Visalus: The Social Network meets network marketing

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If you build it they will come. It’s not just a line from Field of Dreams. It’s the truth. People want something to believe in and give them identity.

When I see large crowds, I take notice. Visalus is on to something. What they have been able to accomplish in six short years is remarkable. They are backed by Blyth Inc., sales are up 157% and distributors are up 330%.

More important than the numbers, they have tapped in to an emotion. Their 90-day challenge is brilliant marketing. Additionally they have made social media a part of their culture, their selling process. It’s led to becoming a differentiator in a category with many large and established competitors.

Direct selling or multi-level marketing is not for everyone. Especially in an era where consumers have access to more information, are more aware and are increasingly less likely to want to be pitched in conventional formats.

We all have that awkward MLM story. The one where you sit down to watch The O.C. with some co-eds in college and your roommate brings back his 47 year-old “friend” Steve who wants to talk about an opportunity. 

Let’s just skip past the part where I used to watch the O.C. The point is that no one wants to be ambushed.

Visalus is taking a different approach. They are using social media and a less aggressive, conversational approach. 

Co-Founder Blake Mallen, is sincere. He and Visalus have a vision. It’s still direct selling but it doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. He provides valuable insight in to marketing and social media below. 

1. When developing a plan for Visalus, what need did you recognize in the market?

We have had two lives over the last seven years. We started in 2005 with high-end science. We were pushing prevention and general health, built a solid business. 

In October 2008 we partnered with Blythe. That partnership was finalized right before the recession started. It demolished the current business model. Prevention is important but at that time people were interested in putting food on the table.

It caused us to tailor ourselves to the new economy, challenge people to make health a challenge for 90 days. Most set weigh-loss oriented goals. Some have fitness goals, active lifestyle goals. 

We wanted to provide a solution for the obesity epidemic and the new consumer. The key is providing them something that is simple. Diets programs are overly complicated. The average person doesn’t have the time, energy, attention span to stick to them. It also had to be affordable. 

The new consumer demands affordability and results. A simple, fun solution that meets the budget.  

2. What have been the results since introducing the 90-Day Challenge?

It has been pretty crazy. We launched in July of 2009. The model took a life of its own in 2010. We experienced a 15% increase per month compounded over 2010. Then, 2011 month-over-month growth near 20%. Over 160,000 people are joining the challenge monthly. 

5,000 people a day, 7 people drinking a shake every second in America. We are the fastest growing company in direct sales. We are one of the fastest growing weight-loss and fitness companies in the world. We don’t see a sign of it slowing down any time soon.  

3. What makes Visalus unique? 

The difference is we don’t fashion ourselves as direct sales. Most are product centric, based on research. “Here is our doctor” and so on. 

Or they are opportunity driven. This is the majority. It’s pitched as “here is a way to make money.”

Not saying either is right or wrong. Although if I’m at a Memorial Day party with my buddy, or if I’m at a social setting, and I talk about a business opportunity…they won’t let me come back to a party. The strategy violates social norms. 

We have great science, we have awards. That’s not our message. We’re challenging people to set a goal and giving them a platform. Provide everything around that and helping them achieve that. 

It’s a normal conversation people have. “I’m thinking about getting in shape” and people join with them. Normal social ethic. Social offline is amplified online. How we go out and share things that work for us are more efficient. 

You get this viral phenomenon. We’re the first company of it’s kind to have this kind of social momentum.  

4. What role does social media play in your approach?

We were early adopters. We all started in our early 20s. We’re a lot younger than most. We came from an early generation. Myspace, AOL, Facebook we used them. 

I don’t have to hire analysts to leverage social media. It’s how we grew up. We were early adopters in seeing the convergence.

Facebook is moving products to networks as part of their advertising programs. The models are similar with just technology. Selling is becoming more social. Social media is an effective way to communicate. 

If it’s worth talking about it then people will talk about it online. The average person has 500 plus friends on Facebook. If you have something that generates results it is the rocket fuel to launch it further. 

Customer is king and they have a megaphone. In the old school approach the company controlled the methods. They built everything they could to control the process. 

A lot of companies are still trying to fight that. Companies are no longer in control. Today the consumer is king. They are in control. They have more of a voice than ever before. 

Our mindset is to focus on quality and build culture. The consumer becomes your biggest advocate. 

5. In the next 12 months, what will be the most important marketing trend to watch?

We’re looking at trends and trying to align with the wave. Social will continue to grow. Social selling is becoming a trend. The old perceived snake oil salesman is going to shift. 

Gen X and Y share everything each day. Every day they are selling. We are seeing a perceptual shift around selling.

Also important is the transition from social to mobile. People are more plugged in. It’s vital to grab the attention of people’s mobile phones. 

We are shifting to mobile commerce. A lot of commerce is going to shift to the phone. Companies that meet the consumers in the palm of their hands we’ll be best positioned.  

6. What is next for Visalus?

The focus now is to solidify our market share in the U.S. and Canada. We have a long road ahead because we are consumer centric. We are not fragmenting, not going abroad too early. 

When the time is right we will progress to countries where it a natural fit. Investing a lot in technology locally now. Figuring out where we are going globally next.  

Our recent Flash Mob is an example of our shift in our culture. We fashion ourselves more as a mainstream brand.