With an industry-wide shift toward customer acquisition, partnering with distributors is more vital than ever before.
Chief Marketing Officers are the momentum builders. They create brand awareness, cultivate customer loyalty, position the brand in the marketplace and drive demand.
These fundamental priorities have remained the same across decades, and as the market landscape and the customer needs within it have evolved, so too has the role. Today’s Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) takes on those consuming core tasks and then some, from maintaining social relevance to developing multi-platform campaigns, and the list continues to grow.
“Things are happening in a year or two that used to take ten,” says Wayne Moorehead, an industry veteran, former CMO/CBO and the host of the Direct Selling News podcast Direct Approach. “We need to be super nimble, willing to adapt and forward-thinking so that we can see what is coming around the corner.”
Even more challenging is that not all marketing experience translates across industries. This is true in the direct selling space, where Mark Stastny, Chief Marketing Officer for Scentsy, has watched marketers try to apply the same strategies that worked in retail to the direct selling space, with little success.
“Marketing means very different things in direct selling than it does in other channels,” states Stastny. His advice to marketers entering the direct selling channel for the first time: patience. “I would tell them to start with understanding the different dynamics and the fluidity of marketing, understanding the concept of democratization of the brand and learning how to align your values and your messaging platforms with your distributors,” he says. “Then, be willing to step back and trust and empower them—that might be the biggest hurdle for someone coming into the channel for the first time.”
Empower and Engage
There’s a marketing adage that states, Your brand is not who you say it is. It’s who they say it is. That mantra is well-worn because it’s true. The message and brand association is always in the hands of consumers, and in the case of direct selling, the distributors.
Not to say that CMOs don’t need to create a clear and consistent brand story that is supported by strategy, relevant content and assets, but it’s an unspoken reality that distributors are inclined to create and publicly publish their own personalized content and assets. In direct selling, every distributor is a member of the marketing team.
In this new marketing democracy, companies are echoing the recent shift in the industry from focusing entirely on distributors to placing customers front and center. This isn’t about demoting distributors but rather locking arms with them as equals. Customers are the focus, but distributors are the partners.
The sticking point, of course, is retention and keeping distributors engaged.
“We still look to associates to build and nurture the relationship because they are running their businesses,” says Dan Macuga, USANA Chief Communications and Marketing Officer. “But the reality is—many associates just don’t stay forever, even though we’d love them to. When they leave, the relationships get fractured, so we’re (corporate) providing incremental value to the customer during the life of their purchase to expand the relationship. That way, if anything ever happens, you don’t fracture that piece. The company steps in and helps manage the relationship. If an associate pauses their business for four months, they can come back, and their customers are still there.”
Tethering to the Brand Anchor
Essential to this new customer-focused strategy is the leveraging of key brand associations. Also known as anchors, these associations can be found through active social listening and paying attention to how customers describe their brand experience. When mobilized efficiently, they become the nucleus for all strategies, product launches and campaigns.
For Scentsy, that anchor was clearly fragrance, and Stastny says the moments of struggle that the company has faced over the years can be traced to decisions that strayed from that anchor.
“Brands are elastic, but they can be stretched too far,” Stastny says.
Scentsy’s product portfolio does include seemingly extraneous categories, like pet care, but Stastny points out that the company only offers products within those categories that tie to fragrance.
“We don’t go into any other aspects, even though we might be very successful marketing them,” Stastny says. “We anchor in and around the fragrance experience, and we basically say we are going to stay within the swim lane of fragrance.”
Tethering all strategic decisions to the anchor can accelerate momentum and prevent product flops because it is customers—not marketing teams—who decide whether or not a brand has permission to enter new categories.
The Emergence of New Titles
There is an org chart for creating an anchor-based winning strategy, beginning with the development of a corporate strategy, then cascading to brand strategy, product strategy and, finally, sales and marketing strategy. Each layer requires a shared understanding of what constitutes a win, and which categories, product niches, channels and ideal customer fits into that game plan.
But as the role of CMO continues to evolve, and the responsibilities it entails along with it, the marketing org chart is changing as well.
New titles, including Chief Digital Officer (CDO), Chief Reputation Officer (CRO) and Chief Brand Officer (CBO), are emerging as separate positions with different but complementary priorities.
Candace Matthews, who recently retired from her role as Amway’s Chief Reputation Officer, was one of the first within the industry to hold the title. CROs, she explains, are responsible for anything that impacts the company’s brand, and at Amway that included sustainability, reputation both on and offline, and supporting women’s empowerment initiatives. CROs not only select and prioritize goals that build the company brand, but they also tell the story in a way that draws distributors, staff and customers into the journey along with them.
“I [was] part of a big organization and it takes a village and a globe to manage the Amway brand, but if we look specifically at some of the goals that our team [was] working on, [my role was] really being the beacon and guiding the rest of the organization,” Matthews says.
Spreading niche expertise roles across the executive team is becoming the new norm, and although each title has unique priorities, healthy teams will be in constant communication to ensure they share a seamless vision. That also means that all teams that are distributor- or customer-facing should either report to or work closely with the CMO to ensure marketing integration across channels and functions and to prevent marketing silos.
Macuga witnessed the power of streamlined leadership firsthand when his company combined the title of Chief Communications Officer and Chief Marketing Officer into one position.
“I love it because every single touchpoint with a customer is sourced through one group,” Macuga says. “We’re working together and communicating, whether it’s PR, social media, internal and external communications, investor relations—all of it goes together with our marketing, customer service and creative events teams. If you’re not folding your reputation management officer role into your marketing and communications, you’re missing out on an opportunity to ensure that your brand is represented in a seamless manner at all touchpoints in the customer journey. It needs to line up with the main narrative of your company.”
Positive Impact Management
All of these roles—CMO, CDO, CRO and CBO—contribute to the assembling of creative content that build healthy brands, including product testimonials, data-backed clinical studies, beneficial media coverage and corporate social responsibility initiatives. The goal, Moorehead says, is to generate enough positive content that it surpasses the channel’s stigma and the embedded messages that go along with those negative perceptions.
“There are so many conversations happening now that are in the public domain,” Moorehead says. “You have to join the conversations and hope to positively impact them.”
This push for positive content is more than good press. It’s a vital strategy that includes listening to online feedback, paying attention to search results that are attached to your brand and respectfully engaging in conversation so that when a crisis does arise, the marketing team is not only ready to react but is also building on a preexisting and proactive commitment to lead the conversation.
When taken digital, these marketing fundamentals also feed search engine optimization (SEO), which floats a brand’s desirable content above the clickbait headlines and trolling comment threads.
“There is going to be negative out there,” Moorehead says. “Ask yourself: From an SEO standpoint, does our brand have enough positive content out there that is going to rank above the negative and the noise?”
In the direct selling industry, the roles of the CMO and those who hold the titles that encircle it are tasked with hyping products, boosting profit margins and building a strong customer base. But they are also charged with opening doors for others and developing opportunities for people who may not have been given a chance to succeed in traditional corporate America. On a grand scale, the leaders in these roles have the power to impact everyone within the industry—both positively and negatively.
“Within our industry, what one does in a good way impacts others and in a negative way impacts others,” Matthews says. “It’s something we should be more cognizant of and be putting more effort behind to make sure that we elevate this entire industry. It’s critical for all of us to be doing it. Really think about leaving everything you touch better than the way you found it.”
From the September 2021 issue of Direct Selling News magazine.