Learn best practices for optimizing growth online
By: Jenna Lang Warford
”Marketing people that do not know how to sell or do not understand our business model can create a lot of challenges with a traditional understanding, because they have transactional mindsets and we’re a people-centric business.” —Gordon Hester, General Manager of Sales for U.S. and Canada, PM International
Creating a strong strategy to support distributors in the digital marketing and commerce realm is top of mind for channel executives.
Digital has surpassed “look what we are providing for our field” and entered the realm of “this is the minimum, executing well is required.”
Scott Kramer, CEO of MultiBrain, clarifies this by saying, “Executive teams need to understand that digital touches every aspect of the business. This isn’t just a function of sales or IT. Best practice is making sure that digital, digital intelligence, and aptitude are in all departments: sales and marketing, training, sales development, and of course, technology.”
Kevin Raulston, founder and CEO of Global Direct Partners, suggests, “The best strategy is to be inventive, be open and don’t wait on the sidelines. Because if you’re not working on these solutions, you’ll probably be left behind.”
A key component to accomplishing a company’s goals with digital strategy, according to PM International General Manager of Sales for U.S. and Canada Gordon Hester, is having team members who understand the dynamics of the channel’s sales field.
“Marketing people that do not know how to sell or do not understand our business model can create a lot of challenges with a traditional understanding, because they have transactional mindsets and we’re a people-centric business,” Hester says. “Their strategies and their insights are generally off base because they don’t understand the business model and how it works.
“So I tend to look for people who have some understanding of how to sell and some understanding of our industry, although they can be taught if they’re willing to learn,” he says. “It’s crucial because the distributors are in the trenches, and it’s our job to support them.” Digital marketing strategies must address the core values of direct selling, which include relationships and community.
“When people come in and they don’t understand the mindset of the distributor and the most likely distributor response, it can destroy a company in a matter of months, 60 days. Not six months—60 days,” Hester says.
Dana Fortune, 4Life Research’s vice president of marketing and sales initiatives, identified key areas of digital marketing that needed specific strategists so the company could help distributors flourish.
“I identified areas of digital marketing that needed to be strengthened. We now have an Influencer Strategist, SEO Strategist, Analytic Strategist, and an Email Marketing Strategist. We’ve come a long way, and I’m thankful our executive team understood the need and supported the initiative.”
Meta and the Metaverse
Fortune, who began her career at 4Life in digital marketing, believes the current trajectory of the digital world, including the Metaverse, is both thrilling and intimidating.
“I believe it’s an opportunity to showcase our products like never before. Attending an event via streaming is really only the beginning. When people become immersed in the Metaverse, it’s a world away from the norm. It’s interactive, a literal out-of-body experience.
“Of course, it needs to be compelling enough for them to stay in the virtual reality. So the aim will be the same for direct selling events and for direct selling when it comes to shopping experiences.
“Being interactive in a virtual experience allows us to have the best of both worlds,” she says. “You can stay at home, but you can be around others in the Metaverse. That’s what I’m focusing on when it comes to the future of digital marketing. But it remains important to have basic strategies like SEO, keywords, blogs and social media nailed down before beginning to explore other things like the Metaverse.”
While Meta is the Mark Zuckerberg-led conglomerate that owns more than 90 companies—most prominently Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus VR—the Metaverse is a current and future virtual world where Meta and companies such as Google and Microsoft are building spaces within. It’s a place where people work, shop, learn and interact with each other from the comfort of their couches in the physical world.
Ostensibly, one can be connected to the world through portals to a 3D virtual realm that’s palpable—like real life, only bigger and better. Some envision digital facsimiles of ourselves, called avatars, moving freely from one experience to another, taking our identities and our money with us.
Creating and Connecting Communities
This matters to direct selling companies because it redefines digital success by opening new avenues to interact, create community, transact sales and connect sales field teams.
Raulston believes that one key to digital success could be engaging with team members and prospective customers within established platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and TikTok then moving these relationships into centralized communication hubs.
“In Europe, a lot of the companies are leading their whole teams on WhatsApp groups, not Facebook. You could also do that with a project management communication kind of tool like Slack. In Asia, WeChat is popular,” Raulston says.
“While it’s not cheap, you can also move communication onto white-label platforms owned by companies or sales field leaders,” he says.
Don’t Buy the Hype; Facebook Isn’t Dying
“Social media has kind of split in half over the last year with one side being a passive, entertaining experience,” Kramer says.
“TikTok and Reels are passive versus the true aspect of social media that’s most important for the direct selling channel, which is creating influencers and actually building community. Instagram is great for watching reels to be entertained, educated or enlightened. But people aren’t having conversations there. People aren’t building community there.
“Zuckerberg just announced new broadcast tools, which are just one-way chats basically to give a one-to-many message. Which still isn’t the interactive side,” he says.
“People will still go to Facebook when they want to get in touch with the people they care about and love the most, for interaction.
“The idea that Facebook is going away is nonsense. Meta and its last earnings call was as strong as ever,” Kramer adds. “While it has been chasing the TikTok trend, you still see that when it comes to community and actually being social you’re doing it on Facebook. Facebook Connect is still integrated into over 80% of websites.”
In terms of social commerce, Fortune says she leans toward Facebook declining. “There has already been a pivot in terms of e-commerce and social commerce on Facebook. They got rid of their live shopping feature last year, in an effort to focus on reels.”
But for connection and community, she says, “Facebook remains a valuable place for direct sellers to showcase their lifestyle and maintain relationships and build communities.
“As companies, we look at these new social media platforms, like Be Reel and TikTok and gravitate towards them,” she adds.
“But it’s important to note that most of our company’s main demographics are still on these Meta-powered platforms like Facebook. So it’s key to be present on these newer platforms, of course, but also to maintain a strong content strategy for Facebook as well. Finding that happy medium is where you’re going to see success in terms of the older platforms and the newer platforms.”
Kramer notes that Meta owns three of the top five social networks but more importantly, “it has the biggest audience and the biggest penetration across all demographics. You’re going to start seeing smaller social networks, the creation of smaller communities that are more trustworthy and where you feel safer.
“You’ll see Facebook and even Meta create community areas on Instagram, create groups in different areas where you can once again cocoon kind of into a smaller community.”
Back to the Basics, but Better
Meta will continue to thrive because Facebook offers what TikTok doesn’t yet offer. “In one word, it offers community,” Fortune says. “It offers a wide potential for direct sellers to really find their niche and then hone in on that specific niche and market their products within their community where it’s a safe environment.
“The trends of 2024 digital marketing, or just marketing in general, say that we need to be focused on community,” she says. “Who does community better than direct selling? I think that if we kind of dial back and stop looking at these new shiny platforms, and say, ‘Hey, you know what, Facebook is still really great for community,’ that’s what 2024 is going to be big on. Let’s do what direct sellers do best and help the sales field when it comes to capitalizing on these Facebook groups and showcasing their lifestyles on their own profiles.” This, she adds, includes training on the basics.
The Future of Virtual Selling and Virtual Commerce
Fortune and Kramer agree that the key to sales field success is establishing authentic, relatable content and avoiding “sales-y” posts.
“It’s crucial to take your followers throughout your day and experiences with you, all while sprinkling in how you and your followers can use the company’s products on a daily basis,” Fortune says.
“This eliminates the need to make claims on social media. Using curiosity to generate interaction can also be an effective approach, as well as demonstrating how and why products are convenient.
“Allowing followers to reach out to the distributor enables them to offer a link with a discount, and helps make the relationship more valuable,” she says.
“It’s perfect because there’s no compliance involved, there’s no being sales. The individuals who are seeing success on social media now and for the foreseeable future have cracked the code with utilizing attraction marketing. And it’s really refreshing to see sales come through on these digital platforms by using that strategy.”
Creating the Strongest Strategy for Digital Marketing
The strongest strategy for digital marketing seems to be a mix of platforms. “I think the new strategy is using tools like Reels and then when it’s time to really connect with them, you do that over on Facebook or the platform that’s gaining traction, WhatsApp,” Kramer says.
“All over the world, younger demos are creating their own smaller communities; smaller, dare I say, than chat rooms. Everything’s cocooning into these smaller communities or subsets of communities for chats and conversations.
“The biggest mistakes direct selling companies make with social selling is applying traditional marketing methods that are more rooted in commercials,” he continues.
“These commercials or ad types of content go against community standards on social networks. So there’s a conflict, and probably that’s why so much content gets flagged and removed.”
The problem is throughout the industry, but there’s a particular situation with party plan distributors, he says. “When using Facebook groups for parties and regurgitating the same content over and over, sometimes doing 20 party groups at a time, it’s going to be considered a bot or spam that doesn’t belong on social.” He suggests training the field to tell their story, rather than post ads.
Fortune believes what we know about Gen Z will continue to impact trends. “I think there will be a big shift in the way that we purchase from influencers; Gen Z wants realness; not the inauthentic #sponsored.
“So I think affiliate marketing, rather than influencers clearly paid to rep a product, is here to stay. And that should excite us. Because now more than ever direct sellers and direct selling companies have the opportunity to talk about our products in a non-intimidating way that doesn’t scream ‘direct selling!’ so it isn’t off-putting to this younger generation.”
Statistically, Gen Z doesn’t necessarily associate direct selling with the stigma previous generations may have, Fortune says.
“This creates a huge opportunity to market to this younger generation, and I think that that will be what we focus the next half a decade on; looking at what really resonates with this younger generation and taking a deeper dive into the Metaverse.
“Fifty-eight percent of the U.S. viewers said that they were interested in watching major sporting events such as the Super Bowl in a virtual stadium in the Metaverse with about a quarter of the viewers wanting interactive features during the big game,” she adds.
“In terms of social selling and e-commerce, there will be more interactive virtual experiences where consumers can get their hands on a product in the Metaverse and test it out that way. I’m excited to see that happen down the line; it truly keeps us on our toes.”
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