From Jen: Today we continue our guest post series with a post from Michelle Larter, Worldwide Director, Direct Selling for IMN. IMN may be familiar to you…it’s the newsletter tool that many companies in the industry use. I often recommend it to my clients. I’ve known Michelle since my early days in direct selling, when I was running my own direct selling, and I’ve always known her to be a smart, passionate individual who loves the industry and knows a lot about how to use communication technology effectively as a direct seller. I’m happy to share her thoughts with you today.
Balancing Brand Protection and Consultant Personality: Making Direct Selling Communications Work at Every Stage
By Michelle Larter
Like a childhood game of “telephone,” where a message can get mangled and mis-told along the chain, multi-tier direct selling organizations often take on similar communications risks when they leave the brand message solely in the hands of consultants, with few standards or oversight. Promotions may be misrepresented, offers might vary from consultant to consultant, and the brand message can easily be diluted. With “brand” being one of their greatest assets, direct selling organizations must be diligent in protecting it.
The challenge, of course, is that when you consider tools like email, open rates are generally much higher when consumers receive a message from “someone they know” versus “company x.” The key is making sure the content of those messages are both consistent with the brand and embrace the tenets of effective marketing communications: messages and offers must be targeted, personalized, relevant and measurable.
The good news is that there are a number of technology solutions designed to help direct sellers attract, acquire and engage new consultants and customers through the use of consistent, branded content. Ideally, organizations should choose a solution that enables email newsletters to appear as if the personal consultant sent it. But, because the newsletters are compiled by corporate and sent through each consultant, local personalities come through while ensuring brand protection. The best of all worlds!
Moving beyond theory, in practice, protecting against brand dilution should be a priority for direct selling organizations of all sizes. For example, smaller, less established organizations (typically those with less than 200 consultants) will generally work with a handful of pre-defined templates for their branded newsletters that they can easily drop content into and send. These polished and professional communications can help up-and-coming direct selling organizations appear credible and established, and maximize outreach by communicating to the networks of their consultants with a personalized communication automatically sent on their behalf. This consistency is critical for building brand awareness and equity.
For large, established direct selling organizations, a personalized communications strategy with brand protection at its core is instrumental in helping maintain corporate-wide control of messaging and special offers. At this stage of business maturity, the ability to craft newsletter content around products and promotions while ensuring message consistency, brand messaging and CAN-SPAM compliance can often have global implications. At the same time, having a photo and personal message from a local consultant in the body of the newsletters help the corporate direct selling organization seem a little more personal. After a newsletter campaign has gone out, tracking analytics will provide the organization insight into which articles and product features interested consultants, customers and prospects the most so that they can plan future campaigns and content accordingly, maximizing future communications and their success.
As mentioned previously, there are a number of solutions designed to help direct sellers attract, acquire and engage new customers through content. But, in a competitive market where it’s critical to avoid falling into a treacherous game of telephone, organizations must strike the balance between making the message appear as if the personal consultant sent it, and remaining true to the brand. To position for growth and long-term success, protecting the brand must be part of the culture, with consultants becoming as fiercely passionate about guarding it as the organization itself.
Michelle Larter is the Worldwide Director, Direct Selling, at IMN Inc. Michelle has more than 20 years experience in sales—18 years working directly with software and nine specifically with direct sales. Michelle provides support to the Direct Selling industry as a contributing writer to direct selling and technology publications and a frequent speaker at industry events. She was awarded the DSWA’s prestigious 2010 Visionary Award coveted among individuals and companies that provide resources, tools, and otherwise support the direct selling profession and regularly go above and beyond the call of duty for direct sellers.