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Once the playground for little-understood creatives who whipped up sales collateral and spent the money sales teams earned, marketing departments grow more strategic and sophisticated by the day. In fact, the demand to understand and engage customers is driving an evolution in marketing and moving its role within the company straight into the executive suite—Chief Marketing Officer.
“Today, marketing plays a critical role in strategic planning and brand positioning, overall messaging and, perhaps most importantly for the direct selling industry, creating the lasting relationships every company, every brand and every direct seller desires,” says USANA CMO Doug Braun.
The gamut of responsibilities under the CMO umbrella is ever-expanding. Candace Matthews, Amway’s CMO, says her role, “encompasses all of the branding, positioning, and everything that goes along with establishing those brands at a global level—communications, PR, corporate social responsibilities, Amway’s brand and reputational work, as well as the digital side and market research.”
Sheryl Adkins-Green, CMO at Mary Kay Inc., adds, “My goal is to anticipate what women want, and then convert those insights into irresistible beauty products that women love. I’m responsible for leading the development of a product portfolio strategy that generates a sustainable stream of innovative skin care, color and fragrance products.”
There’s a lot of work to go around and much to keep track of. Divvying responsibilities differs from company to company. USANA, for instance, separates communications, PR and social media. But one thing is consistent: The marketing group and the individuals who lead the charge, whether they are CMOs or heads of departments, simply can’t be what they were a decade ago and expect to succeed.
CMOs today must be a new, eclectic species, able to execute the demands of traditional marketing while stretching into roles of sophisticated strategists, sector specialists, innovative champions, digital experts and business leaders, according to Advertising Age.
This isn’t, however, unique to the direct selling industry nor to the U.S. corporate world. In fact, The Guardian in the U.K. declared the traditional CMO role dead last February. Why the epitaph? Companies must drive deeper to develop customer intimacy and lasting consumer engagement. That, they say, is where true growth lies.
Companies must drive deeper to develop customer intimacy and lasting consumer engagement. That, they say, is where true growth lies.
At the Crossroads of Consumer Engagement
Today, a carefully crafted marketing message isn’t the one-way communication it was decades ago. Instead, it’s really a conversation starter between brand and customer—a conversation to be taken very seriously. “Now consumers and the general public have so much power with the Internet. They can say anything. They can create a following. So you need to have brand advocates and ambassadors within the people. It’s that relationship, that bond, and that common framework and common vision for what we’re doing that’s so important,” Matthews says of marketing at Amway.
Marketing leaders stand at a crossroads between consumers who yearn for engagement and companies who strive to meet that consumer need. And it’s the work that happens at this juncture that informs the way forward-thinking, direct selling CMOs see their jobs today.
“We [marketing] are the keepers of the entire, lifelong Nerium experience,” says Amber Olson Rourke, CMO, Nerium International. “How the customers come to know about the product—how they experience the product, how we treat them. We are also the keepers of the whole Brand Partner experience, whether it’s marketing the trials, their check-out process, their training, events they go to, the partnership they enter into with our charities like Big Brothers Big Sisters. It’s really all-encompassing.”
Alec Clark, CMO at Plexus Worldwide, adds, “There’s not one area that doesn’t have some sort of interaction or dependency on the marketing department. I actually feel that it’s the driving force behind the business.”
Marketing is nothing short of the “soul of the organization,” according to Braun, and deserves a seat at the strategic planning table. Working hand-in-hand with sales is the only way to successfully meet the promises direct selling companies make to their consumers.
“I look at the CMO as the connector, the integrator of products and experiences,” Matthews says. “I don’t see marketing and sales as independent functions. I see us fully integrating and putting our minds together to deliver what is the right thing for our IBOs.” It’s a holistic approach, meshing both the marketing and sales contributions that enable Amway’s IBOs to not only receive the company’s message, but also really get it. “It’s succinct, it is simple, and it’s very beautiful, and they can leverage it right away. That can be digitally or physically. It’s a unified thinking.”
There’s Power in Perspective
When Arbonne’s Chief Creative Officer Michael D’Arminio and Senior Vice President and Chief Sales Officer Heather Chastain sit down to the strategic planning table, each brings a slightly different perspective. “I want to make sure that everything our consultants feel, taste, smell and see embodies the best Arbonne experience,” D’Arminio says.
D’Arminio and Chastain come together, challenge each other, learn from each other and ultimately make the right decisions to formulate a three-year strategic outlook, annualized plan and bimonthly plan they call a cycle meeting. “We have both a long-term and short-term plan in place, knowing that we need to be agile in order to take advantage of key opportunities as they arise,” D’Arminio says.
Partnering with Chastain’s sales department, D’Arminio and his creative team get the kind of immediate feedback on products, innovations and ideas that can make slight course corrections for effectiveness more timely and successful. This blend of sales field insights paired with market trends and product innovations makes Arbonne’s ability to evaluate strategy, core initiatives, opportunity, return and risk more effective.
Strategic, Creative Innovators and Brand Stewards
The changing role of CMO is opening the creative floodgates to innovations and solutions for direct selling. The relationship building of the past still takes place at events, but as Clark says, “Masses of people are now contacted with one click. Technology has changed our whole industry and how it works.”
In fact, customer engagement is so dependent upon technology that the world’s leading information technology research and advisory company, Gartner, believes CMOs will outspend CIOs on IT by 2017.
Just spending the dollars, however, is no guarantee of success, and as the role of marketing expands so, too, does the CMO’s responsibility for strategic planning that balances the best use of technology with traditional brand stewardship and customer acquisition activities.
“If the CMO of a company has only one responsibility, it is to keep it relevant. I don’t mean trendy, but relevant,” Braun says. “It’s easy for us to get distracted by a shiny new ball, and every once in a while a shiny new ball is needed, and it’s fun. But as a CMO, I think it’s our responsibility to continue to be true to who we are as a brand, what we can be the best at, and remain relevant to the rest of the world.”
Matthews agrees, saying, “We are global and operate in over 100 countries and territories, so it’s important that people understand the position of the brand and of the company. Amway is the overarching brand, but how other brands link to it is equally important. To make it globally relevant, we have to stay within a global framework, and it must all align.” Amway’s leaders are more global and less market-specific as access to information via the Internet continually increases, and it has changed the way they perpetuate their brand. “It’s very important that the brand people see is consistent around the world,” she says.
Not only consistency of brand, but also of systems and culture played a huge role in Nerium International’s lead up to global expansion to Canada and beyond this year. “What we’re building from an online perspective is a global digital experience where every country uses the same technology and interface from a website standpoint, for the back office and for mobile applications,” Olson Rourke says. “It’s all tied into one universal platform and message. There are a lot of offshoots, but it will be one experience.”
This type of platform simplifies the Brand Partner experience of running a Nerium business anywhere in the world and allows the company to convey its corporate message on a global scale. “Making people better is our mission,” she says. “That’s reflected in the company’s relationships with charities like Big Brothers Big Sisters and Live Happy magazine, as well as the company’s focus on personal development. We’re truly focusing so much of our energy around that message of building people first beyond anything else.”
Getting an entire direct selling organization to walk the walk, talk the talk, and live the brand is complicated and depends as much on people as it does on technology. At USANA, Braun says the brand experience manager keeps the corporate office on message and everyone moving in the same direction. “They look at everything we’re doing from a different perspective—a brand perspective,” he says. “They have a seat at the table for those conversations, so that our experience doesn’t become different on the web than it is in our call center.”
Plexus’ Clark says, “Our content, our delivery, our message truly matter. We love our brand, and we take that very seriously. Hundreds of thousands of lives are affected if we make a bad decision and we start chasing rabbits down holes. So we need to keep our heads, look around and make sure we are doing the right things for the right reasons for all of our Ambassadors.”
Purveyors of a New Experience
Providing the right tools to inform, educate and support the direct selling field remains a critical responsibility for marketers, but today they also innovate the entire consumer experience. USANA refreshed its brand from top to bottom a few years ago, and it wasn’t just the look and feel that got an upgrade. “It was really properly positioning USANA as a brand to be relevant and be the brand of choice for a wider audience, not just for today but in the future,” Braun says.
USANA shifted corporate habits and internal language to reflect the brand refresh and introduced an online and iPad prospecting app called USANA True Health Assessment, which features a 10–15 minute health questionnaire that generates an overall health report, risk report and product recommendations at the end. Braun says, “It changed the introduction to the company. As an Associate, your methodology of bringing someone into the business or in as a customer isn’t through a meeting, a coffee shop or an event. It’s now through a one-on-one communication about health, and it becomes much more personal. You build the relationship. You build trust, and there’s value for the time spent, whether they do anything with USANA or not.”
He adds, “We always had Associates who believed in our product, believed in our science and manufacturing, but they weren’t as engaged in the brand. With this change, they are wearing the brand. They are participating in the brand in new ways. Their use of and how they talk on social media has increased significantly. From an activity base and from an engagement base with the brand, there’s been significant change.”
At Mary Kay, Adkins-Green oversees a wide variety of digital tools developed to engage customers and create experiences for them that keep them coming back. Their interactive eCatalog, which has generated over 23 million visits globally, has users spending an average of five minutes browsing, and viewing on average 34 pages per session. Adkins-Green says May Kay’s fan base has increased even more quickly than expected by the team’s creation and promotion of product trend updates, fashion news, and how-to tips across multiple social media channels. She says, “According to industry expert L2 (a subscription-based business intelligence service that benchmarks the digital competence of brands), Mary Kay has one of the highest social media engagment ratings in the beauty industry.”
Not all marketing innovations are technology based. One of the boldest customer acquisition strategies recently is a free inventory replenishment program from Nerium International called Nerium Gives Back. Only through a successful customer acquisition model, Olson Rourke says, can a company create sustainability. So when a Brand Partner brings a new customer or a new Brand Partner to the company, Nerium gives them free product back to replenish their stock. “It’s really revolutionary and drives the right behavior. We’re able to have higher retention of Brand Partners because of small inventory costs, and we can continue to have very high customer acquisition because Brand Partners are getting the product out there,” she says.
Plexus encourages its Associates by augmenting a tried and true tradition—events. By ramping up branding, the company strives to inspire engagement and also show support of the field’s business-building. “Leaders are born at events,” Clark says. “All those people share best practices. They hop across island to island and know they are not the only ones doing this. There are 8,000 people having the same trials and successes.” But to supercharge the synergy Plexus Associates felt, Clark and his marketing staff looked upon their recent annual convention with fresh eyes and new goals. “Whether it was the first person or the 8,000th person to see it, we wanted them to feel appreciated and important.” So Plexus branded Dallas.
Every light post hung the Plexus flag. Every bus wore the logo. They wrapped the hotel and even lit up the Dallas skyline with Plexus lights strung outside the Omni.
“The CMO’s role is still to enable the success of our IBOs,” Matthews says. “So everything we do has to be looked at through that lens. That may be to bring more consumers to them, provide programs that will engage them, or to engage others and bring them into the Amway business.” Sometimes that means innovating global compliance solutions, like the advent of Amway’s digital Nutrilite Recommender, which asks appropriate questions and enables IBOs to make vitamin and mineral supplement recommendations based only on the product line available to their market. Still for others it calls on global markets to promote a brand repositioning in some of the most relevant yet creative ways.
Upscale and recognizable packaging, differentiated product formulations, a global face and consistent image are the pillars of Amway’s repositioning of its premium skincare brand, Artistry. Through sponsorships of artistic events in global markets, like China’s immensely popular figure skating event, “Artistry on Ice,” and Korea’s Busan International Film Festival, there’s a new level of engagement, which aligns the brand locally to the global position.
As with any cost-benefit analysis, there are qualitative and quantitative measurements to the value marketing brings. That value will become increasingly evident as more and more marketers are invited into the executive suite and those CMOs sit down at strategic planning tables to weigh in on a broad range of subjects, such as communications, social awareness, emotional touch points and consumer insights.
As the world continues to spin faster and faster, technologies mature and change again, and consumers demand something new, it will be the CMO who stays on the cusp of trends and emerging technologies, keeps tabs on what’s happening globally, and understands the cultures of the world. Stewarding that insight into the company may well be one of the most vital aspects of the CMO’s evolving role in direct selling.