Thermomix: direct selling in a digital world

timRobards

Tim Robards’ Chicken, broad bean and snow pea salad (Thermomix)

Thermomix, a star performer in an otherwise mediocre retail landscape, appears to be fast falling from grace, with  CHOICE, presenting a report to the ACCC outlining numerous cases of severe burns caused by faulty machines, with allegations of cover-ups and gag orders forced upon victims.

Once upon a time

I distinctly remember my first encounter with Thermomix. It was years ago, in my Aunt’s apartment located, ironically, in the land which gave birth to a movement created to defend regional gastronomic traditions – Italy.

I stepped through the door, and found myself propelled towards the kitchen to observe an animated exposition of a magical Willy Wonker-ish device, fed ingredients it miraculously transformed into gourmet meals.

My mother’s youngest sister was a Thermomix sales consultantminion, staging in-house cooking demonstrations to sell the product through her social network. I looked on with amusement, convinced it was just another harebrained scheme that would inevitably turn into a passing fad.

Years later, and the fad has reached our shores, evolving into a cult, cajoling worshippers to revere a kitchen appliance which promises to be their saviour.

In search of an elusive product

Locating a Thermomix isn’t easy.  You won’t find it at your local Harvey Norman outlet, nor can you purchase it online.

In a digital world increasingly serviced by ‘virtual’ sales agents, Thermomix has chosen a push strategy (Iacobucci 2013, p. 131) , to selectively distribute  its product through independent consultants, requiring all prospective buyers to engage in a 2-hour consultation, prior to purchase.

With such an exclusive distribution strategy , a hefty  $2089 price tag and minimal promotional activity, Thermomix is clearly not designed for impulse buying. Instead, it’s a  marketing mix that position’s its brand to say ‘We’re special ! You are going to have to make the effort to find us’ (Iacobucci 2013, p. 130).

Selling complexity

thermomix

The Thermomix looks complicated, and purports to perform the impossible.

In 1936, Thermomix’s parent company, Vorwerk, faced a dilemma. It failed to sell the world’s first handheld vacuum cleaner. Vorwerk soon realised that great innovation doesn’t equate to great sales when your market fails to grasp the intricacies’ of new technology.

Bennett (cited in Peterson & Wotruba 1996) defines direct selling as the ‘direct sales of goods and services to consumers through personal explanation and demonstrations, primarily in their homes.’

Vorwerk embraced this concept, deploying a sales force into people’s homes to personally explain the benefits of their new innovation, alleviating the perceived risks associated with purchasing a seemingly complex product (Iacobucci 2013, p. 130).

It’s a strategy successfully exercised by Theromix today

A trusted salesforce

thermomix-red-velvet-beetroot-cupcakes-2

According to Kennedy, Ferrell and LeClair (2001), successful selling requires a competent, knowledgeable sales force, that employs ‘low pressure selling tactics’ to build trust and satisfaction. Widemeir (2002), proposed that this customer satisfaction could be re-enforced by an empathetic customer orientated sales force.

Thermomix Australia’s managing director, Grace Mazur, credits its success to a  sales force comprised of empathetic brand evangelists  who avoid ‘hard sell tactics’, and are driven by passion and motivation in helping their time-poor friends reap the same benefits they received from the product.

Social networking

Thermomix2

Ferrell and Ferrell (2012) suggest that direct selling is the original ‘social network,’ using friends to promote products and generate sales through word of mouth.

Social media play’s an important role in modern day direct selling, providing a channel that allows companies to connect (addressability), and inform (accessibility) consumer’s pre-purchase, facilitating brand advocacy (branding) post-purchase (Ferrell & Ferrell 2012).

On the surface, it may appear, that Thermomix has failed to embrace the digital age, but this is not the case.

Integrated marketing channels

Thermomix has in fact created an integrated interactive hybrid marketing channel, which harnesses both people and digital platforms to deliver a pre and post-purchase customer service experience which strengthens customer relationships.

Prospective buyers connect to the brand through the website, social media networks, and friends, becoming informed consumers via personalised in-house demonstrations which can be initiated online.

Personalised after sales service is provided by their trusted sales consultant, who helps install the appliance within their homes. A strong online presence, allows them to become part of a brand community, promoting brand advocacy, and enabling them to join the sales team if desired.

Given the recent negative publicity, it’s a place strategy that may work to Thermomix’s advantage as it attempts to protect its reputation moving forward.

Posted by Angela Colantuono  216002314 (acolantu)

Further reading

Aktins , D 2014, Cult confessions of a Thermomix owner, The Australian, retrieved 14th May 2016, <http://www.theaustralian.com.au/archive/executive-living/cult-confessions-of-a-thermomix-owner/news-story/4c3bcb63d88eb19cf797b598869ae2b8>.

Ferrell, L, Ferrell, O 2012, ‘Redirecting direct selling: High-touch embraces high-tech’,  Business Horizons, vol. 55, no. 3, pp. 273-281,DOI:10.1016/j.bushor.2012.01.004.

Fulwood, A  2013, Thermomix imports a recipe for success, Australian Financial Review, retrieved 14th May 2016, <http://www.afr.com/personal-finance/thermomix-imports-a-recipe-for-success-20130920-j0dpo>.

Iacobucci, D 2013, MM4 Marketing Management, 6th Edition, Cengage Learning, Mason USA.

Kennedy, M, Ferrell, L, LeClair  D 2001. ‘Consumers trust of salesperson and manufacturer: an empirical study’,  Journal of Business Research, vol. 51, no. 1, pp.73-86., doi:10.1016/S0148-2963(99)00039-9

Kidspot, 2015, 8 ways being a Thermomix consultant has changed my life, Kidspot, retrieved 14th May 2016, <http://www.kidspot.com.au/8-ways-being-a-thermomix-consultant-has-changed-my-life/>.

Kollmorgen, K 2016, Burnt, in more ways than one, Choice, retrieved 14th May 2016, <https://www.choice.com.au/home-and-living/kitchen/all-in-one-kitchen-machines/articles/thermomix-safety-risks-and-customer-service-issues>.

Lindhe, J 2014, Tupperware, Thermomix, Avon: Secrets of the cult brands, Australian Financial Review, retrieved 14th May 2016, <http://www.afr.com/leadership/tupperware-thermomix-avon-secrets-of-the-cult-brands-20130508-jyd78>.

Peterson, RA, Wotruba, TR 1996,, ‘What is Direct Selling? – Definition, Perspectives, and Research Agenda’, Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, vol. 16, no. 4, pp. 1-16.

Slow Food, .nd, Slow Food Our History, Slow Food, retrieved 14th May 2016, <http://www.slowfood.com/about-us/our-history/>.

Widmier, S 2002, ‘The effects of incentives and personality on salesperson’s customer orientation’, Industrial Marketing Management, vol. 31, pp. 609-615, DOI: 10.1016/S0019-8501(02)00181-5.

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