How companies can learn from Tupperware’s cautionary tale, and rethink the ways they engage with their audience in a digital-first world
Is there anything more quaint in sales and marketing than the door-to-door salesperson? It conjures images of a man in a suit explaining how his model of vacuum can clean up even the most stubborn dirt or how his knives can slice a tomato paper-thin.
Door-to-door sales have been on the decline since the 1980s, yet even today in 2020, on the heels of a pandemic that has forced dramatic changes to the way we conduct face-to-face business, there are still lots of companies that rely on some form of offline sales. If this sounds like you, read this cautionary tale about how one iconic “boots-on-the-ground” company rose and fell, but can still move toward digital transformation without having to compromise its beliefs or fundamentally rethink its brand—and how you can too.
The Case of Tupperware: A Giant’s Rise, Fall and (Opportunity for) Redemption
Tupperware was a first-of-its-kind product, developed in the mid 1930s with demonstrable benefits in storing food longer than existing methods. As was common at the time, the main sales channel was an on-the-ground sales force. And then in 1949, at the suggestion of a single-mother salesperson (who later became the company’s vice president of marketing), the Tupperware party, experiential marketing at its finest, was born. Over the next 50 years, the Tupperware party became a ubiquitous concept synonymous with the brand.
Yet as the digital age dawned and consumers gained on-demand access to any product imaginable (including food storage products sold by competitors), Tupperware continued to rely heavily on offline channels. Although a direct-to-consumer page was added to the company’s website in late 2019, at a time when demand for food storage had been at its highest point in the last five years, the first few months of 2020 were among the worst-performing periods in the company’s recent history.
So what now for companies, perhaps yours, that rely even in some part on offline sales? The time has come to adapt to a digital-first world. Thankfully, adapting does not mean fundamentally rethinking who you are; it means rethinking how you engage. And as a company still operating with offline sales teams, you have a couple of options to consider as you undergo a digital transformation.
Option 1: Empower Your Sales Force to Go Digital
The offline sales force model relies on creative and driven individuals to sell products. So digital transformation could come in the way you empower and lead your sales team and affiliates.
Your business relies on creativity and innovation of affiliates, but that innovation can’t exist if they don’t have the fundamental understanding of how to engage in a digital world.
Here’s how: Training your sales team requires that you deeply understand, or partner with someone that understands, what a digital transformation requires. Affiliates should be confident in their ability to build web experiences, host virtual events and promote products on social media. They should also be comfortable with the concepts of SEO and paid media.
Even with knowledge, the idea of migrating an offline business online can be daunting. Equipping your sales team or affiliates with the right tools for the job so they don’t have to make those decisions themselves could be the difference between an empowered sales force and a dwindling one.
Here’s how: Providing a platform to host virtual events, free or discounted hosting through Shopify, and other perks can help to limit anxiety and reduce attrition.
Once they have the knowledge and tools to make the change, your team just needs incentive and motivation. Driving excitement for transformation unlocks the energy and deep thinking that your company will need to make this transition successful.
Here’s how: Make it known how important this transition is for the future of the company and for them. They need to feel like they’re part of leading the transition and that they won’t be left behind.
Option 2: Go Direct
Alternatively, it may be time to look at a new and more direct way of doing business. The lower overhead costs associated with digital-first businesses can make it appealing to invest in more of a self-serve approach. Sales teams and affiliates may still drive revenue, but a strong digital presence can provide a hedge against disruption.
Develop a web strategy
Create a map of how your customer purchases your product. Remove any hurdles or slowdowns that may have been acceptable in an offline environment but will only serve to reduce sales in a faster-paced digital world.
Here’s how: Optimizing your website with conversion rate in mind will be key to your success. Can customers get the information they need quickly? Does your site drive people to a sale? Is there a path to conversion from anywhere on the page? Develop a list of conversion-rate hypotheses and begin constant testing and measurement. Utilize attribution and analytics tools to capture as much data as possible to help with improving the experience and effectiveness of your traffic channels.
Develop a content strategy
Now you need to think about what you want to say and how. Content can cover everything from your blog, your social media channels, or even the imagery you use to showcase your product. Your content is your voice and every bit of it communicates your message.
Here’s how: Content needs to speak consistently and clearly to your customer and it needs to be optimized for search engines. Developing fresh, relevant, and engaging content is an ongoing and never-ending process that needs focus and clear goals. Develop a content strategy and calendar for the next 6 to 12 months with flexibility to respond as your situation changes.
Develop a media strategy
Finally, how are you going to acquire the right users to your site at the moment in their lives that they are looking to purchase or otherwise engage with your product? A strong digital media plan will clearly define your traffic channels, your budgets, and, most importantly, your objectives for each channel. Ultimately, your media plan is the map of your hypothesis that you plan to test in the next one-to-three months, a starting point to test and optimize your way to performance and growth.
Here’s how: Understand your customer. What kinds of content do they consume, what social networks do they use, and how do they entertain and educate themselves? Build a media plan that introduces your message to these customers the moment they realize that they have a problem. Educate them when they are looking to learn more. Give them the incentive and the opportunity to convert when they make their decision, and get out of their way.
Don’t Go It Alone
Tupperware is not the first nor the only company that’s in this situation. Countless industries are dealing with the fallout of social distancing and the limitations of our new world. Find an agency that understands your business challenges and work closely with them to create a plan. A good digital marketing agency can bring a depth of ideas and experiences that would be far more difficult and expensive to build in-house. Ensure that your agency understands who you are as a company and shares your values and vision.
With the right partners, building a strong foundation in the new digital-first era is well within reach.
Illustration courtesy of unDraw.