When approaching the idea of network marketing in Europe, it’s crucial for Americans to understand just how much has changed here—as well as how much has not. For years, I have been telling companies (primarily US companies) that they are coming to the old world, from the new. They must recognise the depth of tradition and habit that exists here.

The year is 1980. A young English couple joins the largest network marketing company in the world—at that time, the only real opportunity of its type on the planet. They take hold of their fledgling opportunity and turn it into a nine-year experience, seven of those years living it full-time. During those nine years, they never once use the terms “MLM,” “multilevel marketing” or “network marketing.” Regulations are simple, business is understandable and optimism is undeniable. “Of course this will work! It’s the purest form of free enterprise possible.”

Twenty-two years later, the young couple are no longer quite so young. They moved away from that great company over a decade ago; the opportunity has been regulated almost out of existence. The business is still understandable, but optimism is now often harder to find. Technology rules that same planet—and everyone alive in the modern world has heard of MLM or network marketing.

That same couple has also lived in North America and worked with a number of companies in this amazing industry. They have held the most senior executive positions with several of those companies. From this unique vantage point, what do they see?

They see that it’s time for our great industry to gain a solid understanding of the differences and nuances of the “Pond Effect.”

Separated by a Common Language?

What is the “Pond Effect”? Two continents; one pond. We share more than an ocean—and in many ways, we approach it from opposite sides. It is like the famous passage from Shaw that George C. Scott quotes in his role as George Patton in the eponymous film: “The British and the Americans are two people separated by a common language.”

When approaching the idea of network marketing in Europe, it’s crucial for Americans to understand just how much has changed here—as well as how much has not. For years, I have been telling companies (primarily US companies) that they are coming to the old world, from the new. They must recognise the depth of tradition and habit that exists here.

“Tradition” is a mindset, held without the knowledge of the holder. Such a mindset is built deep in the fabric of the European psyche—and it is a mindset that says, they are the parents and grandparents of the entire modern world. Europeans appear staid, questioning and slow to respond; they are also the most sophisticated people in the world.

Just 100 short years ago, my own country, Britain, had the largest empire the world had ever seen. English is now the dominant language in the world. Today the American Empire has emerged. American influence permeates every society in Europe; in many ways it has become unacceptable in recent years. As most network marketing companies are American, one can expect even more questions from today’s European participants.

Two decades ago, we still had the Berlin wall, Japan had yet to register on the economy meter and most things new were tolerated more easily and often embraced without question. The Baby Boomers reigned supreme. Today we have removed the Berlin wall and replaced it with terrorism, Japan is trying to find economic recovery and “new” things are so numerous they have become annoying beyond belief. The Baby Boomers are 20 years older now!

An Economic Powerhouse

More significantly, during this same time Europe has moved to a majority entrant common currency. The average European is dramatically better off than he was in 1980; additional countries look to be part of the whole market story of the European Economic Community (EEC).

Add to the equation a population of nearly 500 million with more buying power than the USA—and geographically contained within an area the size of Texas and Arizona. With a little effort I can travel through six countries in one day; and unlike in America, this one-day excursion represents six distinct opportunities to build a business. Ask any European if he thinks the EU will be the most significant economy in the world. The answer will be, “Of course!”

Even here in the UK, while we may not embrace common currency and we cherish our independence, we fully understand the concept of “economy by numbers.” Half a billion people in the most established region of the world all working in one direction…? It may be a fantasy in its purest sense, but will be phenomenal to see what it does, even if it only works 80 percent of the time.

Where do we go from here? That’s easy: we go forward with respect for cultural and economic differences. Europe is wide open to business initiatives; free enterprise is alive and well here. With regard to our great industry, Europe is gasping for a real opportunity. Regulation did not destroy us. (Indeed, lack of it would have done that years ago!) The old-school network marketing companies are still here; many are doing well, after years of learning how to.

Imagine another 20 years from now: the Baby Boomers will still be in the driver’s seat, the EU will be the largest trading group in the world and some network marketing companies, in existence or yet to be formed, will have been sophisticated enough to have built a business in the most discerning of all markets—the eastern shores of the pond

PETER POWDERHAM has been
in network marketing for 22 years,
ten of those as a distributor and 12 in top corporate positions. He has
served on the Legal Task Force for the DSA in the UK.