The Reputation Institute recently published a report identifying the key trends driving reputation management for the next few years. While primarily focused on organizations whose brands are household names, the report does provide useful insight for direct sellers concerned about reputation (which they all should be).
Key Trends Driving Reputation Management for Direct Sellers
By Scott Allen – Director of Risk Mitigation at Momentum Factor
1. Know who you are first, and stick to it.
This is solid branding advice. As it applies to direct sellers, the biggest challenge – and the most important – is getting that message to be consistently communicated to and by your independent representatives. This is why it’s critical that you engage in proactive online compliance monitoring, not just for things like product claims and income claims, but for proper use of the brand, logos, identification as independent representatives, off-brand messaging, etc. (There’s an app for that.)
2. Independent representatives will be your reputation ambassadors.
Your independent representatives are the most visible representation of your brand to the general public. Every conversation, every presentation, every photo and tweet they post reflects on your company. That’s why you must provide them with the tools and education to reinforce your brand message, as well as proactively monitor their behavior. And your employees are the most visible face of the company to your field. Sales leaders, compliance and customer service reps all play a critical role in the reputation of your company, so train them accordingly. Do your corporate employs love working at your company? Encourage them to share a review on employer review sites like Glassdoor and Indeed.
3. Reputation management will be a long journey.
More accurately, it’s a never-ending journey, especially in the direct selling industry. You’re not just dealing with a one-time incident; you’re dealing with a somewhat hostile regulatory environment, disgruntled former distributors, and a subculture of highly vocal critics of direct selling. Not to mention the brandjackers who try to ride your brand’s coattails to promote their own supplemental product or service. Improving search engine results typically takes 3-6 months even to see “naked eye” improvement, and getting 100% clean top 10 results can take a year or more, and may never even happen, depending on the specifics of your situation. But that doesn’t mean it’s unwinnable. Even eliminating one negative site from the first page of Google for your company name can result in tens of thousands of additional visitors annually. Don’t fixate on perfection. Better is better.
4. The CEO will lead reputation management in 2020.
Ultimately, the CEO is responsible for the reputation of the company, and needs to take an active rule in driving it as part of the corporate culture. The CEO will need a C-level executive to oversee the execution – someone who can pull together public relations, marketing, field communications, compliance and customer service, as they all play important roles in protecting and building the reputation of the company. This is bigger than just the SEO or social media or PR – it needs to be led at the C-level.
5. The big data revolution brings reputational challenges.
For one of our global clients, we track three brands, three branded taglines, three executive names, spelling and translation variations, plus related search terms like “reviews”, in 30+ countries in which they operate. That’s over 50,000 pieces of search engine ranking data daily and over 15,000 brand mentions per month. To then glean out of that actionable information for marketing specialists, brand managers, regional managers and corporate executives requires specialized tools – not just spreadsheets. Our firm is developing a new software tool to manage this incredibly complex information, stay tuned.
6. Reputation management will increase the value of the business.
Effective use of big data now lets us quantify reputation and correlate that with other key business metrics – search behavior, web traffic, conversions, and ultimately revenue. The most obvious impact of reputation for direct sellers is on the recruitment of new representatives, but it can also affect things like attracting capital for private companies, stock price for public companies, and even regulatory actions.
7. Stakeholders will increase in numbers and influence.
Traditionally, stakeholders have been categorized into four groups: employees, customers, shareholders and regulators. Moving forward, this will expand greatly, incorporating groups like NGOs, local authorities and financial institutions. Field-side industry groups like ANMP, MLMIA and DSWA are growing in numbers and influence, and your company’s reputation will frame those interactions.
8. Personalize messaging will be the norm.
The increasing volume of information being produced by companies is largely being ignored by the stakeholders. There will be less focus on mass media and advertising, shifting instead to proactive, personalized communications. Consider this particularly in your field communication strategy. Can you easily segment your communications based on rank advancement, length of time with the company, tree placement, etc.? You may need to if you want to get your emails read.
9. Industry reputations will more closely affect individual companies.
This is nothing new for the direct selling industry – in fact, it’s probably more true for this industry than any other that a person’s perception of you, positive or negative, will be significantly biased simply based on the fact that you’re a direct seller. Industry organizations like the Direst Selling Association (DSA) and Direct Selling Education Foundation (DSEF) have been working for years on improving the messaging and reputation of the industry. In the coming years, it will be important for companies to think of themselves as representing the industry and championing the business model, not just their individual brand.
10. Societal relevance will help companies, products and services stand out.
As one focus group participant put it, “It is not about putting a buck into philanthropic activities. It is about change in the business.” Showing that your company is having a positive impact on the lives of its customers and representatives is, and always has been, the core message for direct selling companies. Still, we should not lose sight of that and continue to strive to improve that message and reach more people with it.