“Life Vantage Legacy” (Life Vantage)
“Forever Giving” (Forever Living Products)
“Force for Good” (Nu Skin)
“Walk for Breast Cancer” (Avon)
“Healing Hands” (doTerra)
“Foundation for Life” (4-Life)
What do these direct selling companies have in common? The answer is a “cause.” When a company engages in charitable donations and works, we call it “cause marketing” or “social corporate responsibility.” Cause marketing is not new. Many corporations use cause marketing. Individuals and companies, in the USA, donated $373.25 billion to charitable causes in 2015 (The Giving USA). Companies donate to causes because they want to have a positive impact on the world and because it can improve their public perception.
Direct selling companies built on a cause are common. In fact, altruistic commitments might be more common among MLMs than traditional mainstream companies. The cause marketing that direct sellers engage in can be in the form of philanthropic missions the company works toward or it can be built into the products themselves.
Products that make the world a better place
Trades of Hope
Trades of Hope’s business model sets out to change the lives of impoverished women by microfinancing artisan collectives around the world. The artisans craft jewelry, accessories, and decor which Trades of Hope distributors then sell at parties.
Shaklee set out to create products that would not hurt the environment long before the “green movement” was popular. From their corporate website: “Dr. Forrest C. Shaklee founded a company based on Living in Harmony with Nature® that is committed to developing products to improve the health of people and the planet.”
Nature Sunshine set out to foster the use of herbs and oils as a healing product. I remember the mimeographed sheets of paper with a summary of herbs, and their uses.
Missions to make the world a better place
The first way that direct selling companies help causes is to set up philanthropic missions to donate some of their profits. The contributions can be a set amount that the company sets aside to do good in the world or it can be tied to the sales of a particular product.
During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Avon Foundation gave a donation for each social media post in an awareness campaign in Turkey.
Nu Skin, in their Nourish the Children campaign, sell a product called VitaMeal. When you purchase it, a hungry child receives the product itself. Commissions and bonuses are paid on the purchase exactly the same as if you had purchased any product from the company.
Sometimes companies like 4Life take the opportunity to do good because of a current need. Because direct selling companies are set up as networks of people, 4Life could send relief directly to the country and get it to where it was needed.
The impact of representing a cause
How does cause marketing influence the representatives in a direct selling company? Larsen and colleagues (2008) studied the impact a cause can have on distributor behavior and attitudes. 574 respondents (all from one company engaged in one cause) filled out surveys. The survey asked representatives to answer questions on:
- Their belief that customers are aware of the campaign.
- Their identification with the company and selling confidence.
- Their selling behavior.
The findings indicate that representatives identify with the company cause and that the cause is seen positively by customers. The representatives reported that the cause increases their sales confidence and their sales volume.
The study was conducted with a company that has mostly women representatives and the cause was a women’s issue. However, I suspect that having a good cause helps most companies make connections to customers which help sales people sell product. Given that prior research has found a link between cause marketing and customer’s positive perception and purchase of product, this study adds an important element for direct sellers. Your sales force finds selling easier when the organization is involved in a cause, especially if it’s a cause that their customers can relate to.
When I began the research for this article, I googled a few company names looking for examples of cause marketing in direct sales. Each one of the names I searched came up with an associated cause. Given what we know about the impact a cause can have on individual distributors, this isn’t a surprise. Representatives are free agents—they can come and go as they please. Creating a positive environment and experience for them is good business. Doing good for the sake of goodness is nice. Obviously most direct selling companies already know that doing good is good for business. I am proud of the work direct selling companies do to make the world better.
Larson, B.V., Flaherty, K.E., Zablah, A.R. et al. J. of the Acad. Mark. Sci. (2008) 36: 271. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11747-007-0056-y
Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, Giving USA 2016: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2015 (Chicago: Giving USA Foundation, 2016).