You can never discount the importance of a good brand.
After all, branding is what makes your business identifiable to the general public. It's what separates your auto parts store from every other auto parts store. It's a lot like window dressing, but substantive aspects of your company factor into what makes up your brand, too. Like a good product. Or a reputation for delivering awesome customer service.
But how does a brand translate to the individual? That is, how can you get the word out about your company's brand in such a way that actually resonates with your target audience? The answer is by using brand ambassadors.
In this tutorial, I'll first talk broadly about what a brand ambassador is, why they're effective, and offer up some examples of companies successfully utilizing them in the wild. From there, I'll move on to the role brand ambassadors play in a larger marketing strategy. Then you can expect an action-oriented section that discusses how to create real-life brand advocates, both from your existing staff, and from your company's most dedicated fans.
When you're in the early stages of running a business, conceptualizing something like a brand ambassador can be difficult to grasp. This tutorial will give you the foundation and resources you need to enact a brand ambassador program within your company.
Now, let's begin!
What Is a Brand Ambassador?
A brand ambassador is basically the ultimate form of "word of mouth" advertising. It's a person that represents your company in public and talks about your products or services in such a way that it makes other people want to be customers. According to Chegg, "No one knows the product or service better than you," when you hold this position. In fact, those in this role, are product experts, and act as the go-to resource within companies for information and outreach.
"That's nice," you're probably thinking, "but what do brand ambassadors do, exactly?" That's a fair question because the whole concept of brand advocacy can seem a bit intangible. But when it's executed well, a brand ambassador program can dramatically increase brand awareness and help to increase your customer base.
Ambassadors often take on a variety of tasks. What these tasks are specifically will vary depending on if they are officially on staff or members of your enthusiastic fan base. But typically you can find ambassadors:
- actively promoting your products or services to their friends and family
- building a relatable "face" for your company
- serving as an extension of customer service
- developing creative ways to expand company outreach
- engaging on social media
Are These Programs Effective?
On the whole? Yes. Brand ambassadors are definitely effective at building interest in your company. And sure, a standard marketing campaign could do this as well but having real-life humans advocating on your company's behalf yields a unique set of benefits. A brand ambassador program is effective because:
1. It Comes Across More Genuine Than Traditional Marketing
It all comes down to the human face element. The best marketing strategy in the world can fall flat if it doesn't appeal to people and doesn't feel genuine. According to Nielsen, 68% of consumers trust online opinions and use them as a key component in their purchasing decisions. And ambassadors definitely espouse opinions. Authenticity is everything, so using ambassadors gives your company a definite edge in that regard.
2. Your Target Market Doesn't Feel Talked at (Or Down To)
Brand advocates humanize your company. Giving a literal human face to your brand means prospective customers can relate with you on a more personal level and that can drive sales.
3. Millennials, in Particular, Know When They're Being Marketed To
Twenty to thirty-somethings have a keen eye for marketing tactics. After all, they all grew up in the mid-80s to early 90s and can ramble off advertising jingles like it's nothing. That familiarity with marketing means the old tricks don't work anymore. Companies have to get very creative to stay competitive. Plus, millennials cite word-of-mouth as having the biggest influence on their purchasing decisions, according to Radius Global, especially as it relates to clothing, travel, electronics, financial products, and packaged goods.
4. It Expands Your Company's Reach
Social media is a major player in the modern marketing strategy. So, having dedicated advocates consistently engaging in these networks means your brand gets a wider audience and you stand to expand reach.
Ambassador Programs in Action
One of the best ways to understand the role brand ambassadors play in marketing strategy is through example. So before we talk about strategy integration specifics, let's look at a brand ambassadorship program in the wild.
A great example is Starbucks. The coffee giant embraces social media, its customers, and its employees to create an environment that promotes the sharing of ideas and the building of community. These efforts turn employees and customers into brand advocates at the same time.
For instance, the Starbucks Partners Instagram feed features happy employees, showing off their love for the company and their enthusiasm for their work.
But what's interesting is when you flip to the company's public social feeds intended for customers. The atmosphere is very similar and continues to promote sharing and community. Employees and customers alike are encouraged to be creative and show off exactly what role Starbucks plays in their lives. From customers who share pictures of their favorite drinks during their commute to work and employees sharing their latest latte art, Starbucks fosters an environment that creates advocates who in turn create customers, who then become advocates, and so on.
We have an engaging Envato Instagram feed as well, showing our employee brand ambassadors interacting with fans at conferences, interviewing notable industry leaders, and collaborating on creative projects.
The Brand Ambassador's Role in Marketing Strategy
Brand ambassadors can play a major role in marketing strategy. And when a program works well, it can just about take over the strategy as a whole. Here's a brief summary of the ambassador's primary responsibilities:
1. Acts as a Spokesperson (But Not Really)
Some companies hire professional brand ambassadors, which are really just glorified spokespeople. And while part of the ambassador's job is to act as spokesperson, there is more to it than that. A good ambassador gets the word out about a product or service while still being a member of the target audience.
2. Offers a Chance to Connect Directly With Potential Customers
Brand advocates are down on the ground with customers and can engage with them one-on-one. And while some adherence to a set of brand guidelines is essential, the majority of the conversations can be informal and authentic.
3. Works as a Social Media Power User
Some brand ambassadors spread the word about a company face-to-face at events, but more often than not the day-to-day work of ambassador programs happens online. And more specifically, it happens on social media. Advocates must be well-versed in all the major social networks if they're going to be effective at promoting your business.
How to Create a Brand Ambassador Program
Should you decide using brand ambassadors is a good idea for your company, you can implement a program fairly simply, here's how:
1. Ask for Customer Feedback
Ambassadors are all about the customer so why leave this to guesswork? Ask your current customers what they want to see more of in terms of content and interaction. With this information in mind, you can custom-build a program that suits the needs of your customers while boosting your brand's reputation at the same time.
2. Develop a Must-Have List
If you're aiming to use professional ambassadors, make sure you put together a list of attributes all potential candidates must possess before you begin the hiring process. This list will vary by company, of course, but it can include things like the number of social media followers each candidate has, previous experience managing online brand identities, and even past PR experience.
3. Tap Into Your Staff First
More often than not, the best brand ambassador programs are born out of a company's existing employees. So, if you want to start your own program, you need look no further than your own staff. At least at first.
If you have a wonderful company culture and encourage employee creativity, you can get a lot out of a staff-based ambassador program. Your employees have a vested interest in your company doing well, first of all. And second, they are going to be the most familiar with your products or services.
But it's not enough to just expect your staff to start tweeting about how awesome your company is and to expect results. You need to offer structure. The process of creating this structure is twofold:
Step 1. Build a Set of Brand Guidelines
I've already touched on this above, but it bears repeating. Creating guidelines for how you expect your employees to act online when representing your company is essential for maintaining consistency across all platforms in voice, style, and content. Learn more about the basics of branding:
Step 2. Incentivize Your Employees' Efforts
Even though many enthusiastic employees will likely advocate on your behalf for free, it's always a good idea to offer some kind of incentive for their hard work. This can come in many forms from free products to perks to recognition.
Keep in mind though, not all of your advocates are employees. In fact, it's a good idea to tap into your fanbase as well to round-out your representation.
4. Create Brand Advocates from Fans
Now it's time to tap into your fan base.
This customer advocacy will naturally occur to an extent. Think about how when you use a product in your own life. When you like it, it's only natural for you to share your love for it with your friends and family, right? You might snap a photo of a product you like to share it online, text it to your friends, or post a Tweet about your experience using it.
So, it makes sense then that your most loyal customers will share their love of your products with their friends and family—online and in person. Word of mouth is a powerful thing.
The key to harnessing the power of your biggest fans and leveling-up the results of your brand advocacy program is to incentivize their efforts through free products, perks, and other benefits. Finding advocates isn't all that difficult. You just need to know where to look. Here's a rundown of how to locate and onboard new non-employee advocates:
- Ask for brand representatives on your website and existing marketing materials. You can do this by adding a CTA to your website or include it in your company newsletter.
- Put out a call on social media. Your biggest fans likely follow you on social media already. So take advantage of that fact and post that you want to hear from them. Mention you're throwing in a few incentives for the most devoted responders and you'll be golden.
Then, it's time to put an actual plan in place.
Give Them Guidelines and Incentives
Brand advocates who are fans should be provided with a set if guidelines, too, since how they conduct themselves online will be a direct representation of your brand. For instance, you might not want an ambassador to throw expletives around when referring to your company—even if what they're saying is positive. Set some ground rules upfront so everyone knows what to expect and you don't do any accidental damage to your company's reputation.
You also need to show you value them. Offer your product for free and include perks whenever possible. Treat them as good as—and in some cases, even better than—your very best customers.
Another great way to ensure you brand advocacy program gains traction quickly is to ask fans to contribute to your blog. Real voices resonate.
Just look at what Square has been doing with its Square Stories initiative. The section on their website features sellers who use Square. Real customer offering their real-life stories of how Square has helped shape their businesses. What could be more impactful than that?
You can see examples on our Envato Community blog as well, where we periodically feature case studies of our own Envato Tuts+ brand advocates. Here's an example of Kezz Bracey, one of our instructors giving advice on how to turn your talent into a business, which is an authentic story of how she's built her reputation and taught a ton of educational material for us here. She's grown from enthusiastic fan to a leader in our community. If you have active, involved participants in your community, feature them.
Giving fans a place to share their stories with your products or services lends authenticity to your website and helps prospects put themselves in the ambassador's shoes. And that, in turn, increases sales.
Start Your Brand Ambassador Program
After reading this tutorial, you now have a clear idea of what brand ambassadors are, how you can utilize them as an integral part of your marketing strategy, and you're armed with a path to getting started. You can begin with small steps and incrementally improve your program over time. Learn more about an approach to bootstrapping your marketing:
Though setup might appear daunting, just remember that at the end of the day, ambassadors are really just your most loyal employees and customers. They want to get the word out about you. So isn't it time you empowered them?