“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
As it turned out, the names “Montague” and “Capulet” had dire consequences for both Juliet and Romeo. “Direct selling” is a name too, and the perceptions associated with it are important.
There is history in our name that reflects the American experience. Civil War veterans, unable to afford higher education, began selling Bibles door-to-door. The Great Depression and World War tempered a generation who would become the founders of direct selling companies that continue today. American women seeking new ways to contribute to their family’s financial security found opportunity in the post-war boom.
The resilience that direct selling affords individuals—as consumers or distributors—has been our foundation for more than a century, and so it will remain. The pandemic has provided clear evidence that the name “direct selling” still reflects a positive force for consumers, sellers, individual sellers, and the country.
Over the last year, families turned to the direct selling channel to “shop local,” stock their pantries while supporting friends and neighbors who sell the products they needed. The numbers DSA is now compiling for 2020 sales and salespeople promise to be eye-popping reminders of our value.
Still, names associated with direct selling raise questions about how we fit into the landscape of legitimate business. Renewed growth has brought with it renewed questions, and sometimes skepticism.
Most of the skepticism is unfounded and born of misunderstanding. The terms “network marketing,” “multilevel,” even “door to door” sometimes contribute to that misunderstanding and conjure up less than flattering perceptions of direct selling. Even as direct selling has benefited the country and economy more than ever, our business model uses nomenclature that contributes to questions about who we are and how we operate.
It is time, once again, to address the issue of what’s in our name. Some may remember our past reputation initiatives, including the “New Era” communications pilot program some ten years ago. The industry used targeted social media ad buys in select markets to promote positive messages about “direct selling.” The program was an interesting and informative first step, but it didn’t go far enough.
Now, senior company executives are discussing a similar program at a potentially larger scale to reinforce what you and your salesforce already know. This channel is a positive and increasingly important force for individual sellers and consumers across the country and the world.
We must work even more diligently to ensure that our customers, sellers, potential sellers, policymakers, investors, and the public understand our channel. Each company is building a reputation for their brands, and it’s time to broaden this brand equity across the channel. A realistic description of our opportunity, growing relationship to the ultimate consumer, a commitment to ethical business practices, and rigorous self-regulation will be central to our reputation-building effort.
What’s in a name indeed. In our case, it’s a world of opportunity.
Joseph N. Mariano is the President of the U.S. Direct Selling Association and the Direct Selling Education Foundation.
From the June 2021 issue of Direct Selling News magazine.