marketing direct selling brands
Though you might not know the name, if you grew up in the UK between the 1960s -1990s, you will be familiar with Direct Selling. ‘Party Plan’, as it was then known, was the domain of the mighty Tupperware party empire and the Avon lady who came calling, leaving behind a glossy brochure in her wake, full of lipstick and possibility. If you didn’t attend one, your mum most certainly did. Possibly hosted a couple too.
It would be easy to dismiss these home selling parties as nostalgia of a bygone era, but they were far more significant than that.
Party Plan selling was era-defining and in many ways one of the precursors of omni-channel retail as we now know it. Bringing products, otherwise unavailable, right to a consumer's doorstep, without the requirement of retail premises. And it didn’t end there. For those who made it their venture, this way of selling opened doors to earning, building a risk-free small business and, for many, achieving a financial independence that was otherwise out of reach.
Direct Selling (DS) has many strengths. A lean model, it’s one that can flex and adapt to the times. However, its founding principle of building a buying and selling community, centred around a love of a brand and products, remains one and the same.
surviving and thriving in a pandemic
DS has seen enormous growth in the last few years. The UK’s trade body, The Direct Selling Association (DSA), reported that in 2021 there were 631,000 direct sellers in the UK, making a financial contribution of £1.1 Billion to the economy, with a year on year increase of 45%.*
The Covid years have been a perfect storm for DS and Direct to Customer (D2C) markets. Furloughed or redundant staff with time to spare and an income deficit, coupled with the closure of non-essential shops revealed new opportunities in the consumer and employment markets. Despite being vulnerable to supply chain problems and a lack of face-to-face opportunities, DS has proved itself to be an agile business model, remaining relevant and vital. But how do we market such a specific proposition?
challenges and opportunities
The best way to market the individual brand and the DS proposition is to first understand the challenges.
DS has come under criticism and scrutiny in the last few years. Problems from inferior quality products and pyramid schemes to aggressive selling techniques have given the industry a bad name. While these businesses most certainly exist, naturally not all DS businesses are cut from the same cloth. Understanding the wariness and instilling trust in new and potential DS consumers and consultants is key to addressing, reassuring and moving the industry away from the bad apples.
The most powerful form of marketing is word of mouth. DS is built on a foundation of trust and recommendation; sharing products with likeminded people. Successful DS sellers were influencers decades before the term was coined!
who are you talking to?
To instill trust and successfully market a DS business, it’s necessary to first separate the consumer and consultant audiences; learning how to speak to both separately and collectively. What will drive a consultant? What will drive a consumer? May’s DS clients have benefitted from targeted research in both audiences, which has proved crucial for holistic brand development and communication.
Direct Selling is an enduring and unique retail channel that contributed £1.1 Billion to the UK’s economy in 2021. To market DS brands successfully, an understanding of the two sides of the business needs to be clear.
shouting about strengths
The post-Covid landscape is altogether different, and despite being catastrophic on many levels, it has driven some change for good. Flexible working, once only for the most progressive of workplaces, has become an achievable tick on the wish list. DS is the original flexible working model. The opportunity to be your own boss, work on your own clock, build micro economies but still have the support of a network behind you.
Society’s appetite for home delivery is here to stay. Disruptors to the home shopping model are welcome with many people expressing a desire to move away from the retail behemoths and instead favour smaller businesses. Buying from a local DS consultant fits that bill nicely.
Moreover, enjoying a conversation with a consultant and seeing where your money is going is an enjoyable way to shop; enhancing community, micro-economies and friendship too. It’s a natural, human compulsion which benefits everyone.
Where the pandemic diminished the opportunity for face-to-face selling, it bolstered digital/online shopping. By February 2021, 75% of shoppers reported they had been shopping more online than they had done pre-pandemic.** A steady growth of 8% in online sales is forecast through 2024.*** DS is an agile enough model to mobilise and react to this trend - a strength that is easy to distinguish and enhance through marketing.
In a multi-faceted, multi-channel world with many means of distribution of products and services, DS is a model worthy of serious consideration and has many commercial, environmental and social advantages over other models. DS should be taken seriously because it may prove itself to be the ideal model for 21st century commerce.
And we’re here to help market it.
Are you a Direct Selling brand in need of some help with your DS marketing? Let’s talk.
* https://dsa.org.uk/ All data is based on the DSA Member Company Survey 2021 and Independent Seller Survey 2021 carried out by the UK Direct Selling Association
** https://www.statista.com/statistics/1230225/changes-in-online-buying-among-uk-consumers-since-covid-19/ Shopping habits of the UK throughout the pandemic and beyond
*** https://www.trade.gov/impact-covid-pandemic-ecommerce Growth of online retail sales
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