Jackson Gives Alticor A Brand-New Look

August 1, 2005
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ADA — Ask consumers what comes to mind when they hear the name Amway and they'll likely describe a Willy-Lomaneque traveling salesman carting boxes of laundry soap door-to-door through America's Heartland. Janice Jackson's job as vice president of global brands is to change those people's minds.

"People think we're an American company that sells soap," she said. "But we're an Asian company that sells health and beauty."

Asian? Although the company's roots in the multi-level marketing of consumer products can be found right here in West Michigan, today's Alticor has come a long way from the Amway days of yore. Today, Asian markets account for 75 percent of the company's sales. China recently surpassed North America as the largest individual market. Japan and South Korea are third and fourth, respectively.

In addition to the geographical switch, the focus of the company's product lines has shifted as well. Now, a mere 8 percent of the total sales come from the home-care line (read: soap). The focus of today's Alticor products — and Jackson's work — is on personalized health and beauty.

Alticor first took notice of Jackson when she was working in the London office of rival cosmetics firm Avon. She signed on to a position there to head that company's European marketing operations (she speaks German and French in addition to her Scots brogue). When the company decentralized, she got stuck with a job overseeing U.K. marketing. When Alticor approached her in 1994 with a chance to head up their European marketing team, she said she jumped at the chance.

Five years later, she got her big break. She was offered the chance to move into the global brands program at Alticor's Ada headquarters. That would mean leaving the trappings of cosmopolitan London for slightly less cosmopolitan Grand Rapids

"It's very different. Very different. Hugely different!" she said.

However, the move didn't come as too much of a shock to the family, as she and her husband, Peter, had moved back and forth between the U.S. and the U.K. several times earlier in their careers. "So we knew America. And, of course I knew Grand Rapids because this is the head office."

For Peter and their daughters (then 6 and 9), the move was worth any sacrifices they would make in their personal lives.

"It made absolute sense for my career, so we just took the plunge and moved," she said. "And it's a great place to come with kids. We both say that had they offered us this when we were both young and single, we probably wouldn't have said yes — coming from a London perspective. But with a young family? A wonderful place to move to. The standard of living is much higher because you get more for your money. You get more space, less crime — just more freedom to live. I love London, but it's a bit of a rat race."

The move was a boon to the whole family. The kids loved their new home and the Rockford schools. Peter, who didn't have a work visa, left a manager in charge of his marketing business in London and looked into a new kind of work.

"He liked that," Jackson joked. "He worked on his golf game."

The family's new American lifestyle was a welcome surprise. Although her 10-percent pay raise wasn't life-changing by any means, the standard-of-living shift was dramatic.

"Funnily enough, the house we bought here is five times bigger than the one we sold in England for the same price," she said. "I'm not exaggerating. The one we had in England would fit in our current basement. And so, the kids thought we had become rich. … Our friends call our house 'JacksonTowers' and it's not that big a house. But compared to what it would be to live anywhere near London, it looks huge and it would cost millions of dollars."

Marketing work for Alticor is a very different business than what most consumer products companies encounter. The biggest difference, of course, is that the products are sold through individual business operators (IBOs) using the multi-level marketing model. As such, Jackson's job is not only to define brands that appeal to the consumer, but also to package them in a way that can be sold by the thousands of Amway salespeople around the globe.

"It's definitely got a level of complexity that's different," she said, comparing the kind of direct-marketing done by Alticor to her past experiences with British pharmacists Boots the Chemists Ltd. and beauty products maker Wella. "But they're more similar than you would think. You still need to find your compelling sales proposition and deliver it to the customer in a way that your sales force gets."

But Amway's sales force is unique to say the least. Jackson said that the company spends millions of dollars determining the best way to market their products in different countries and cultures. Although the final pitch is up to the individual IBOs, Jackson and her team have to provide the salespeople with an appropriate foundation of marketing messages.

"A lot of the onus is very much on us to give them something at least they can start with, then repurpose for their needs," she said. "If we're too U.S.-focused, too West Michigan-focused, they'll just not use it. Then we've got a lot of re-working, a lot of redundancy, a lot of extra expense."

Their work seems to have caught on. Jackson said that Amway has "98-percent unaided awareness and 74-percent favorability" in China. In other words, nearly all Chinese people recognize the Amway brand and the vast majority of them view it in a positive light.

Amway's two largest brands enjoy extreme success on the global stage. The company's Nutrilite line is the world leader in health supplements. The Artistry cosmetics and skin-care brand is No. 4 in the world, trailing Clinique, Lancome and Estee Lauder (Chanel, naturally, is No. 5).

The key word in Alticor's brand development these days is science. What's the best way to find the perfect shade of eyeshadow? DNA testing. That may be a bit off in the future, but Jackson said that some of Alticor's cutting-edge product research and development involves tailoring nutrition and health products based on blood tests. But making consumers view the Artistry brand as a scientifically designed line of health-care products is a challenge for a number of reasons.

"I came in and had a look at it and said, 'Hey wait a minute. Artistry has been all over the place. Artistry is trying to do too many things. It's trying to be all things to all kinds of people," she said. "And if it's not tightly controlled, you can lose your way with a brand. Well, tight control isn't the way this company works. This is a very relationship-oriented, consensus-building corporation. … (That culture) makes managing a global brand a wee bit more difficult."

The new Artistry tagline, Tangible Miracles of Science, speaks clearly to Jackson's view of how to position the brand. But she has ulterior motives for getting the Artisty line under one brand umbrella. She said that tightening up and redefining that brand will allow her more flexibility in introducing new brands.

"I want to bring in trendy, edgy, urban, funky brands," she said. "Well I can't do that if (Artistry) is taking all the space in the world in the cosmetics portfolio."

Once she and her team have repositioned the Artistry line, they will begin introducing more of those brands on a recurring basis. They will continue to put the majority of their R&D efforts into Artistry and "let that science trickle down" to the more off-beat brands, such as the E. Funkhouser New York brand currently in the launch process.

"We're branching out into a space we're not in, portfolio-wise, and maybe trying to appeal to a segment whose needs aren't being met — or maybe even another segment who isn't even coming in to the company that might do when some of these new brands are introduced," she said.

As Jackson's team introduces new brands and culls the ones that have sat on the shelf a bit too long, she is keeping an eye on the bottom line. She is monitoring the "five-year plans and rolling plans" by which her success is judged. She's making sure that she has "major movers" in Alticor's top markets around the world. She's making sure all her brands push one of Alticor's defined "business drivers." She's keeping in touch with the affiliate offices and with the sales force, incorporating their input into new branding ideas.

She's also traveling about 50 percent of the time. Her husband is now working with an advertising agency in Cleveland and traveling extensively as well. They try to arrange their schedules so as not to leave the kids in the lurch, but sometimes conflicts are bound to happen.

"And my kids, with our friends from England coming to visit and us going back and forth, I don't think they realize just how far it is. They think it's just a short little trip. So they say, 'Oh, Nanny can take care of us,'" Jackson said, referring to her mother. "And you know what? Nine out of 10 times she does. All the way from Scotland."    

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