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Online Marketing When Your Direct Sales Company Says “No”

Talking with one of my VIP coaching clients this week, she shared her frustration that her company has put the kibosh on consultants using Facebook Pages to promote their business. Along with a slew of other fuzzy guidelines, her company is essentially pulling in the reins on all forms of online marketing using the company name, logo, or likeness. She expressed that not only were the consultants upset with the change, but also many of teh leaders, who had been using Facebook as their personal online sales magnet for months now.

I told her that this was an opportunity to get excited instead of getting bummed. Because now, the playing field truly was level, and everyone could market themselves rather than the company they represented.

See, sites like Facebook and Twitter make it easy for any consultant to create an online outpost for their direct sales company. The problem is that, sooner or later (usually sooner), some consultant gets a little too overzealous, and makes a claim or a comment that sounds like it’s coming straight from the home office, rather than the company. Customers can’t tell the difference between a page created by a consultant or one created by the home office.

How are they supposed to know what claims are accurate, and which ones are being made by a new consultant that doesn’t have a clue?

They can’t, and so many companies have tried to create rules, guidelines and policies to “protect the brand”.

To most consultants (especially new consultants), it feels as if they’re not just protecting the brand, they’re just making it harder to do business online.

Here’s the truth: If you’re counting on your company’s brand name or logo to keep you in business, then you’re absolutely right. By restricting the use of those corporate owned identities, they are restricting your business.

But that’s not their problem, because in reality, you’re relying on the wrong elements of your business to market yourself.

See, I could get a ton of traffic to my facebook page if I called it “The biggest Justin Bieber Fan Club of all time”, and created “pictures” of the J-man with my direct sales products. I could probably sell a ton of them too. But as soon as Big-J got wind of it, I’m sure his legal eagles would be all over me with a cease and desist order, citing my use of his image as being a violation of his rights to use his likeness to promote a product.

So yes, I could get a short-term gain of new leads, but at what cost? This is an extreme example, to be sure, but this is exactly what you’re doing when you use pictures from your company catalog, use the company brand name, or any unauthorized company logos to promote yourself in ANY venue (online or offline). Because it’s challenging for direct sales companies to track all the ever-expanding social media outlets, most companies create policies that focus on the big 4: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Youtube. It would be virtually impossible to create an exhaustive list of sites, which forces many companies to just say “no online advertising of any kind,” essentially throwing out the baby with the bath water.

My colleague Jennifer Fong has been leading this crusade for a few years now, and slowly the tide is turning, but for those of you stuck in a “no-way” company policy, here are some options to help you continue to market online – without violating company policies:

  1. Make your page about you, not your products or company. Stop blathering on about your super-duper product of the month in public areas of the web. Use your facebook page to talk about you, not your special offers. Take photos of your trips, and the incentives you’ve won. Post pictures from parties, and tag hosts/guests (with their permission). Don’t talk about what company you’re with, just let people ask. Then, you can send them a private message or a link with more details.
  2. Market from a mailing list. Use social media sites as a place for your clients to learn more about you as a public persona, and drive traffic from those sites to an opt-in mailing list. I don’t know any company that presently prohibits you from sending an email to your own list of clients to let them know about your company, your products, and your specials. Plus, this makes a great way to screen prospective leads. They get on your list, THEN they get to learn about your company, your products, your business opportunity.
  3. Stop using logos as your avatar. People want to know, like and trust you, not your logo. Put your friendly face on your online outposts so people can start to see you everywhere, instead of the company logo. Besides, if you ever switch companies (it does happen, you know), then, all your online efforts won’t have to be scrapped.
  4. Stop product pushing and keep it social. Social media is a great funnel, but it’s lousy at converting prospects into customers. What it is GREAT at is turning strangers into friends. Just like your home shows, turning strangers into friends takes time, but ultimately yields better results.
  5. Give them a reason to want to know you. Your product isn’t enough. If you look at the majority of folks that are in your social media circle, it’s probably not because you used the company name on your blog or in your page title. Chances are good that while that may have been why they first ventured to your page, they stick around because they know you, like you or trust you (there it is again!). Do more for your existing online community so that they have more reasons to want to talk to you – and share you with their online community.
  6. Stop trying to circumvent the party. Yes, you can make good money online.  It takes effort, but it’s possible. Yes, you can do it without doing parties. It takes a lot more effort, but it’s possible. BUT… your parties (face-to-face interactions) will always be the most lucrative means of developing a solid direct sales business. The personal touch outshines an email or facebook “like” any day of the week.

I’ve yet to see a company that can prohibit you from having a blog, website or other social media presence that talks about you, rather than your company or product line. By marketing yourself, instead of your company or products, you become the focus of your business – and clients can gravitate toward you. While it sounds a little self-centered, it’s actually creates an asset for your business, because your clients are following you then your product, not the other way around.

27 Comments

  1. Carla K.

    Great Article! Just a reminder that even though you have a company behind you, you are ultimately in charge of your own business. It is best to run it like a business instead of an extension of the “mother ship”. You know, we all have replicated web sites and just within the last year my company implemented the “consultant” page which is the only way to distinguish yourself from someone else (except from your name and phone number) but even that (the consultant page) has some limitations as the choices you have for operationg your business is company directed (hours of operation, delivery, specialty etc. – we have to choose from check box  menus  as for our choices).
    Anywho – Great suggestions as to marketing Oneself for the know, like and trust factor because essentially, you could be just anyone.

  2. Lisa Robbin Young

    Yes. exactly. The “mother ship” – I love that image. 🙂

    When I wrote Home Party Solution a couple of years ago, that was the original idea – to get consultants to stop living under the wing of the company and start being a real business owner – that acts as a distribution company for “the mother ship”. That means your company has to stand on it’s own. If you look at the most successful leaders in any company this is exactly what they do. They run a business and train an organization – that just happens to represent “XYZproductCo.”

    Essentially, if you’ve built a strong organization and a strong book of business, it wouldn’t matter what company you represent, because your clients are there because of YOU. And trust me, even big companies close sometimes (I learned from experience). If you’ve built astrong business of your own, you will be able to move with relative ease to a new company without having to start over from scratch.

  3. WAHM

    Thanks for sharing. It all makes sense & as an online manager of sorts (a self-employed 1099 contractor), I agree with everything you’ve said. What gets me though, as a consultant too (a 1099 contractor), I have never understood how companies can even dictate a 1099’s method of marketing/delivery of product info. It seems to be a very iffy practice as the IRS has pretty clear guidelines about the contractor/company relationships in order to be classified as a contractor & not an employee. I do realize when you sign the consultant agreement, you acknowledge the company’s P&P & recognize you can be terminated if ever found in violation. The P&P gives the company the right to enforce any policy they see fit, but I’m still not sure some of what goes on falls in just a contractor/company relationship – it tends to lean more toward an employee/employer one & that’s a little concerning. JMO… 😉

  4. Jennifer Fong

    I’m one of those weird people who spends a significant amount of my professional life reading direct selling company policies and procedures. The reason companies can dictate an independent contractor’s marketing is because that contractor uses the company’s registered trademarks. If you just went out and talked about yourself without reference to the company, you could do whatever you liked. But if you use a company’s registered trademarks, they are granting a license for its use, and can dictate how it’s used. Hope that helps clarify.

  5. Jennifer Fong

    Point #6 is my favorite one. Sure, online tools give you lots of options, but at the end of the day, the party gives you the most quality, face to face time that leads to new business. It takes a LOT longer to do that online. When you’re calculating the ROI of all your business efforts, dollar per hour is a big deal. Always spend the most time on what will make you the most money in the LEAST amount of time. Even your online efforts should lead to the party whenever possible. 

    Great article Lisa!

  6. Lisa Robbin Young

    Think of it this way, would a retail store (like Wal-Mart, for example) be able to plaster every marketing outlet with the Tide logo and brand name in a way that would make it look like Wal-Mart IS Tide or owns Tide? No.

    Essentially, that’s what’s going on here. There has to be enough ‘distance’ from the company to make it clear to everyone that you are not the company, and only distribute the products. Sadly, when consultants start shouting from the online rooftops about how they’ve got the greatest thing since sliced cheese, it can confuse the customer to the point where they can’t tell who really is the company, and who’s a distributor.

    Every company has rules about how it’s distributors can use the likeness or trademarks of the company brand.

    And like Wal-Mart, sure there are some great deals going on under the roof of the business, but Wal-Mart still advertises Wal-Mart first. The products and deals always come second.

  7. Lisa Robbin Young

    Thanks Jen,

    I know there are folks out there, for whom doing parties is a challenge. Believe me, I’ve been one of those folks, and that’s why I developed Home Party Solution. However, the fact is that if you rely on online sales alone, you’re leaving more than half the money on the table.

    Social media is lousy at conversion, but great for conversation. Which ultimately leads to converstion – over time.

    If you absolutely can’t do parties, there are still ways to work your business, but don’t expect to rake in millions in a matter of months. The online noise is just too overwhelming for tat kind of fairy tale anymore. The fastest path to bigger money means getting in front of people, face-to-face (and on the phone). Period.

  8. At Home CEO

    I agree with this to a certain extent. While my intent with my FB page has always been to market myself, I have used the materials my company has made available to me as well. (Flyers and such that are available to use offline should also be available online, right?) I use my page to create interest in what I am doing and to share MY excitement about something I love; and in turn, I have gotten customers excited enough that they want that personal home party experience. I have achieved my goal. By being cut off from social media, however, that has limited me in what I can do to market myself and the business I love so much! YES myself AND my business, because quite frankly that is the whole point of being in a business like this. Sure I have to sell myself, but I also have to sell my product!

  9. Lisa Robbin Young

    Howdy,
    Couple of things…

    First your handle. “At Home CEO” could imply a number of things, but the first thing that came to my mind was that you’re the CEO of At Home America, which, if that were the case, you wouldn’t have the issues you speak of.

    You could also be meaning that you’re a CEO of a company you run from home, but because there’s not clarity in that title, it leaves the reader to try and figure it out. Sure, it does open the door for someone to ask you what “At Home CEO” means, but more than likely it first creates a whole lot of confusion.

    This is the exact kind of confusion most diret sales companies are trying to eliminate by restricting use of the Internet.

    I get that by using the term CEO it can set you apart and improve your mindset about the company that you are running, but for the rest of the world, it’s a problem. Why not just use a variation on your name?

    In regards to your company flyers… sometimes yes, sometimes, no. Again, it depends on the specific terms of your consultant agreement. Like ads in a print magazine, sometimes you can’t just run them on TV or online, you’ve got to get model releases and other legalities for that stuff.

    Everything that you described can still be done online if you don’t lead with your company info. Create a page with your name, get customers excited enough about you to want to sign up for your private updates (email list, etc), THEN share those company specific details that you can’t share publicly.

    Think of it like this – would you walk into a cocktail party wearing a sandwich board with your company logo on it? Not likely. You’d survey the room, talk to some folks, make some new friends and then start talking about the company you work with. That’s the same way consultants should be treating social media.

    Thanks for joining the conversation, I appreciate your perspective on this, and would love to hear your continued dialogue.

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  12. At Home CEO

    I actually wasn’t even referring to direct sales or business at all when using At Home CEO.. I was referring to being a stay-at-home-mom who wears every hat possible… I often use Domestic Engineer. Maybe that would have been clearer. Basically my point is, I do brand myself along with the company products I am selling. I utilize social media because it is cheap and easy. Home parties are still the heart and soul of my business… the personal touch is THE most important thing; but I like having the option to use social media to my benefit.

    The thing I disagree with most is “leveling the playing field”. That is not even a fair thing to say. In any kind of business, there is never going to be a level playing field because there will always be someone who came first. In direct sales, there is always going to be someone who is higher up, has more customers, etc. So again, there will never be a level playing field.

  13. Lisa Robbin Young

    You’ve got a valid point about the “level playing field” concept. There’s always going to be someone that got there first. Perhaps I should have said Social media is a great equalizer. I’m living proof of that. Without it, it’s not likely I ever would have had conversations with Kathy Ireland, Deepak Chopra, or any number of other people that I’ve met through the social media experience. I’m just a regular unknown in my own hometown, but online it’s a different story. And it had nothing to do with my product or service. People stand on their own merits in Social Media.

    And yes, the option of using SM to promote your biz is cheap and easy – exactly why some companies are prohibiting the use. You are probably one of the folks doing SM right, but sadly, too many are not, which creates the blanket “no internet” policies so many companies have initiated. It’s unfortunate when a handful of rogues spoil it for everyone, but that’s often the “cheap and easy” path for direct sales companies to take, too.

  14. At Home CEO

    That is very true! All of it!

    I love what I do so will keep on with or without the added bonus of social media. The tips in your post are fantastic by the way!

  15. Lisa Robbin Young

    Thanks for that! I’m glad we could have this discussion and hope that the tips are helpful to you. that’s really what I’m all about: trying to help people make the most of what they CAN do to be successful.

    Enjoy your weekend!

  16. Jpasalakis

    What an awesome article!  I love point #1…it helps to build that personal connection with your hostesses and customers.  Looking forward to sharing this article!

  17. Lisa Robbin Young

    Exactly. People want to do business with their friends, if possible.It’s easier to do business with people that know, like and trust you, so why not make it easier for them?

    Thanks for stopping in and sharing your comments!

  18. CC

    This article helped me so much! I was trying to figure out the loop hole around that and felt it had something to do with personal relationships. Love the key points and follow up. Definitely happy that this got passed around Lisa P. thank you for that!

  19. Lisa Robbin Young

    Glad this is helping you. Let me know if you have other questions. Also, there are some great tips shared in the comments, so be sure to read those, too if you haven’t already. Jen Fong shares some keen insights!

  20. Jennsthirtyonegifts

    So I have my page but I can’t use my name so now what? I don’t know what to call it, since I don’t want to move it.

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