A lot of people hate network marketing (aka, multi-level marketing) because its practitioners blatantly turn social relations into cash, but corporate marketers do the same thing. The only significant difference I see between network marketing and corporate marketing is that the corporate setting is more prestigious.
Why People Hate Network Marketing
I have a friend from high school who has been bugging me for years about getting together for lunch, dinner, or whatever. We do not live very far apart. In fact, I could call him up and have lunch today. But do you know why I don’t do that? Because this guy is into network marketing. If I meet with him, I am absolutely certain that he will try to sell me some miracle product.
Like most people, I dread meeting with someone I consider a friend, only to find that that friend considers me a business prospect (i.e., a business – not social – acquaintance). When that happens, it is humiliating and depressing. People do not like being used. Nor do we like being put in a place where social pressure is used to force us into a business transaction we would not otherwise enter.
But the world of multi-level marketing is not the only place where social relationships are prostituted in this way.
How Corporate Marketing Is A Lot Like Network Marketing
When you think of corporate marketing, you might immediately think about ad agencies and celebrity endorsements. That certainly is part of corporate marketing. But there is a larger component of corporate marketing. In both consumer marketing and business-to-business marketing, corporate promoters often rely on business networking.
Business networkers think about all the people they know (family, friends, neighbors, etc.) and target those they believe to be most likely to provide a monetary benefit. For example, an entrepreneur might decide that his wealthy uncle is the person most likely to fund his business. So, the entrepreneur sets up a lunch with his uncle. The uncle is pleased that his long-lost nephew wants to reconnect with him, but over lunch he realizes that the nephew just wants his money. Either the uncle will agree to fund the business or not; either way, his relationship with his nephew has been downgraded from social/familial to business/economic.
This busines networking process is remarkably similar to network marketing. The fundamental thrust of each process is the same: Turn social relations into “social capital” by exploiting friends who can provide economic benefit.
It makes no difference whether such exploitation occurs in a network marketing “party” at a friend’s house, or over dinner with a business person. To the person on the receiving end, the net result is the same.
The Fundamental Difference Between Network Marketing and Corporate Marketing
So why do we differentiate between network marketing and corporate marketing at all? I think it is because of corporate marketers’ egos.
The obvious differences between the two types of marketing are (1) corporate marketing usually involves more money per transaction, (2) corporate marketers usually have more formal education than network marketers, and (3) corporate marketing is widely perceived as “legitimate” while multi-level marketing is not.
These differences add up to one point: Corporate marketing is more prestigious than network marketing. Aside from this difference, it is difficult to find a meaningful basis for differentiating network marketing from corporate marketing.
I do not approve of either type of marketing. If, however, you find yourself approving of the more prestigious variety (i.e., corporate marketing), check yourself the next time you are tempted to disparage network marketing. It is just another flavor of the mainstream marketing that most people approve.