I’m here to talk about multi-level marketing schemes, or “pyramid schemes,” from a couple of perspectives—of course, as they pertain to branding, but also what they say for the people that keep these schemes afloat.
Businesses based on multi-level marketing are what I call the best of both worlds; they’re extremely product- and offer-centric, yet have a legion of brand ambassadors that completely identify themselves as the brand, because it literally affects their paychecks.
As such, these businesses are brilliant from a traditional, business-first perspective. They solve the problem of the usual disconnect between consumer and business, where the consumer is forced to look for life’s solutions in an atmosphere in which they are immediately skeptical. Instead, consumers aren’t consumers; they’re just people talking to their friends.
Now, I’m not really talking about the pyramid schemes that gained traction in the ‘80s and ‘90s, like Amway. I’m talking more about businesses that have found a new relevance in social media like Mary Kay, Jamberry, and Beach Body. In a way, these brands almost mimic the brands of the “new modern”. That is, the brands that actually focus on making good products, treating consumers with respect, and educating those consumers. But there is a catch—these businesses might appear just fine to their customers, but their employees are given the short end of the stick.
Their newfound brand ambassadors, eager to do their best, take to every viable soapbox they have. They advertise on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. Sometimes it’s discreet, but other times it’s audacious. Either way, your friends are giving you voluntary reviews of a product or service.
That’s just one end of the deal. The corporations who reap the benefits of these sincere endorsements take advantage of our culture and our economy. They feed into the growing need for us to create our own paths or have control over how we spend our time, and it’s at our own expense. These businesses make billions from brand recognition while their representatives are only making money from raw product sales. Those sales are nothing compared to the boost in market authority and public awareness the brand gets from paying lower-middle class folks a measly commission on merchandise.
So these faceless corporate entities are sucking marketing resources out of us innocent consumers, what are we supposed to do? Well, I think the people who are making good money for these businesses have great skill. Actually, in order to really make a dent in the market for these products, you need to have a knack for communicating a message to people, and you probably need a decent consumer base, i.e., a friends list! So, if the corporations are able to recognize the value in your skills and your impact, why don’t you? I think if half the people involved in peddling these products started their own, original businesses, the marketplace would be a different place altogether.