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March 01, 2012

DSA News

Campaigning for our Industry and America’s Future

by Amy M. Robinson

Click here to order the Direct Selling News issue in which this article appeared.

Economy. Jobs. Unemployment. Small Business. In this presidential election year, when you hear those words, it’s natural to think you’re listening to a campaign ad. With just eight months until Election Day it’s a sure bet these buzzwords will be heard from a TV screen near you. But in this column you won’t find any campaign promises or attacks on anyone’s voting record. In this column, those words carry a far different message—a positive and powerful message only direct selling can deliver.

Recently DSA asked several direct selling executives to provide their thoughts about the outlook for direct selling in 2012. The results were a compelling mixture of caution and optimism—an exploration of the potential challenges ahead for direct sellers, buffered by the recognition that direct sellers are uniquely equipped to break new ground and serve as a model for economic recovery, one salesperson at a time.

So what did these executives identify as areas of concern?

Effectively appealing to a younger generation

Generation Y wants flexibility, control and integration of their personal and professional lives. Direct selling offers these things, but are we doing a good enough job spreading that message to a younger audience? The future of direct selling depends on recruiting younger generations and doing so must be near the top of our priority list.

Adapting quickly to evolving consumer behavior

Instant gratification is a must for many consumers, but at the same time, they value personal recommendations above almost anything else. Next time you’re in a store note how many people are standing in an aisle staring at their phone—chances are many of them are checking online resources about a product they are considering. Being out in front in personalized customer service is a must.

Being overlooked as a source of “jobs”

The employment outlook remains somewhat grim, but for all the talk about job creation, direct selling is rarely considered a generator of “jobs.” Yet for many, direct selling is exactly what helps them bridge the gap or even becomes their primary source of income. We must find ways to change the public’s mindset about what “employment” means and become part of the national solution.

But in every challenge exists an opportunity, and in direct selling, there is certainly no shortage of opportunity. While seeing the obvious economic advantage for direct selling, the executives we heard from still think the industry’s biggest asset lies in simply telling the story of direct selling. This means we must:

  • Exemplify direct selling as an unlimited source of “jobs” in an economy that so desperately needs them.
  • Continue to bring innovative products to market. Opportunity may be the key to attracting people to direct selling, but the products and services are essential in fulfilling the promise. Direct sellers must stay at the forefront of innovation in order to remain competitive.
  • Shine a bright light on corporate responsibility, which is already in our DNA, to attract positive attention.
  • Support the growth of the small business community—even beyond direct sellers. Every direct seller is in essence a small business, and laws that affect small businesses affect direct sellers. The small business community is a powerful one in our country. We will consequently increase our visibility and legitimacy by driving support for small businesses everywhere.

On second thought, maybe this is a campaign—a campaign where direct selling is the unexpected front-runner in the race to economic recovery, and the promise is delivered each time someone creates a better life for themselves or someone else. Our message may not be carried on major TV networks for the next eight months, but we have an even better network that can carry our message. Let’s take advantage of the inherent strengths of our model and claim our rightful position as a key driver of a prosperous economy.

Amy RobinsonAmy M. Robinson is Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of the U.S. Direct Selling Association.