Direct sellers, suppliers, marketing professionals and a host of other industry influencers gathered in Dallas from Dec. 3-5 to exchange ideas and resources at the Direct Selling Association’s 2014 Be Connected Conference.
This year’s conference focused on marketing and communications and once again featured a special session on Wednesday for young and growing companies to interact with more seasoned executives. This Smart Start Seminar included roundtable discussions on topics such as marketing via grassroots efforts and social media, developing the salesforce and building the corporate team.
Thursday contained a full day of networking, learning and sharing as speakers addressed the audience from one main stage. DSA President Joseph Mariano welcomed attendees and provided some context on the industry with his Presidential Report. In the coming year, the DSA will advance its “three Ps” agenda of policing, promoting and protecting the industry.
The programs Mariano outlined demonstrate the ways in which DSA is working to demystify the sales channel for policymakers and the general public and tell the story of how direct selling positively affects the lives of millions of Americans. One of the ways that happens is by ensuring companies are behaving in the correct manner in the marketplace, which is the aim of the Association’s Code of Ethics.
Modern Marketing for a Classic Brand
Conference Master of Ceremonies Sheryl Adkins-Green, Mary Kay Inc.’s Chief Marketing Officer, opened the morning’s General Session by sharing her strategy for extending the marketing reach of this iconic brand.
“In some respects, the game for us as an industry has never changed,” she shared. “We’ve always known it’s about customers, we’ve always known it’s about connections and we’ve always known it’s about credibility. I love the fact that the economy is now appreciating the value we bring as a direct selling industry.”
To successfully execute various marketing initiatives and engage its field on a daily basis, Mary Kay gets by with a little help from some “cool” friends. The company has partnered with BMW, the maker of its newest bonus car; Neiman Marcus, whose flagship store in Dallas paid tribute to the company on its 50th anniversary; and Conan O’Brien, who filmed a Mary Kay segment for his late night comedy show. The cosmetics giant is also the official beauty sponsor of the hit show Project Runway.
The 50-year-old brand is also engaging the younger audience that will take its business into the future. Mary Kay went backstage as a sponsor of the 2013 Teen Choice Awards, and has connected to students across the country through its Mary Kay Beauty 101 College Tour, now in its fifth year. Mary Kay’s Manager of Corporate Communications, Rebecca Gibson, later shared how the company’s media relations efforts are supporting its brand positioning and philanthropic programs.
Fortune Favors Bold Experimentation
Keynote speaker Luke Williams, a Professor of Innovation at the NYU Stern School of Business and Executive Director of the Berkley Entrepreneurship Center, led Thursday’s lineup with a talk on “gamechanging, disruptive innovation.”
Luke challenged leaders to avoid incremental innovation in favor of bold new experiments. New ideas and ongoing experimentation are key to being a gamechanger in any industry, yet many companies approach change complacently, opting to innovate around their existing asset base.
“Where are the leaders coming in to stop those short-term patterns of behavior and provoke introspection—is this still the best product or service we can offer consumers, is this still the best model for our business, is this still the right narrative, is this still our competition?” asked Luke. “It doesn’t happen enough on a regular basis, but this sort of provocation drives 21st-century business. To disrupt the marketplace, you have to change the way you’re thinking about your business and the way you interact with your customers every day.”
Philanthropy Is Changing the Game
General Session II opened with Nu Skin’s Head of Corporate Communications, Kara Schneck, who shared how the company’s intense commitment to its nonprofit work and social entrepreneurship programs create excitement and loyalty among its entire community of sales representatives, customers and employees.
On its mission to be a force for good in the world, Nu Skin has found a sweet spot where business overlaps philanthropy. The company established a for-profit social enterprise called Nourish the Children, which supplies a nutrient-rich Vita-Meal product to malnourished children around the world. Distributors and employees purchase Vita-Meal and donate them through the company’s charity partner, Feed the Children. Thus far, Nu Skin’s initiative has fed more than 400 million meals to children around the world.
Wednesday’s series of “Rapid-Fire” segments included Mark Rawlins, CEO of InfoTrax Systems, who spoke about rewarding specific behaviors in commission planning; Jan Gilmore, Principal at Jan Gilmore & Associates, who offered tips and strategies about keeping the field active; and Jonathan Gilliam, President of Momentum Factor, who addressed how to manage a company’s reputation within social media outlets. Jay Leisner, President of Sylvina Consulting, also spoke on compensation plan motivation.
Doing the Next Right Thing
On Thursday afternoon, Anne Aldrich of Artemis Strategy Group, DSA’s third-party research consultant, provided key insights from a series of industry studies commissioned by DSA. The afternoon also included a CEO panel featuring Jewel Kade’s Brett Blake, Kerry Shea Penland of All’asta, Britney Vickery of Initials Inc., and Ruby Ribbon’s Anna Zornosa. Their discussion centered on “Creating the Groundswell” that boosts organic growth in the field.
For companies pursuing the next stage of growth, Shea noted, the basics remain the basics along the way. “So much of what we focused on in the first year, I think, is still critical—keeping it simple and doing the next right thing better. There’s a lot of patience needed in this industry, because there’s such a temptation to do fast-track growth.”
Tory Johnson, a weekly contributor to Good Morning America and the No. 1 New York Times bestselling author of The Shift, closed out Thursday’s sessions with a fire hose of insights. Though not associated with a particular company, Tory expressed strong support of direct selling and the opportunities it provides. During her talk, she challenged attendees to shift their perspective—and gain a sense of accomplishment—by identifying three things to do on a daily basis and sticking to them.
Friday’s General Session opened with WineShop At Home President and CEO Jane Creed, who shared the “Wine Is Social” philosophy behind her company’s vibrant online community. DSN’s own General Manager, Lauren Lawley Head, followed with key consumer insights from the recent Harris Poll study commissioned by Direct Selling News.
Friday’s session also covered the dos and don’ts of online leads, with a Rapid-Fire segment from IdeaDrenaline’s Brett Duncan and a panel discussion between Initials Inc. Marketing Manager Brandy Aycock and Jen Fong, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications at SwissJust.
Marketing in Real Time
Author David Meerman Scott delivered the day’s final burst of energy with insights from one of his international bestsellers, The New Rules of Marketing and PR. Scott provided practical tips for engaging with your audience and encouraged attendees to interact in real time to boost sales.
“When people are interested, that’s the right time to engage. If a buyer is on your site, that’s a sales signal. How can you reach them at the moment they’re visiting your site? If someone opens an email, that’s a sales signal. How can you reach someone at that moment?”
Also featured on Friday morning was a presentation from the Direct Selling Education Foundation (DSEF) as the organization provided its annual Pack a Present donation to this year’s recipient: Operation Homefront. Conference attendees once again provided generous donations, this time supporting Dallas-area families of military service members and veterans.