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Two critical components of any direct selling organization are the brand and the consultants that represent it. The brand is the organization’s image with consumers; consultants are the volunteer army that connects consumers with the brand, establishes and nurtures the critical customer relationships and carries out the brand’s vision.
In order for both to thrive, consistent communication of the brand messaging is key. Direct selling organizations, regardless of size, need to communicate their value to customers and prospects, while also connecting directly with consultants to ensure that they have all of the information they need to be successful—such as education on new products, promotions and performance incentives. For consultants, personalized communications play a critical role in their networking efforts to drive revenue and referrals. However, if the brand message is left in the hands of the consultants alone, organizations risk noncompliance, inconsistent messaging, misrepresented or varied promotions and abandoned customers. For companies that understand that their brand is their greatest asset, this is problematic.
How can direct selling organizations protect their brands while providing consultants with a vehicle to communicate with and grow their networks as well as show their individual personalities?
One solution designed to help direct sellers attract, acquire and engage new customers and recruits is using personalized communications and newsletters. These regular communications, composed of brand-specific and general interest content, provide an effective tool for driving company awareness and interest while also strengthening customer and prospect relationships across their growing networks.
The challenge, of course, is that when you consider tools like email newsletters, open rates are generally much higher when consumers receive a message from someone they know versus from “company x.” In addition, having a photo and personal message from a local consultant in the body of the newsletter makes it seem more personalized to the recipient. Sending personalized messaging helps foster a closer relationship between consultants and their customer and prospect base.
In order to balance the need for personalized communications—which play a critical role in the networking efforts of consultants in direct selling organizations of all sizes to drive revenue and referrals—with brand protection, the key is making sure that the content of newsletters protects the brand and provides value to the audience while allowing the personalities of local consultants to come through in order to increase engagement.
Why Size Matters
The size of an organization brings its own unique challenges. For smaller direct selling organizations—typically composed of less than 200 consultants—the overarching business goal is to generate awareness of and interest in the brand and its product offerings. Consultants need brand credibility in order to succeed, and the brand needs to cultivate a loyal following.
With predefined e-communication templates, a smaller organization can easily add in some relevant content and distribute these branded newsletters to customers and prospects to drive leads back to their consultants. These professional communications allow the brand to build awareness and validate the company’s credibility while maximizing outreach by communicating to their consultants’ networks.
After adding a personalized message, these newsletters are automatically sent on their behalf, providing the critical consistency necessary for building brand awareness and equity. When the newsletters appear to come from the consultants with links driving sales and leads back to them, a level of trust is also built and strengthened between the consultants and corporate.
Medium-sized organizations have an established reputation already but need to maintain momentum, continue to expand mindshare and increase the number of consultants. As the consultant numbers grow, brand management remains critical and increasingly difficult to manage, but a personal touch from consultants also plays a key role in growing sales. The newsletter can play a critical role in providing a refreshing but true-to-brand perspective to re-engage with existing customers while offering appealing content that attracts new prospects and inspires purchases and new recruits.
For large, established direct selling organizations, brand protection is critical. A personalized communications strategy with brand protection at its core is instrumental in helping maintain both corporate-wide control of messaging and special offers. At this stage of business maturity, the ability to craft content around products and promotions while ensuring message consistency, brand messaging and CAN-SPAM compliance has global implications. With each newsletter campaign, analytics 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 and perhaps even product development.
It’s Not Just What’s on the Outside
As important as newsletters are to building a consultant’s business and growing brand awareness, direct selling organizations can also use newsletters for internal communications to ensure that consultants have all of the information they need to be successful. The internal newsletters serve to help train new consultants and recognize successes. As a result, consultants begin each month informed and motivated to recruit new consultants, book shows and throw successful parties.
Striking the Right Balance
Organizations must strike the balance between making the message appear as if the personal consultant sent it, and remaining true to the brand. The key is making sure the content of those messages is both consistent with the brand and embraces the tenets of effective marketing communications: Messages and offers must be targeted, personalized, relevant and measurable.
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. Selecting the right solution—one that enables personalization while ensuring brand protection—allows brands and consultants to experience the best of all worlds.
Michelle Larter is the Worldwide Director, Direct Selling, at IMN Inc. Larter has more than 20 years of experience in sales—19 years working directly with software and 10 specifically with direct sales. She is a contributing writer to direct selling and technology publications and a frequent speaker at industry events. IMN Inc. was awarded the prestigious 2013 DSA Ethos Award for Partnership.