Stephen Cherry, a senior marketing specialist at Amway Corp., has 13 years of strategic-marketing experience. He has launched multiple mobile tours and played an integral role in the development of Amway's storefront business center.
You won't find a copy of Publilius Syrus' works among the stacks of Direct Selling News, Advertising Age, and other trappings of his trade in Stephen Cherry's office. But it's not hard at all to imagine the senior marketing specialist giving an enthusiastic thumbs up to a piece of marketing advice the ancient Roman writer penned 2,000 years ago: "A good reputation," said the ex-slave once recognized by Julius Caesar for his insight, "is more valuable than money." Cherry, who has been with Amway Corp. for four years, polished and protected the company's reputation with an ingenious approach – including simple kindness – that helped increased the positive perception of Amway and enticed thousands to learn more about the direct-selling firm's opportunities as well as its products.
Founded in 1959, Amway is the world's largest direct-selling company, according to the industry publication Direct Selling News. Its 2012 revenues of $11.3 billion were greater than Avon Products Inc., Mary Kay Inc., and the entire gross domestic product of Nicaragua. The Ada, MI-based company built its success mustering an army of what are known as independent business owners (IBOs). These independent contractors can buy products directly from Amway, then sell and deliver them straight to their customers in their homes or to other IBOs they recruit.
Two for the Road
Early in 2012, Amway charged Cherry with improving brand awareness and favorability in the company's key markets. For any marketer, that's analogous to telling a baseball player to just go out and hit a couple home runs. But when it comes to boosting Amway's reputation, there's a variable that adds more cowbell to the challenge – the belief, persistent as a mosquito, that the company is a pyramid scheme. Despite the Federal Trade Commission ruling in 1979 that Amway wasn't a nefarious scam, the pejorative clung to the company like a shadow.
A 10-year marketing veteran in the collegiate sport, wireless communication, and automotive industries, Cherry did what anyone who's ever seen "The Avengers" or "The Magnificent Seven" would do – he marshaled his own team into action. Joining forces with EEI Global Inc. of Rochester Hills, MI, Cherry and his colleagues at Amway pondered the problem. Yet all the time, the answer had hovered close by: mobile tours. From 2008 to 2011, the company wheeled around the country with a series of three separate road shows that reached key demographics for its brands. In 2008, for example, Amway sponsored Tina Turner's North American tour. Following the soul singer through her 36-concert tour, Amway set up a customized 1,000-square-foot, product-jammed semitrailer, and a motor coach outside stadiums and concert halls. There, Amway offered Turner enthusiasts a spa-like experience with its health and beauty products.
Though Cherry had not worked on the Turner tour, he knew how effective another one, teased and tweaked a bit, could be in reaching the company's marketing goals. Amway decided to dub the mobile-marketing event the Amway Conveys Quality tour, a name that mirrored the tagline of the company's national advertising campaign at the time. "The name was designed to put Amway's high-quality health and beauty products front and center in the tour's efforts to build the Amway brand," Cherry says.
|Amway generated 10
million impressions, and
accumulated 430,000 deep
engagements, 30 percent
above its goal. Nationally,
its surveys showed an
increase in approval
among all Americans.
Next, the company crafted a three-part strategy. First, it would focus on just six key markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. Amway chose these metropolitan areas because company data identified them as having large concentrations of IBOs, and high potential growth opportunities for increasing IBO recruitment, which would lead to improved product sales. To maximize exposure, it would also piggyback on 84 existing events in those markets, setting up where there would already be swelling crowds, such as festivals, marathons, major league baseball games, concerts, and even air shows. To wring the most out of the tour, Amway split it into dual parts, which would run concurrently from March 2012 to December 2012: One would operate on the West Coast region, and a second one would navigate over an East Coast/Midwest circuit.
Second, it would focus on brand activations with staff at each stop engaging visitors with informational displays, product samples, and a sweepstakes.
But it was the third and last leg of Cherry's strategic tripod that would intrigue visitors and rivet All-Star Awards judges. EEI Global tossed out the notion of injecting random acts of kindness (RAKs) into the tour. The concept hit with the force of a head-on collision: Amway felt it was about caring and nurturing, and that its products improved lives. So, whether they were as simple as buying someone a cup of coffee, perhaps, or donating time to a worthy cause, RAKs would be a physical expression of that belief. "We found RAKs to be a perfect complement to our corporate vision, 'Helping people live better lives,'" Cherry says.
In contrast to the scope of the mobile tour and the shrewdness of the RAKs, Amway's goals to improve the public perception of the company and generate 330,000 deep engagements had a meat-andâ?"potatoes feel to them. Surveys would gauge the hoped-for bump in approval. The engagements would be measured by the number of guests interacting with staff, watching multimedia presentations, sampling products, or registering for the sweepstakes.
The Call of Nurture
Sporting events, including
baseball games, were
Visitors tried Amway products, nibbled on
snacks, and chatted with staffers.
Amway stopped at
crowded events like
One of Amway's random acts included
buying lunch for employees of a
salon/spa in Long Grove, IL.
The company gave
flowers to support
staff and office
personnel in Hun-
tington Park, CA.
With the strategy, logistics, and goals in tow, Amway plunged into the tour in March 2012 with the energy of a Jack Russell Terrier. IBOs were alerted about the road show through the company's website, Facebook page, and Twitter feed. It also sent email blasts to IBOs living within 200 miles of each target market. The e-blasts provided information about each individual stop in that area, giving IBOs ample time to make plans to attend and invite others to stop by.
From a major league baseball game in San Francisco to an Ironman contest in Lake Placid, NY, the company stopped at almost 90 events, drumming up interest for potential IBOs and giving out nearly 150,000 product samples. The East Coast/Midwest version, for example, appeared at the Northeast Exchange Rib Fest in St. Petersburg, FL. What occurred at the cookout carnival displayed much of the tour in microcosm. A 53-foot-long double-expandable tractor-trailer (some smaller stops used only a van) parked near the main entrance and close to one of the music stages for the three-day event. Two Amway staffers (their numbers varied from one to four per stop), along with three locally contracted helpers (of which there were usually two to five), outfitted the 50-by-70-foot space. Amway welcomed established IBOs and curious guests alike, who stopped in between rocking out to live musical acts and feasting on ribs. Under a tent outside the trailer, guests could amp up their phones on a cellphone-charging station, check out company information on an iPad, or watch a conveyor belt rotate around a 42-inch monitor. Loaded with Amway products, the belt circled the monitor, which played an Amway commercial. Inside the trailer, visitors enjoyed an elegant, spa-like setting where they dabbed on samples from the Artistry skin-care line and nibbled on Nutrilite energy bars. Guests could also enter a sweepstakes to win a trip to Peter Island in the Caribbean and take home samples of Legacy of Clean wipes and Nutrilite's Fruits & Vegetables 2GO Twist Tubes. With the meat-eating extravaganza drawing 30,000 people, Amway racked up 4,610 deep engagements, an impressive 15 percent of all attendees at the fest.
As much as the numbers from this example suggest how potent this part of Cherry's approach was, the straw that stirred this particular drink was the RAKs, a social movement tracing its origin to counterculture writer Anne Herbert. In the years after Herbert scribbled the words "Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty" on a place mat in a Sausalito, CA, restaurant in 1982, RAKs have spread around the globe with a viral speed and scope of the contagion in zombie movies. Whether the tour stopped in mountains, or on beaches, or in cities, Cherry and his team felt RAKs possessed an all-embracing appeal that could connect with everyone.
Indeed, the RAKs extended a living chain of goodwill from sky-high terrain to sea-level turf. In Poway, CA, two Amway staffers braved the steep Mt. Woodson Trail to pass out bottles of water and samples from the company's Nutrilite line to hikers in need of a healthy snack. During Administrative Professionals Week, another Amway duo handed out bouquets of fresh flowers, along with bags containing samples from its Artistry skin-care brand, to Huntington Park, CA, personnel in schools, city hall, and the police department. In Chicago, the company served breakfast and coffee to firefighters and police officers.
Down in Key West, FL, Amway rented an electric car, then cruised near the sun-scorched beaches, passing out sunglasses, sandals, and hats to people. The company sponsored the 2012 New York City Walk Now for Autism Speaks, while in Grand Rapids, MI, Amway staff read to elementary-school kids, prepped food for Meals on Wheels programs, and volunteered time at an Easter Seals organization. The account of Amway's altruism goes on and on. While the company notes not all RAKs seemed to meet with universal acclaim, the overall response appeared to be as warm as marshmallows melting in a steaming cup of cocoa.
Small Acts, Big Results
The tour's results likely brought a smile to Cherry as much as the RAKs did their beneficiaries. Amway generated 10 million impressions, and accumulated 430,000 deep engagements, 30 percent above its goal. Of those deep engagements, 31 percent surfed over to Amway.com for more information, while 27 percent expressed some interest in becoming an IBO. Nationally, its surveys showed an immediate 2-percent increase in approval among all Americans, but that was small potatoes compared to another poll that showed an astonishing 60-percent spike in favorability among those who visited a display.
But why did Amway's approach appear to work? Research by consulting agency Fidelum Partners found customers respond to brands in the same way that they do people. The Newtown Square, PA-based company studied how 5,000 people reacted to 41 leading brands. It learned how warm and competent a company appears accounts for 50 percent of purchasing interest and brand loyalty. Thus, Amway's combination of effective, widespread product distribution and good deeds seemed to foment admiration in attendees. These people thus began to feel an attraction to, and affiliation with, the Amway brand.
Besides its striking outcome, the tour also created a template the company could follow for future events, mixing business with benevolence. In the end, Cherry and Amway proved that, as the ancient storyteller Aesop put it, "No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted."