Click here to order the December 2017 issue in which this article appeared.
In This Issue:
The Most Influential Women in Direct Selling
Bringing Gender Parity to Direct Selling
Advocating for the Direct Selling Community
Navigating the Millennial-Driven World
Sticking to a Winning Business Model
Leading with Passion and Commitment
Launching New Products and Segments
Recruiting and Retaining the Field
Direct Selling Icons
Direct selling marketing strategies have always had the same goal: Successfully communicate the quality and benefits of the company’s products or services as well as the unique business opportunity intrinsic to the channel. What has changed over time, however, are the tactics used to communicate the message. Social media has been added to the marketing toolbox in which kits, magazines, catalogs, brochures and videos remain essentials.
It’s hard not to focus on one demographic when speaking to social media strategies. While they are certainly not the only group impacting direct selling, millennials are greatly influencing all areas of it. Now the largest living generation, numbering nearly 80 million and with the most spending power—about $200 billion annually—this group is not only driving product sales, but also impacting how products are brought to market and subsequently marketed. Millennial consumers typically do not have loyalty to any brands, and 84 percent of them distrust traditional advertising. Millennial entrepreneurs want products that are easily shareable, and they want to share them through the tools they use regularly—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat among them. According to research by the marketing company Crowdtap, 71 percent of millennials say they engage daily in social media, and much of that is in “overlapping,” meaning they may be checking multiple sites simultaneously.
Keeping up with the latest social selling technologies and, more important, knowing which tools to embrace to help enhance the independent-representative and consumer experience is an ongoing challenge for today’s executives. Marketers must be at the top of their games in developing strategies that are inclusive of multiple social media platforms, all the while ensuring that their messages stay consistent across each one.
Social Media Strategy
Healthy living lifestyle brand OPTAVIA takes a layered, adaptable approach to its social media strategy, offering a full spectrum of social tools to promote, support and share field stories and the brand to the world. “In-depth and frequent marketplace monitoring, competitive analysis and best-practice strategies keep us abreast of current trends in the social arena, allowing us to choose our mediums wisely, depending on who our audience is at any given time,” says President Mona Ameli.
The company understands that fear of missing out (FOMO) is prevalent in millennials and therefore it uses tools such as Instagram, Facebook Groups, Facebook LIVE and its OPTAVIA IGNITE, a social video and story sharing initiative launched in 2017, to reach this demographic.
Mona Ameli, President, OPTAVIA
Mona Ameli was appointed President of OPTAVIA in 2014 and brings more than 22 years of experience in the technology, beauty, and health and wellness space.
While health and wellness company Isagenix strives to offer digital platforms and programs that help its associates communicate and learn anywhere and anytime, the company has ramped up its social media strategies and tactics to meet the demands of millennials. “Millennials are driving dramatic change in many markets, but they have been the driving force behind the online shopping phenomenon,” says Kathy Coover, Isagenix Co-Founder and Executive Vice President. “We have embraced strategies like FOMO for product launches and explainer videos to educate consumers and accelerate sales. We have a social media team that capitalizes on the full array of channels, with emphasis on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. In addition, we have a team focused on the millennial demographic, offering programs specifically for young people ages 18-35.”
Connie Tang, President and CEO of Princess House, a kitchenware and home décor company, agrees that it is essential to use social media strategies to engage millennials. However, the Princess House product line is targeted to consumers who have established their own homes and are looking to stock their own kitchens, only some of whom are considered millennials. “Interestingly, research shows that the millennial generation is actually divided, with many in a stage of ‘delayed adulthood’ who are putting off home ownership or domesticity due to economic factors,” she says. “Therefore, we concentrate our social media efforts on reaching those consumers in the millennial generation who have set up their own homes or have started their families.”
Kay Napier Zanotti, CEO, Arbonne International LLC Kay Napier Zanotti joined Irvine, California-based Arbonne, a beauty and wellness company, in 2009, leading the company through a highly successful turnaround and into profitability.
At beauty and skincare brand Arbonne International, the fastest-growing segment of its business continues to be millennials, with over 36 percent of its independent consultants falling into that category—and growing significantly. In addition, more than 30 of the company’s top leadership level are millennials. “We absolutely employ new tools like Snapchat, and Geofencing for our conferences, in particular, and have really upped our game with Instagram and short videos,” says CEO Kay Napier Zanotti. “We have Facebook Live events, and more and more we are seeing our older consultants get on board with new technology. Once they know how to use the new tools, they see the value to their business.”
Field Selling Preferences
Across all companies, what is not lost in the millennial surge is the fact that tried-and-true ways of marketing and selling still work very well, and that social media selling is just the lastest method among many. Given that, marketing strategies must maintain a balance between fulfilling the millennial need for the latest tools and more traditional approaches that are as successful as ever.
Kathy Coover, Co-Founder and Executive Vice President, Isagenix International Kathy Coover founded Gilbert, Arizona, health and wellness company Isagenix with husband, Jim, in 2002. It serves more than 550,000 customers with about 1,000 employees in 13 markets.
While Isagenix keeps constant watch on technology trends and assesses new tools to determine ROI and effectiveness, it is also cognizant that social media isn’t the be-all and end-all. Last year the company implemented a group called Prime Time, which focuses primarily on healthy aging. “The group currently has more than 7,000 active members,” Coover says. “Some members meet on Zoom calls or through our closed Facebook group, while others prefer receiving the latest news through our bimonthly email newsletter that includes healthy aging tips and tools. Whatever their preferred vehicle for receiving information, we get great feedback from our associates who use the experiences, pictures and exclusive blog articles found in Prime Time to build rapport with prospects who want to learn more about Isagenix.”
At Princess House, the IS/IT, Communications and Marketing teams are the scouts and gatekeepers for new technology. The company has been doing a lot of toe-in-the-water testing to see what works for them. “It’s critical to accept and discern that not every new shiny social tool is appropriate for your company or salesforce,” Tang says. “We too have to manage our own FOMO and not set ourselves up for loss of focus or clarity. Our focus is on educating our existing salesforce about the basic social tools currently available and encouraging all our consultants to embrace them and understand the potential value for their businesses while being productive.”
Connie Tang, President and CEO, Princess House Connie Tang is serving as the first female CEO of 54-year-old Taunton, Massachusetts-based kitchenware company Princess House and has overseen a strong turnaround in sales and consultant growth in her five-year tenure.
Ameli says that OPTAVIA leaders have found that the best resource for keeping up with the pulse of customers is its own field. As the “best voice in the game,” their feedback sets the direction for catering to the needs of customers, which, as Ameli points out, is the primary focus. “We make sure to cater to millennials through the use of Snapchat, Instagram Stories, Facebook and so forth, but we also make sure we utilize Leadership Calls, Zoom video conferences, email and personal support calls that are directed and available to all other generations and demographics that might not be attuned to the pulse of the minute from a social media perspective,” she says. “The bottom line is that we cater to the field and include tools for everyone regardless of their age or communication preferences.”
Speaking of preferences, millennial consumers have a very loud voice in the marketplace. It is said that a staggering 90 percent of consumers trust peer recommendations and only 33 percent trust ads. Since peer recommendations have always been one of the strengths of the direct selling channel, and as 84 percent of millennials so strongly distrust advertising, many marketers have revisited their strategies for online marketing.
“Personally, I feel like this is an area where millennials are really changing the dynamic for all generations and metrics that lead to purchasing decisions,” Tang says. “They aren’t the only ones suspicious of advertising, and they have a huge influence on their parents and grandparents when it comes to who to trust and how to shop. Recommendations and reviews are critical selling tools in today’s world, and we have a legacy of 55 years of satisfied customers to speak to the quality of the products that Princess House offers. It’s not just putting a product review widget on your website though. It’s really about storytelling and engagement, and that is something we are really honed into when it comes to our marketing and social communications.”
Coover agrees that third-party reviews, peer recommendations and word-of-mouth testimonials have been the best ways for Isagenix to inspire consumer confidence for those wanting to connect with direct selling products and solutions. “This is definitely a key strength in our channel,” she says. “However, to participate in a competitive health and wellness market and to ensure our brand is front of mind in our customers’ product purchase journeys, we have begun to complement our direct sales model with paid digital advertising targeted to our current customer base. This allows us to increase product awareness and re-introduce our no-compromise products to our current customer base in a manner that helps drive sales for our business builders.”
However, while Coover expects online advertising to continue to be one tool in the company’s toolbelt, she believes the greatest success in creating trust during product purchase decisions remains the peer-to-peer coaching model and personal interaction that have been the foundation of Isagenix. Ameli agrees, noting that peer recommendation and direct selling go hand and hand. “Person-to-person endorsement is key; there is nothing more trustworthy than building the relationship and trust one-on-one,” she says. “At OPTAVIA, our emphasis continues to be on our Coaches—the heart and soul of who we are—to connect to clients and potential clients, not massive online advertising that doesn’t have trust or credibility.”
As Zanotti puts it, “We never discount the fact that consumers still want that personal touch, human interaction, direct recommendation and sensory experience that is at the foundation of our industry. Digital technology has enhanced our industry, but it will never fully replace the in-person interaction.”