.
Greg Sailor for The New York Times
DIGITAL TOOL A Mark iPhone app.
Now Ms. Mangum is the sales manager for Mark at Ohio State, and manages 155 other Mark Girls who roam the dormitories and sorority houses, selling Mark beauty products and fashion accessories for a commission in the range of 20 to 50 percent.
“It’s really a grass-roots kind of thing, hitting the dorms, sororities, Facebook,” said Ms. Mangum, who uses her share of the profit, about $800 a month, to help settle her student loans. “I even rented space at local high school fairs — with 16- and 17-year-olds, you can move a lot of lip gloss,” said Ms. Mangum, whose major is marketing.
She is one of more than 40,000 Mark Girls in North America, mainly 18- to 24-year-old women who are changing the nature of direct sales by using the brand’s personalized e-boutiques, iPhone app and new Facebook e-shop, one of the beauty industry’s first forays into Facebook e-commerce.
“We’ve taken the same DNA of direct selling that has always been a part of Avon’s history and applied it to the digital world for our Mark reps to reach their customers,” said Claudia Poccia, president of Mark at Avon, which introduced the brand in 2003. “Now, we’re offering our Mark reps the opportunity to sell products not just door to door, but on Facebook, wall to wall.”
The Mark brand is evolving. It has its own spokeswoman, Lauren Conrad, the former reality TV star of “The Hills,” now a fashion designer and best-selling author of “L.A. Candy.” Its Facebook fan page has over 84,000 fans. According to estimates from Stifel Nicolaus, an investment bank, Mark’s revenue last year was about $70 million.
Unlike other companies involved in direct sales — including Amway, which may dedicate a product line or two to a more youth-oriented market, or Mary Kay and Avon, whose products are geared toward middle-aged women — Mark focuses almost exclusively on teenagers and women under 30.
The younger demographic, at least concerning sales representatives, has its drawbacks. “The fact that the reps are younger can mean different rules apply as to how a direct-selling company is going to have to manage them,” said Linda Bolton Weiser, a managing director of consumer equity research at Caris & Company, an investment bank. “There could be questions about volume limits and credit — a younger rep may be cut off earlier. And, if a rep is under 18, obviously you would need parental permission.”
Still, Mark’s motto — “Make your mark” — seems to resonate with its zealous representatives.
But can Tweets and news feeds from Mark Girls compete with over a century of Avon Ladies’ experience?
Because of the difference in how the products are branded and the separation between Avon and Mark representatives (those selling Avon can also sell Mark products, but not the other way around), there is some internal competition among representatives.
On the mark.girl discussion board on Facebook, the Mark-versus-Avon topic sparked a lively debate when one Mark representative wrote: “Has anybody else noticed Avon reps not taking the Mark product seriously?” An Avon representative replied: “A lot of Avon women I know don’t push Mark because it has a lower profit as compared to the Avon core product line.”
Some experts in the beauty business are fans of Mark. “It really helps that Mark has such low price points,” said Elaine D’Farley, beauty director of Self magazine. “Visually, it’s fun. The products hit the trend.”
Indeed, products such as the magnetic refillable color palette compact ($4) and Hook Ups (about $10) — two-ended cosmetic dispensers that can be customized to connect, for example, lip gloss and lip pencil, eyeliner and mascara — are so popular, as one Mark representative said, that “they’re impossible to keep in my purse.”
But some products have been criticized online, where a bad review may resonate more negatively than an item quietly returned to a store. On the Mark Web site, one reviewer said that a cheek tint left “zero shimmer on my cheek but plenty on my hands.” And on Makeupalley, a forum for comments on beauty products, a reviewer complained about Mark’s Good Riddance: “I have under eye circles and it didn’t even come close to covering them.”
But when it comes to using social media tools to sell services or products, Annemarie Frank, director of digital media and strategic alliance of Mark at Avon, said the viral nature of Mark’s brand presence is what company executives are after.
“Mark Girls can advertise their ability to sell products right on their Facebook profiles, and the widget functionality of Mark’s e-shop enables us to drop the shop into other places to give the brand a presence wherever people hang out online,” she said.
Of course, Mark is not the only beauty company to use digital marketing. Direct-sales firms like Mary Kay and Avon are also using social media and online tools. Both companies have a presence on Facebook as well as apps for cellphones and hand-held devices that their representatives can use to make sales.
Other skin care companies like Jafra, which also sells cosmetics, and Arbonne do less with social media.
But this might be changing.
The Direct Selling Association dedicated its annual communications seminar last month to new media strategies. “Attendance was double our usual number,” said Amy Robinson, an association spokeswoman. “If you’re a direct-selling company and you’re not on the Internet or making use of some of these new technologies, you’re already behind.”
For college-age sales representatives, Mark’s digital and mobile offerings can inspire any number of approaches.
One Mark representative, Hannah Parish, 20, a senior at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C., has been selling Mark products since last January, when she ordered a Speedway Do Everything cover stick ($8) and signed up for her Mark Girl starter kit two weeks later.
“I fell in love with it,” Ms. Parish said.
This fall, when the Mark Rewards Program advertised a contest for all-expense-paid trips to this year’s Sundance Film Festival (a guest included) for the two highest-selling Mark Girls, Ms. Parish said, “That forced me to be really creative.”
She created a Facebook event, “Send Hannah to Sundance,” and invited 600 people in her network to join. She made numerous special offers, including one to bring her best client along with her to the festival in Park City, Utah.
Ms. Parish sold $6,000 worth of products; she and a friend will be traveling to the festival in two weeks.
“I’m a film buff and I’ve never seen snow,” she said. “When I answered the phone and heard, ‘Congratulations,’ I started screaming. My friend who bought $617 worth of merchandise and gets to come with me is still screaming.”