Sunday, August 9, 2015

Directly Branding Ourselves

A couple weeks ago I read a comment on someone's Facebook status that made my stomach tie up in knots. It addressed the direct sales businesses in very negative ways relating to the price of products, incentive "schemes" for consultants, and the pushy manipulative nature behind the business as a whole. Before I "get into" all of this let me give you some background. I went from marketing in Corporate America to Direct Sales - and I was the LAST person I ever thought (maybe only second to my parents) would make that kind of move. I have since been a "Consultant" and achieved leadership within two companies. I know just about all of the stereotypes and will acknowledge that just like with all stereotypes - there are people who validate them. Before you blow me off and say because I'm "in it" my position is tainted I would ask you to give me the benefit of the doubt and trust that I am not trying to sell you anything!

What do you do when you wake up in the morning? Push snooze on your Verizon iPhone about three times - maybe hop in the shower and use your Dove body wash, Colgate toothbrush, Pantene shampoo and conditioner - towel off with your Fieldcrest towel - use your Conair blowdryer - and maybe just for good measure pop an 8 o'clock coffee k-cup into your Keurig machine. You aren't even dressed yet - definitely haven't hit your gym of choice yet - and I think I've already mentioned close to 10 brands. Why do you have those brands in your home? They were marketed to you effectively, even if it was by the means of personal recommendation, or an appealing discount at Target.

If I owned a boutique in the downtown area of where I live no one would think twice about my "job". I would easily be defined as a small business owner and it would be totally justifiable to come shop in my store because you would be supporting a small business - keeping the money out of the jet fuel spending accounts of Fortune 500 companies - and because American Express even validates me with Small Business Saturday. But because I choose to support my family independently under another company through a system you think of as pitchy - I must be trying to catch you up in something you don't actually need. We are all subject to the evaluation of others - as employes, teachers, business owners, parents - and most often it is out of our control.

Here's where I might lose some of you - but I really hope you stick with me...
Why do direct sales even work?! They fill needs in markets that are blanked across mass populations. It's clothing, cosmetics, cookware, home builders, software sales, distribution companies....
Everything is a matter of why what you represent it worth trying, is better than the other guy. Why? Because unless your company makes money, you're out of a job. It's a system - and direct sales is no different. Everyone who has a job is part of an industry that could be defined as direct sales.
I have ALWAYS actively supported non-profit companies. They are some of the few clients I keep up with and still do work for from my graphic design days. But even they have to provide a worthwhile mission that is worthy of being supported over someone else's cause. Their "brand" has to be better or the non-profit will cease to exist.

So where does the problem come in? If my hypothetical independently owned boutique in my small downtown can be strongly supported by all of my friends who have to buy clothes anyway - but the same idea through "direct sales" is me trying to manipulate or guilt people into picking up a t-shirt, mascara, necklace, or frying pan....where is the disconnect. Doesn't the profit still go to putting my 4 year old daughter in soccer? Keeping my lights on in my house? Taking a vacation with my family (and still not having the benefit of paid vacation days because I'm self-employeed)?!

This "system" can be given a bad name just like any other company - the difference is BIG corporations have teams of marketing executives filtering and approving EVERYTHING you see to represent their brand. It is few and far between that an ad hits the mainstream that gets a bad response. As independent contractors within a direct sales industry - we are responsible for not only how we represent our own brand - but our parent brand and therefore our parent industry. There is a tactful way to market, but please understand that one person who shoves themselves at you and holds the sale above the person should only have the effect of a response to that individual. It would kind of be like the sales associate who bullies a client into signing a contract at distribution company and then provides no customer support once the deal is closed. What is the outcome there?! Said employee will likely lose a job because of feedback - but the company keeps moving because there is integrity.

Unless you are willing to live completely off the grid with NO brand involvement please hear my heart on this. The ability I have had to be abundantly active in the lives of my two children - set my own hours - be my own brand - develop lifelong relationships with customers - and provide for my family is NO different than what anyone else is trying to do. I am my own small business. Could I have stayed in Corporate America? Sure! Might you have respected me more for what I did? Probably - but that's ok - it's comfortable that way, but it's impersonal. Unless you are the owner of your own business - your work puts $$ in the pockets of the people you work for. But wait - isn't that the same thing with parent companies in the Direct Sales industry....sure - but they provide SO many services, hours of research, professional branding tools, and top shelf products. What is different is in order for them to even have jobs to do - the independent consultants have to do their jobs with integrity first. Build loyalty - trust - personal connections with WHY the person in front of you can not only benefit from your product but the relationship you have to offer. Just like my hypothetical store in downtown - people would visit it to support my small business - to support their small town. The only way I can keep my money in my small town is through my small business!

I'm sure some people reading this will still be jaded against direct sales, and for that I am truly sorry. I would ask you to think about why that is. Was it someone who represented things the wrong way? Was it a bad product experience? It is true - not all products work for all people...nothing will ever change that. But if you think consultants in the "direct sales" industry are at the end of the day manipulating anything in any way that is more negative than BIG business....I can tell you when it's done the RIGHT way - you're wrong. We are passionate just like you are. We want to provide just like you do - have time with our families - see our kids grow up with confidence - validate our worth as individual people - be known for more than just the brand or system we exist in.

I NEVER thought I would leave Corporate America then on September 14th, 2011 the little girl I had already enrolled to start daycare full time once she was 9 weeks old so I could go back to work was born and I knew I had to find a different way to be involved to the level I wanted. But yes - I still wanted to be in business. I admire the position EVERY person finds themselves in when it comes to balancing supporting family and being an active part of that family. My only hope is that the next time you meet me (or any consultant with "direct sales") you will remember that we are no different than the person who you trust to build you the best house for you, the safest model car, the shampoo that will give you volume or tame your frizz, the software that will keep your company's information safe, or the pediatrician you take your kids to for check ups. Word of mouth is the strongest marketing tool in existence - wouldn't you want the opportunity to define yourself as a brand instead of letting your next door neighbor do it for you just because you wear the same kind of t-shirt?

Until Next Time