The Meaning of MLM: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of MLM? This guide from The Word Counter will provide you with its definition, usage, examples, and more!

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What Does MLM Stand For?

The term MLM stands for multi-level marketing. MLM companies, also sometimes called direct sales or network marketing companies, work by selling products via representatives to customers. These “employees” also make money by recruiting new distributors. This is known as the participant’s upline.

Often, there is an initial investment that goes into joining an MLM. Most distributors of MLM products find that they cannot sell enough to actually make money, especially with different fees or expenses that they are required to do. Usually, people end up quitting in the negative.

These types of business models or business opportunities often make promises they can’t keep. It is very rare for a salesperson to sell enough of the company’s products to actually have an earning potential or compensation plan that matches a regular salary in a retail store or equivalent.

The MLM community is known to some as a cult and one that often preys on moms and older women. Sellers will advertise great lives on Facebook and social media, urging others to join the multilevel marketing communities as potential customers or to do their own sales. These downline distributors in turn boost their number of downline distributors, which only makes the person at the top more money.

This also leads to market saturation under the guise of being an independent contractor or owning your own business. This is all part of the MLM strategy used in the MLM industry. A sales representative might invite you to try Avon products or to Tupperware parties as a fun event, and then try to sell you on the “passive income” of an MLM to try and get you to join.

What Is the Difference Between an MLM and a Pyramid Scheme?

The difference between an MLM and a pyramid scheme can be very difficult to spot. Some pyramid schemes can look exactly like MLMs. However, pyramid schemes are much more focused on the people that you recruit, and not the product that you sell. Pyramid schemes work by keeping a constant stream of recruits flowing into the business to benefit only the people at the top.

Usually, in a pyramid scheme, you will be required to buy a certain amount of the product that you are trying to sell at certain times, even if you have not sold the inventory that you already have. Different bonuses or rewards might only be accessible after spending a certain amount of money on a product, or by recruiting a certain number of people. 

Some companies that advertised themselves under the guise of being an MLM have been shut down for being illegal pyramid schemes. The business models of a pyramid scheme and MLM are remarkably similar, so be wary.

What Else Can MLM Stand For?

An acronym can often have several different meanings. If you think about it, the letters M and L begin so many different words, so it is inevitable that this abbreviation could stand for something besides multi-level marketing. Here’s a list of all of the potential phrases that MLM can stand for. If you’re in a conversation with someone and they use the term MLM, think carefully about whether it might stand for multi-level marketing or one of these other meanings. 

  •  Music for Little Mozarts
  •  Mid-Level Manager
  •  Moving Liquid Mirror
  •  Multi-Level Metallization
  •  Maximum Likelihood Method (physics)
  •  Militaire Luchtvaart Museum (Dutch: Military Aviation Museum)
  •  Mission Level Measure
  •  Managing Local Markets
  •  Multipurpose Lightweight Missile
  •  Millilumens (1/1000th lumen)
  •  Magazine Lee-Metford (British bolt-action magazine rifle)
  •  Multi-Level Bit Mapping
  •  Man Loving Men
  •  MeiLin Miranda (webnovel author)
  •  Media Lifecycle Management (Spectra Logic)
  •  Medicare Learning Network
  •  Mail List Management (e-mail; software)
  •  Maine Lighthouse Museum (Rockland, ME)
  •  Mailing List Manager
  •  Mound Laboratory, Miamisburg (Ohio)
  •  Multi-Layer Mask (semiconductor process)
  •  Multi-Layered Mirror
  •  Multi-Longitudinal Mode
  •  Military Liaison Mission
  •  [not an acronym] Middle Finger (emoticon)
  •  Medical Liability Monitor (newsletter)
  •  Multi Language Menu
  •  Military Liaison Office
  •  Metadata Lifecycle Model
  •  Marxism-Leninism-Maoism
  •  Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico – Municipal (Airport Code)
  •  My Little Monster (Japanese manga)
  •  Men Who Love Men
  •  Multi Longitudinal Mode

What are different MLM companies?

There are an incredible amount of MLM companies in the world. Below is a list of some of the largest companies in the United States from Ventaforce. Keep an eye out for these companies in your purchases.

  •  ViSalus
  •  Skinny Body Care
  •  ASEA
  •  Nucerity International
  •  Avon
  •  Morinda
  •  Unicity International
  •  Kyani
  •  PM International
  •  Essante Organics
  •  Mannatech
  •  Phyto
  •  Immunotic
  •  Origami Owl
  •  Send Out Cards
  •  Mary Kay
  •  Melaleuca
  •  Crowd1
  •  Purium Health
  •  Herbalife
  •  Primerica
  •  LifeVantage
  •  Ambit Energy
  •  DXN
  •  Total Life Changes
  •  ForeverGreen
  •  TruVision Health
  •  Plexus Worldwide
  •  Seacret Direct
  •  SoZo Global
  •  Young Living
  •  Shopping Sherlock
  •  USANA
  •  Shaklee
  •  Stella & Dot
  •  Sunrider
  •  Amway
  •  Nature’s Sunshine Products
  •  Gano XL
  •  Trevo
  •  Oriflame
  •  Natura
  •  Nu Skin
  •  bHip Global
  •  Team Beachbody
  •  ARIIX
  •  Valentus
  •  Empower Network
  •  Sevenpoint2
  •  Jeunesse
  •  The Limo Company
  •  IDlife
  •  Juice Plus +
  •  Alliance in Motion
  •  Vorwerk
  •  Market America
  •  DubLi Network
  •  Stream
  •  Fuxion
  •  QSciences
  •  Perfectly Posh
  •  Modere
  •  Life Plus
  •  Doterra
  •  Isagenix
  •  Advocare
  •  World Global Network
  •  Sisel International
  •  Stampin Up
  •  Organo Gold
  •  Mega Holdings
  •  Synergy Worldwide
  •  Rain International
  •  Kannaway
  •  Atomy

Overall, the abbreviation MLM stands for multi-level marketing. This is a type of business that relies on direct sales and recruiting other participants in the company to succeed. These are very similar, and sometimes the same thing as a pyramid scheme, so be wary of the warning signs.


  1. MLM – What does MLM stand for? | The Free Dictionary 
  2. 100 Largest MLM Companies in the United States | Ventaforce 
  3. Multi-Level Marketing Businesses and Pyramid Schemes | FTC Consumer Information