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Avon’s New CEO Angela Cretu on the Importance of R&D and Social Selling

Avon’s new ceo lays out her vision for the future of the company and its challenges.

LONDON — After a change in ownership and a period of reshuffling, Avon is embarking on a new phase with Angela Cretu as its head, and she’s banking on innovation, personalization and sustainable efforts to drive the brand forward.

Cretu, who has been with the company for more than 20 years, having started as the beauty brand’s sales manager, said Avon has been developing products to target customers’ specific needs.

The company will soon be launching a range of skin-care products called Adapt that target perimenopausal and menopausal skin.

According to Cretu, the Adapt line shows the success of Avon’s R&D team and will be the first of many new products to roll out.

“The capability of our R&D team is important, not only to create breakthrough innovations but to understand what they are confronted with such as the environmental impact on our skin, our own life cycle and different hormonal stages, like teenage years to menopause,” she said, adding that Avon has been accelerating its R&D capabilities.

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Recently, the company has registered a patent for its new super retinol formulas that, according to Cretu, have shown visible collagen changes in seven days.

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While the company is determined to roll out more products, it is also scaling back and moving away from high-volume discounting. In the past, Avon was discounting 98 percent of its products.

“We learnt that trying to gain transactions through discounting everything is never sustainable, or feasible. We lose brand equity, credibility and It’s pointless. Second, by creating 17 mascaras with the same benefit, it only confuses the customer so you don’t get the perception of having a rich portfolio — but a massive one. So last year we realigned and we are working on creating a relevant portfolio,” she said.

Cretu is also confident that Avon, whose new owner is Natura & Co., can tap into the strengths of its now-sister companies, Aesop and The Body Shop.

Being under Natura’s portfolio means that Avon can draw on the strengths of these other brands, and vice versa. “We can tap into their resources, and knowledge of how to connect in a multichannel world. For us, we are well-known for anti-aging while The Body Shop is known for its sustainable sourcing. I can only see this partnership multiplying our business proposition,” she said.

The company is working hard to become eco-responsible, too: It had already launched the Distillery, an eco-friendly vegan line with fully recyclable packaging. Having close relationships with the The Body Shop and Aesop, Cretu is confident that it can do more.

To further personalize and provide its consumers and its 5 million network of beauty advisers, Avon has allowed its representatives to put together their sales portfolio, which means being able to bring the right products to each representatives’ individual networks.

“Instead of us broadcasting what we think they should choose, such as this vegan product or range, we created the opportunity for them to pick their own portfolio of products that would meet their community’s needs and it’s created so much more credibility,” she added.

Cretu said the strategy is also being driven by looking back at what made Avon such a global brand. Among the key things she identified was empowering women with beauty, and enabling their financial independence.

To wit, the company is looking to improve how it speaks to its network of 5 million. While Cretu doesn’t have the answers, she still sees the power in social selling. The challenge, she said, is to create compelling tools and a sound infrastructure for its global representatives.

“Some want to just be online with an e-suite platform, while some still want that high-touch offline connection, so we want to multiply the impact of all of this, and that requires reshuffling investments and infrastructure to provide access to our products as well as a multi-channel presence.

“So if our business grows, her business will grow. If she’s happy, we are all happy,” Cretu added.

“We’ve been through our own journey of learning, especially in the last decade and it has been quite challenging for us to understand how to position ourselves to still be a competitive choice for modern women,” she said.