"Network marketing is like affiliate marketing on steroids," explains Chris Peterson. "A lot of people said you can't do network marketing on the Internet. It's a high-touch sales relationship."
In the fall of 2002, Peterson, a former marketer for $100 million powerhouse subscription site Ancestry.com, quit his job to spend five months of intensive research studying the MLM industry. "When I first started going to meetings, they'd say 'Oh you're that Internet guy. You'll never succeed. Let me do you a favor -- give up. You can't go to church online, you can't get a haircut online, you can't do MLM online.'"
But Peterson knew one thing none of the so-called experts did. Their sites stank. No one he knew had tested applying best practices in online marketing to an MLM offering.
So Peterson decided to market a single health product, XanGo, that he was truly passionate about (you can't launch a network of evangelists unless you yourself share the fervor) and set out to prove the entire industry wrong.CAMPAIGN
Peterson's idea was to mix online and offline tactics. He expected offline word-of-mouth would be critical to generate interest, and then the site would serve as a conversion machine.
The site had to be persuasive enough to turn these pre-warmed leads into credit card orders for an initial order of $165. Plus all customers also agreed to be charged $130 min per month from then on for an automatic shipment of two more cases of XanGo they could use and/or resell.
Over the next two years, he and his team tested seven specific tactics to turn the site into a conversion machine:
Tactic #1. Super-simplify site design
You may be surprised when you see the before-and-after home page design screenshots (creative samples link below) because Peterson's first design was fairly simple. In fact, most Web designers would consider it clean and uncluttered.
"There were too many tabs and click here links. It was like looking at Amazon. I started going to live presentations and realized you don't just stand up and say, 'OK tell me what you want to know.' You have some PowerPoints; you walk them through some sort of linear progression. We were just shotgunning."
The old home page had 11 hotlinks plus eight tabs on the navigation bar. The revamped home had seven hotlinks and six navigation tabs. Plus text copy and graphic design elements were slashed in half.
Tactic #2. Site tour offer
The home page had one big new item -- a tour offer promoted via several of the links. This functioned as the sales presentation, walking visitors through the key copy points step-by-step.
Peterson decided against Flash in favor of a page-by-page HTML presentation. "I hate Flash presentations. I think most people click them off and visitors can't bookmark specific pages unless the web programmer first sets it up using advanced scripting."
The tour was about 20-minutes long -- insanely long for an online presentation. "It's a weeding-out process. People that get through it are totally into it. You have to be committed to make it through."
That commitment would be critical. According to Peterson the 85%-90% of typical new MLM sign-ups (promoted via traditional methods) bail in just 30-60 days. Only consumers who stick with the program longer, and in turn recruit more resellers, make MLM profits possible.
Tactic #3. Audio for non-readers
"Some people don't like to read online," notes Peterson. This is especially a problem for marketers in the health and wellness industry that traditionally targets older consumers. (People over 40 have more trouble reading on-screen type.)
Plus, "Anything that lets a customer feel more connected to whoever is making this product is important. The first time I heard a podcast [an audio blog] was pretty intense. You feel like this is a *real* person. I'm connecting rather than just reading a blog!"
So the team added streamed audio narration, first as an integral part of the tour and later to other areas of the site.
At first they picked a professional voiceover artist so the site would sound as professional as possible. But at the very last minute, the team changed their minds. The power of MLM marketing is sincere evangelism -- and that's almost impossible to fake.
The team digitally recorded themselves talking about the product and used the best takes as the site's content.
(Later when a Spanish-language version of the site launched, the team had to resort to a professional voice. One of them sat in the studio beside the artist, exhorting him to try harder until the fervor was really there. This took longer than a typical session would, but the team felt the expense was worth it.)
Tactic #4. New account and sales tickers
Web design showing a steady stream of text information (such as headlines) scrolling on the screen has been around forever. You don't see it much in 2005, but in 1997 it was everywhere. Peterson knew the tactic has been discredited by direct marketers and usability experts. But he decided to test it anyway.
His idea: try showing a constantly moving and updating list of new customers' names. Seconds after a new order is placed on the site, the customer's name would appear. Example:
Emily V., OH 10:07 ET 8/9/2005; Rebecca M., NJ 10:06 ET 8/9/2005;
Bob S., TX 10:04 ET, 8/9/2005
"It just screams credibility. 'Oh wow, there's other people trying this. I won't be the only one.' This site is obviously selling cases every few minutes."
Two keys: Peterson held back from launch until the site had sales roughly every four minutes so it wouldn't be counterproductive and scream "lame site." Plus, he purposely protected the customer's privacy by only revealing first name, last initial and state.
After waiting with bated breath, "We never heard a complaint, which was surprising," he launched an additional ticker, this one as a brag-and-boast board for his top-selling affiliates.
Tactic #5. Continually generate new testimonials
Testimonials are also credibility-builders. As soon as they had a few dozen customers, the team emailed them a quick note asking if they could write a few words about their personal experience with the efficacy of the product. Some customers even sent in audio files talking about the product.
If a few testimonials are good, more can only be better. Peterson integrated the testimonial request into the site itself both as a final link on the testimonials listing page and on the customer's own account info pages.
Tactic #6. Landing page versus home page
As mentioned above, the entire site was developed to convert already warmed leads from offline word of mouth marketing. But Peterson soon had affiliates complaining about their conversion rates.
Why? Turns out inevitably some were using online marketing, especially search marketing, to reach out to a broader universe. These leads didn't have any pre-education or personal relationship with the affiliate who sent them to the site. They were essentially cold leads.
After simplifying their home page, the last thing the team wanted to do was complicate it again by trying to appeal to leads in two very different stages of the sales cycle. Instead they decided to launch a landing page designed specifically to convert cold leads. (Link to sample below.)
The team assumed most landing page visitors would require a series of ongoing education and multiple touches before they converted.
So, instead of promoting XanGo purchases, the landing page promoted the free tour. One hitch -- visitors were required to register to access the tour from that page. Then, presumably their contact information could be used to re-promote and educate them until they were ready to convert.
Key: Although the landing page collected email addresses in return for tour access, the team decided to make their email program 100% double opt-in. This meant no affiliate could be tempted to upload a list of names who might not be strictly permission-based.
Plus, it helped assure overall deliverability by keeping the site's reputation clean with the ISPs.
Tactic #7. 14-step email autoresponder series
New names that double-opted-in next received a 14-message autoresponder series at the rate of one message every other day for 28 days. (Link to samples of all 14 below.) If they hadn't converted by then, they were dropped from the file to avoid the possibility of spam complaints.
"We're always tweaking the copy," notes Peterson. "The letters are not very hypey. They sound very sincere, like they are written from one real human being to another." If the registrant is an affiliate's contact, that affiliate's name and contact info appear on each message.
"In two years we've never had less sales volume at the end of a month than we did the month prior," says Peterson proudly. In fact, the site's revenues took off so quickly that he was able to persuade his former boss and a co-worker to join the fledgling company.
(How cool is that to start a company and hire your old boss?)
The home page revamp (simplifying design and adding the tour, audio and the ticker) went live February 2004. In March conversions rose 77%.
The conversion rate of landing page visitors varies significantly between affiliates and their traffic sources. However, of the visitors who register on that page, 71% reply to the double-opt-in email and continue on with the educational autoresponder.
11% of total autoresponder recipients ultimately convert to signing up for monthly shipments charged to their credit card at $130 minimum plus a $35 new member fee. 9% unsubscribe to the autoresponder.
Here are those totals broken down by the day they occur. (Day one is the same day as registration.):
Day of email paids unsubs
Day 1 22% 12% Day 3 10% 7% Day 5 7% 6% Day 7 4% 5% Day 9 4% 6% Day 11 3% 5% Day 13 3% 5% Day 15 3% 5% Day 17 3% 4% Day 19 2% 4% Day 21 3% 3% Day 23 2% 3% Day 25 2% 3% Day 27+ 30% 4% (day of) plus 28% sometime later
We've saved the best news for last -- turns out unlike traditional offline MLM marketers, the team's site has a 60-70% average retention rate of total customers who continue to pay monthly after the first 60 days. Useful links related to this article
Creative samples from MyMangoSteen.com including emails, landing page, and before-and-after site home page: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/mms/study.html
MLM Marketing Watchdog -- a magazine serving the industry: http://www.mlmwatchdog.com
Peterson's site: http://www.mymangosteen.com