What can you learn from Tupperware? Quite a lot if you rely on social networking

Tupperware parties

Do you know who Brownie Wise was?

Here’s a hint: She was the first woman to be featured on the cover of Business Week magazine.

brownie_wise_business_weekWhat did she do in business to earn that honor? She was the woman who developed the Tupperware home party, and as I reflect on that innovation today I’m amazed at how much gratitude and credit we owe her.

(By the way, there’s a movie in development – Tupperware Unsealed – in which Sandra Bullock is currently slated to play the role of Brownie Wise. What a great choice! I hope the movie gets made.)

The story goes that the inventor of Tupperware, Earl Tupper, couldn’t figure out how to sell his products. A plain plastic bowl sitting on the shelf at the local Piggly Wiggly just wasn’t that appealing to shoppers.

In the post-World War II era, a lot of women were back in their homes after having lost the jobs they held during the war when so many men were in the military. Plus, they were busy having all those Baby Boomer kids, so they spent a lot of time at home. Wise came up with the home party idea during which she could demonstrate the Tupperware “burping” process.

That changed everything.

Brownie passed away in 1992, so she never saw the way the Internet has transformed commerce. But let me point out something that is extremely important:

I believe that Wise’s Tupperware home parties really marked the beginning of social networking for the purpose of sales.

After all, what were the women who would gather in a neighbor’s living room other than a social network? Today, if you find a great deal on a product and want to share it with all your friends, you post a link on Facebook. Since 1951, locally hosted Tupperware parties have essentially been providing that same service.

And they have the added benefit of snacks!

There are lessons we can all learn from those living-room-based social networks and apply to our Internet-based social networks.

  • Have something unique. The Tupperware burping feature made it unique and this let it immediately stand out from other, similar, products.
  • Seamlessly communicate the uniqueness. How long does it take to burp a Tupperware container? Not long. You need to capture your audience quickly. This is true in living rooms and an even greater challenge on the Internet. If you can’t quickly and easily communicate your uniqueness – what makes you different – you won’t be successful.
  • Be sociable. Think of your social network as individuals like the women who sit on couches and over-stuffed chairs at a Tupperware party down the street. Demonstrate good manners and respect. Remember, when you post something and it may be seen by thousands of people, those are thousands of individuals, each with his or her own ideas, problems, and preferences.
  • Be inviting. Make people in your social networks want to participate in what you are promoting. Guests at a Tupperware party don’t get a hard sell, and as I mentioned above, they get snacks – whether or not they buy anything!
  • Relate to and understand your prospects. Because it’s your neighbor who is hosting the Tupperware party and the sales rep is someone from the same background, they are familiar with the food storage problems you struggle with. They know they are going to be presenting to the right group of people. Do you understand the people in your social networks? Ask them about themselves. You may need to do some segmentation.
  • Keep it fun. Tupperware parties are fun for the guests. They often do raffles during the event. Why not plan some giveaways yourself? Also, make sure your social media posts are informative and entertaining. What is bigger than infotainment today?

I’ve enumerated some specific things to keep in mind as you develop your social networks to support sales within your small business, but I think the most important point is to always think of your social network contacts as friends and family members visiting in your living room.

You have certain obligations to them before you ever try to sell them anything. Meet those obligations.

Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/84369496@N00/2593638413 “Tupperware,” © 2008 Twitchery, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Image: Business Week cover, April 17, 1954, © Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.