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Nirupama Rao

Sr. Marketing Manager | 28 Jun 2008

We do not sell our products through the catalogue; we first let our consumers use the product and then let them decide to do the purchasing. At Mary Kay, we completely refrain from forced selling. As consultants, we might not make the money today, but due to their trust in us and by not being pushy in selling, we believe that the customer would return to us one day.

Global cosmetic company Mary Kay Inc. was founded in 1963 by Mary Kay Ash, and has offices in 40 countries and employs over 1.7 million sales consultants. The company entered India in 2007, and Nirupama Rao is currently Senior Marketing Manager of the cosmetic giant’s operations in the country.

Rao has over 10 years’ experience in marketing, brand management, sales and dealer development in diverse sectors including FMCG, cosmetics, alternative fuel vehicles and pharmaceuticals, across the country. She holds a Masters degree in International Business from Symbiosis Institute of Foreign Trade, with a specialisation in Marketing.

Speaking to exchange4media, Rao talks about the cosmetics market in India and elaborates on Mary Kay’s marketing strategy in the country, among others. Excerpts:

Q. From the test-marketing stage in 2006 to finding a presence among consumers in 2008, how has Mary Kay’s journey been so far in India?

India is a big market for Mary Kay, and we are very optimistic about it. There are a lot of players coming into the picture and the market is booming. Today women are more conscious about skincare and we have received a very inspiring response. We have had a very aggressive launch plan in Northern India in the first phase. In the second phase, we launched in the Western and North-eastern parts of India. We believe that this was the right time to enter India, and at the same time, we believe offering personalised consultancy to consumers would really click with our buyers.

Q. We haven’t really seen you very active in the communication/advertisement space. How is the company reaching out to its customers?

We are a direct selling company; our advertisement plans are focused on where our target buyers are. We are not visible everywhere. We began our advertisement plans from the North since we launched our company from there. Since December 2007, our base has grown from the North to West and North-east of India. Therefore, this year we will have a strong media presence.

At this point of time, we are predominantly focusing on print as we are a relatively small company to consider television advertisement. For us, media is a platform for brand building and brand awareness. But our prime communication will continue to be through our independent sales consultants.

Q. In one of Mary Kay’s earlier researches, it was found that Indian women use at the most two skincare products compared to women in the West. In such a scenario, what have been the challenges of marketing to the Indian women?

In the West, women use a wide range of products to take care of their skin – they go through a process of cleansing, tightening, toning and moisturising. But in India, women use at the most two skincare products. They do not have the time to sit for skincare procedures as their counterparts in the West.

To tackle this mindset, we have developed a three-in-one cleanser especially for the Indian market, which takes care of the entire procedure of cleansing, tightening and toning. At the same time, it is very important to educate the consumers on how to take care of their skin, which we find is lacking among Indian cosmetics buyers.

Q. What is the positioning plank that you have employed in India?

The kind of product bouquet we offer caters to the working women in particular and the entire upper middle class consumer in general.

Q. Across the world, Mary Kay employs the direct market approach. How advantageous is this approach over conventional advertising and promotion strategies?

Mary Kay’s USP lies in its direct selling proposition through its various independent sales consultants. We are able to directly interact with our customers, which helps us in sorting problems between them and us instantly, if there are any. We value our customers greatly and believe in developing a direct relation with them. On the other hand, a conventional advertising or promotion strategy does not offer this opportunity.

Q. Besides sponsoring the Miss India Worldwide 2008 pageant, what are the other initiatives that you have embarked upon in India?

Our initiative to sponsor the Miss India Worldwide 2008 pageant is a part of our CSR activity. We undertake such CSR activities in all the 40 countries that we are present in. The rationale behind such initiatives is to empower women to find their inner beauty and discover how truly great they are.

Q. With competitors like Oriflame, Avon and Modi Care in India, how is your offering different from that of your competitors?

We too are into direct sales, like the competitors that you have mentioned. But for us, it is not just a one-to-one contact with our consumers for business – the relationship does not end there. We call them back to enquire about their experience with our product and obtain feedback from them. We do not sell our products through the catalogue; we first let our consumers use the product and then let them decide to do the purchasing. At Mary Kay, we completely refrain from forced selling. As consultants, we might not make the money today, but due to their trust in us and by not being pushy in selling, we believe that the customer would return to us one day.

Q. How do you train your huge sales force?

Our sales consultants at Mary Kay are also our brand ambassadors. All sales consultants are equipped with the product knowledge before they go out to the consumers for demonstrations, which range from knowledge of skin type, to product application skills.

Q. And would the best performers from India get the famed Pink Cadillac?

Yes, Mary Kay has a unique way of awarding its top performing sales consultants, by awarding them a Pink Cadillac for their professionalism! But in India, it is too early to give away the same award to its professionals.

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