Connect with us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Join our LinkedIn Group Subscribe to us on YouTube Share with us on Google+ Subscribe to our RSS feed

July 01, 2012

Cover Story

Wear to Share: The Power of Branded Apparel

by Marilynn Hood

DSN July 2012

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

The objective of traditional advertising is always the same—to interrupt consumers in order to create interest in a sales message. Unfortunately for the companies trying to advertise, consumers have become more and more adept at ignoring these messages. But even in today’s oversaturated advertising climate, the one sales message that can break through the clutter is the recommendation of a friend—an integral part of word-of-mouth advertising. And one very powerful medium for stimulating word-of-mouth advertising is the wearing of branded apparel.

Be the Billboard

By choosing to wear a company’s name, logo or message, you are proudly standing with that brand and what it represents. You act as a walking billboard. In fact, the choice to wear that shirt, cap, jacket or even a button can have a far greater impact than any actual words.

Branded apparel definitely drives engagements and creates inquires. For the independent distributor, wearing clothing displaying their company’s information can activate a dialog that might not otherwise occur. Robin Stevens, Ambit Energy’s Vice President of Marketing Services, says, “For our consultants, we’re always looking for a way to start a conversation. When others see their shirt or cap, they often ask, What is Ambit Energy? or, Where did you get that cool shirt?”


Building a Strong Brand

Just how important is a strong brand to a company? Jonathan R. Copulsky, Principal at Deloitte Consulting LLP, in his book Brand Resilience: Managing Risk and Recovery in a High-Speed World, provides this quote from Benoit Garbe, Vice President at Millward, Brown and Optimor:

“In 1980, virtually the entire value of an S&P 500 company consisted of tangible assets—buildings, machines, inventory, etc. A 2010 study by Millward, Brown and Optimor found that today, these tangible assets account for only 30 to 40 percent of a business’ value. The rest is intangible value, half of which—30 percent of total business value—is attributable to brand. For many companies, brand is their single largest business asset.”

What can a strong brand do for your company? While volumes have been written on the topic, here are a few points to consider:

  • A strong brand makes it easier for the salesforce to sell.
    When your company’s brand is already a known and respected entity, your salesforce can tap into that equity that has already been built up. They don’t have to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, each time they make a presentation. Potential customers are more likely to already have a frame of reference.

  • A strong brand makes it easier for customers to buy.
    As Alina Wheeler points out in her book Designing Brand Identity: An Essential Guide for the Whole Branding Team, “Compelling brand identity presents any company, any size, anywhere with an immediately recognizable, distinctive professional image that positions it for success.” By investing in establishing a strong brand identity, a company can help level the playing field with its customers, even one that may seem tilted toward its competitors.

  • A strong brand delivers a message to consumers.
    A brand stands for more than just a name, logo, product or service. It’s the gestalt, the whole enchilada, the unified concept and collection of all things pertaining to your company. Once your company has established a strong brand identity, your brand doesn’t necessarily need words to speak volumes. After all, you only need to hear that distinctive motorcycle sound for the Harley-Davidson brand to come to mind. Strong brands are able to communicate across various forms of media and to diverse audiences and cultures.

Putting It All Together

Thoughtfully designed branded apparel can play a significant role in a company’s total branding efforts and reinforce the strength of its brand. As Mark Pentecost, CEO and President of It Works! Global, can attest, branded apparel can provide a definite boost, both psychologically to distributors and to the company’s bottom line as well. His company’s newly redesigned apparel line has not only proven to be popular with distributors, but it also helps unify and strengthen the company’s centralized branding theme. “We put a lot of strategy behind it,” says Pentecost, “because we realize how important the apparel is.”

For It Works!, the company’s focused efforts have paid off in a big way, coming together to create what Pentecost calls a “perfect storm.” And he continues, “Since January of this year until now [May 31], we’re up over 400 percent.” As this company can attest, a strong brand is indeed a valuable and powerful asset.

There’s no doubt that a carefully designed message worn on your person can serve to attract others and help start conversations. Consider, for example, the success Herbalife experienced early on with its button, Lose Weight Now—Ask Me How. This single message conveyed the Herbalife brand, offered hope to those struggling with their weight and actually provided them with the question to ask the wearer. This button literally propelled Herbalife to the forefront of the weight-loss world and into the collective consciousness of Americans everywhere.

The attraction of wearing something that “advertises” a brand also speaks to one of the big problems direct sellers face—rejection. Starting a conversation out of the blue can be a difficult skill for a newcomer to master. But when someone is asking about your T-shirt or button, they are making the first move, and are much more likely to be receptive to your message. They may even tell you of someone else they think might be interested, thus generating another powerful form of word-of-mouth advertising—a personal referral.

Many companies have come to understand the importance of their branded apparel and take the design of these items quite seriously. Several whose representatives spoke with DSN recently note that they are in the process of redesigning their clothing. Not only do they want their clothing to be up to date, but they also wish for it to reflect very positively on the company and be in line with their company’s growth.

Blake Mallen, Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer for ViSalus, says, “We’re growing so fast right now that we’re a different company today than we were six months ago, just as we’ll be a different company six months from now. As we work toward becoming a billion-dollar company, we want our clothing to reflect that.”

“We’re growing so fast right now … we want our clothing to reflect that.”
—Blake Mallen, Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer, ViSalus

Advertising by way of consumer wearables is common across all industries for the simple reason that it works. Consider how many items carry the Coca-Cola brand image. Coke even recently premiered its Coca-Cola Clothing 2013 Spring/Summer Collection at Fashion Rio in Brazil. Clearly, consumers are willing to spend their money on items that share the brand in the most personal way—by wearing it.

Companies have also come to realize they need to have clothing designed to flatter females and appeal to feminine tastes, as women make up the majority of independent representatives. Stevens notes, “We’ve had a big demand from our top women consultants for more of the ‘blingy’ Ambit wear. They don’t want to wear a guy’s polo with the logo on it particularly; they want something that’s more feminine.”

It Works! has also made a concerted effort to update its apparel and frequently incorporates bling in the design. With approximately 70 percent of its distributors being women, Mark Pentecost, CEO and President of It Works! Global, received another bit of feedback: Not only has the company’s clothing proven to be popular, but the women, in particular, have told him they like not having to worry about their wardrobe. The clothing is well designed and flattering, so they don’t have to think about what to wear. They can just put on their “black, green and bling” and go.

Ambit Energy
Ambit Energy

Serves as a Powerful Marketing Tool

Branded apparel has indeed proven to be a versatile and powerful marketing tool. DSN called on several companies recently and asked them to share the advantages they have realized from their use of branded apparel.

Leverages Other Marketing Efforts

Beachbody started using infomercials over 12 years ago and with them has built tremendous brand awareness. As a result, Beachbody coaches often gain instant recognition when they wear their company’s branded apparel.

Getting the proverbial “foot in the door” is typically the hardest part of making a sale. Beginning a conversation with a stranger can be awkward for all parties involved. Wearing a brand slogan creates business-building opportunities for independent representatives. “The clothing has been a huge benefit for our coaches,” says Denise Needham, Beachbody’s Senior Director of Training and Field Development. “When they ‘Wear and Share’ their P90X cap or shirt, people respond. It usually sparks a conversation with a stranger.” Because their apparel is often able to play off the company’s other marketing efforts, Needham notes, “Sometimes all our coaches have to do is just be ready!”

Creates Company Awareness and Corporate Identity

Ambit Energy provides residential and commercial customers with energy. Because the company sells a service, there are no physical products with which its consultants can identify. And because the company only services deregulated markets, the states in which it operates are scattered: Texas, New York, Illinois, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. So, for the company’s 150,000 plus consultants who are likewise scattered around the country, Ambit’s branded apparel helps establish for them that sense of corporate identity that might otherwise be lacking.

Ambit’s branded apparel also helps create awareness for their company. Stevens says, “To expand our reach and give credibility to our brand name, and also to make our consultants feel a part of the team, we use a lot of branded apparel.”

Ambit uses so much branded apparel and other branded items that the company recently hired a full-time merchandise manager. As Stevens explained, they want their branding to remain consistent, and they want to make sure that their inventory is both fashionable and readily available in the company’s store. And with the company’s rapid growth, the demand by its consultants is expected to increase even more.

It Works! Global
It Works! Global

Promotes the Company Culture

With more than 150,000 people joining the Body by Vi 90-Day Challenge each month, ViSalus expects to pass its one millionth customer mark soon. In introducing these newcomers to the company, ViSalus uses its branded clothing to reflect the culture of the company.

“Our company offers a lot of apparel,” says Mallen. “We try to offer more of a high-end fitness apparel line called Vi-Gear.” He also notes that the company plans to introduce a more fashion-oriented line of higher-end casual fitness clothing. Creating fashionable branded clothing actually fulfills a dual purpose—the distributor is rounding out his or her wardrobe as well as promoting their business. They are much more likely to keep wearing an item that makes them feel good as well.

ViSalus has attracted a number of celebrities to its company, so projecting the culture of its company through its clothing is doubly important. Always with an emphasis on quality, Mallen notes that the company seeks to offer fashionable, cool-looking clothes that people would want to wear anyway.

Fills a Marketing Void

Although there are some notable exceptions, the vast majority of direct sales companies sponsor very little, if any, traditional advertising done from the corporate level. As Douglas Braun, USANA’s Vice President of Marketing and Recognition, points out, branded apparel can help fill that void.

“It’s not necessarily a void for connecting with potential new customers,” he explains. “Our associates are doing that, and the branded apparel does play a role there.” But Braun goes on to explain, “Branded apparel helps fill the void that traditional advertising fills for current customers and current associates in connecting them with the brand. Advertising is really directed at both audiences. That’s the part I think we miss the most in not doing traditional advertising—the furthering and strengthening of that relationship and connection with the customer and the associate to the brand.”

As these and many other companies can affirm, thoughtfully designed branded apparel can serve many purposes. It has proven to be a valuable asset as well as a powerful marketing tool. As a form of word-of-mouth advertising, the messages it can convey bypass the traditional media forms of advertising and help the company break away from the pack.

What Are the Most Popular Promotionals?

Calendars were, for many years, the top item that companies used for promotional purposes. They are still popular, and for good reason—calendars keep the company’s name in front of people for the whole year. But according to data provided at the website of the Promotional Products Association International, wearables accounted for the greatest percentage of the industry’s sales in 2011, as they have for a number of years now. These items include shirts, aprons, uniforms, blazers, caps, headbands, jackets, neckwear, footwear, and more.

Why Do Companies Purchase?

Companies purchase promotional items for a number of reasons. It may come as no surprise that Brand Awareness garnered the top slot in program initiatives for 2011.