Direct Sales and MLM Strategies Elect A Prime Minister
by Michael L. Sheffield
As direct selling professionals we sometimes view our channel of marketing as mainstream. Corporate executives can easily fall into the trap of believing the hype of their own marketing departments. We live in a biosphere where we see every consumer product and service as a potential candidate for MLM distribution. In fact, the prophesy of many old-time MLMers that the majority of consumer products will be sold through MLM making the retail store obsolete is beginning to look more like reality than fantasy. In fact, we can find nearly every type of consumer product and service offered by aggressive MLM and direct selling companies around the world.
Will MLM distribution replace retail stores? Probably not in our lifetime, if ever. If there is any challenge to true mainstream merchandising through retail outlets, it is the Internet combined with a “dumbed down” version of MLM called affiliate marketing. Affiliate marketing combines the customer appreciation award programs concepts used so successfully by the airlines with referral incentives through compensation using an MLM-style format. It is sometimes called “MLM Lite.” While the jury is still out on the public’s acceptance of online shopping, it is obvious that even major corporations are rethinking their future marketing strategies in an effort to get closer to their customers and prospects using tactics that are very familiar to all of us in Multi-Level Marketing. While MLM strategy has been primarily to drive sales of a product or service through a geometrically growing distributor network, could the concept be used to recruit and motivate volunteer advocates for a political candidate giving an “unfair advantage” to win an election?
My travels in support of my clients have taken me around the world where the MLM concept is being used in uniquely creative ways. One of the most interesting applications I have seen was during a trip to Thailand in early 2001 for an industry convention, along with MLM industry dignitaries Dr. Keith Laggos and attorney Jeffrey Babener. During this trip I was honored to meet with the Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand. An interesting situation had taken place where the MLM method hatched in America had been used to elect the country’s new Prime Minister. It seems the local media had given credit to Multi-Level Marketing for the success of the election of their new prime minister, Thanskin Shinawatra of the Thai Rak Thai party. The Thai Rak Thai party set the stage for this historic election triumph using unprecedented methods for recruiting rural political canvassers. Their election strategy proved formidable.
To ensure victory at the polls, the Thai Rak Thai Party successfully applied new business strategies, recruiting new members in rural areas using a “Multi-Level Marketing Blueprint.” According to party insiders, along with massive publicity and other tactics, one of the party’s top priorities was to ensure that local candidates recruited at least 45,000 to 50,000 new members in each constituency. The party’s research team concluded that anyone who obtained 20,000 to 30,000 votes would win. Therefore if the party’s members in each locality reached the target level, the party’s victory was 100 percent guaranteed.
After candidates were agreed upon, the second stage called for the formation of a volunteer corps. Candidates coordinated with the party’s strategists to identify important issues on which volunteers should focus.
Party leaders were dispatched to make orientation speeches about the party’s platform and give briefings on political conditions. The orientations lasted only one day. After the functions, each volunteer received a certificate of merit for attending. According to General Thamrak Isarangkul, one of the party’s strategists, after these sessions the volunteers served as party representatives.
Once this initial step was firmly established, each potential candidate appointed a canvasser in each region. In rural areas, canvassers were normally drawn from among former village heads, teachers or bureaucrats.
Like an MLM recruiter, each region canvasser then went out to look for canvassers at the village level. The number of canvassers was proportional to the number of potential voters. In a village with 1,000 people, representing at least 700 potential voters, there would be around 70 canvassers.
The canvassers were trained by party strategists, who offered advice on specific issues affecting village life. The most important part of the job was to give the canvassers a sense that they were doing something important that would change Thailand for the better. If this is sounding familiar, just look at how the best of breed of today’s MLM companies position their mission, philosophies, and philanthropic causes for the betterment of their fellow man.
Any person at the region or village level who fulfilled their recruitment target was singled out for recognition. A canvasser who could sponsor 10 party members would be praised and their names sent to the party’s headquarters in Bangkok. All new members were issued a party membership card.
This new system of membership registration allowed for greater control of voter turnout. The old system was very loose and lacked systematic assessment.
The use of marketing techniques broadened Thai Rak Thai’s base in the rural areas. Anyone unable to fulfill the target set by election campaigners was immediately withdrawn.
One canvasser said the Thai Rak Thai party had a clear policy that could be easily explained to villagers. “Sometimes it was hard for them to understand. So we had to explain it again,” he said. After they understood the policies he asked for their support. If they agreed, he would invite them to be members or go campaigning with the other canvassers. If not, he would forget about them.
Other canvassers who helped win the election echoed the sentiment that the Thai Rak Thai party had policies they could identify with and which, in their view, could improve their lives.
As the details of their election strategy unfolded, I was once again reminded of the awesome power of the MLM concept. Duplication through sponsoring others who adopt similar goals and beliefs who sponsor and indoctrinate others creating geometric growth can be used as a powerful tool to promote a product or a cause. For the most part this is used for good. But our recent history has proven it can be used for evil as well.
As an MLM corporate executive, you have the knowledge to change the buying habits of everyone your company touches. You have the ability to spread your own positive philosophies supporting the message of free enterprise and entrepreneurship that many Americans take for granted. This is a power we all can use to create tremendous good to help thousands of people to a better way of life. If a new political party in a foreign country can use MLM tactics to elect a prime minister, what could your company accomplish by creating an aggressive sponsoring blueprint for your own growth?