People love to express themselves, and one of the many ways of doing so is through the things they buy. From the clothes they wear to the food they eat, people assign deep meaning to the brands they love because they help them form their identities.
Understanding this concept is the key to a successful business model. Your brand sells more than just a product -- it sells meaning. Building a community around this meaning attracts more customers, and there is no better way to begin building that community than through a brand ambassador program.
Ninety-two percent of consumers trust a recommendation from another consumer over promotional content directly from a brand, according to a 2012 Nielsen study. Brand ambassadors represent your target consumers, and chances are you already have some great candidates out there. The question is, where do you find them? And once you do, how do you ensure a successful brand ambassador program?
Before you establish your brand ambassador program, you need to come up with a clear vision of the program and what you want it to develop into. Setting goals and drafting a plan to reach them will help the project run smoothly from its inception.
When you are first setting up a brand ambassador program, it is best to start small. Rather than trying to recruit hundreds of representatives off the bat, consider prospecting a small group of key personalities to launch the program. It is better to have 10 ambassadors who are extremely passionate and represent your brand perfectly than to have 100 who may only be interested in your program for their own personal gain.
How do you identify these ideal candidates? One method, of course, is social media. Check who is engaging with your brand across multiple platforms, and try to find people who not only seem enthusiastic about your products, but embody the personality and lifestyle of your ideal user. These people should reflect the values of your company, and ideally have a well-established social media presence. You can find candidates elsewhere on the web as well, through consumer review sites such as Yelp or Consumer Affairs (which even offers an option to help you find brand ambassadors!).
Another place to consider finding ambassadors is within your own workplace. Your employees understand the ethos of your company better than anyone, so empower them to post and share how your business is more than just a product!
Take a look at Starbucks: The organization encourages its employees to embody its mission to “inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” With a vision like that, who wouldn’t want to tell all of their friends and family what an amazing company they work for?
Another area for consideration is how the program will be structured. Who will supervise the program? What kind of content is and isn’t acceptable? How will ambassadors apply for and be worked into their new roles?
Designating a community leader, establishing guidelines, and preparing for onboarding are just a few of the logistical details that will need attending to. While each ambassador should feel empowered to act independently, it is still necessary to make sure everyone is on the same page to avoid any small misstep being blown up into an all out controversy. At the end of the day, your brand ambassadors should function as a team with a common goal.
Deciding how your ambassadors will be compensated is also hugely important. While some brand ambassador programs might pay their ambassadors, the ideal candidate probably isn’t in it for the money. Consider, instead, compensating your ambassadors with free merchandise that they can brag about on social media, or offering them exclusive insider deals or sales.
Once you have laid out the groundwork for your program, there are steps you will need to take to ensure its continued success. Remember, the ultimate goal here is to create community and meaning around your brand, and this doesn’t just happen on its own.
It is easy for people to lose interest in things, and without the right tools to keep them engaged, your brand ambassadors are no exception. One way to avoid this problem is to really understand your ambassadors- their goals, their aspirations, their values. Identify a few common themes, and figure out how your brand can help team members personally in return for their efforts.
This can take many different forms. Of course, monetary compensation is nice, but what about opportunity? Your ambassadors most likely have bigger goals in life than sporting your brand’s exclusive ambassador hoodie or taking pictures of themselves testing your newest beverage before it hits the stores. While your products may help them achieve those goals in some way, your brand has the potential to offer them so much more than that.
Consider private networking events for your ambassadors, or giving them exclusive access to your company’s executives to provide feedback. Dell made an example out of themselves a few years ago with #DellCAP, which stands for Dell Consumer Advisory Panel. The company flew their ambassadors to the Dell Headquarters to discuss the brand from their perspectives and engage directly with C-Suite executives. While this is obviously not feasible for every company, Dell sets an example of maintaining a feedback loop between the brand and their most valued customers. Use this as inspiration to find ways that your brand can deliver value to your ambassadors, and they’ll never want to stop talking about your company.
Recognizing your brand ambassadors for their achievements both inside and outside of their role in your company is integral to a successful brand ambassador program. We all like to know we are appreciated, and there are plenty of ways to show your ambassadors some love!
Perhaps you set up a page on your website dedicated to your ambassadors. Depending on the size of your program, you may need to keep this page in rotation to feature them all, but it is vital to give each person a sense of individual importance. Provide links to their social media accounts, their LinkedIn, their own business’s website -- whatever would make the page most valuable to them.
Another way to do this is to reciprocate their social media endorsements. You can identify top performers, and use your company’s official accounts to feature standout ambassadors on a regular basis. In these posts, highlight not only what makes them a stellar ambassador, but what makes them the embodiment of the ideal your brand is there to help people reach. This is worthwhile for both you and your ambassadors. It provides them with the recognition they deserve, and personifies the deeper mission behind your products.
One of the most important aspects of a brand ambassador program is that ambassadors are seen as independent of your company. Even if some of your ambassadors are employees, it should be clear that they represent your brand because they believe in it, not because they work for you. This is why it is important to let go of the reins, and allow your ambassadors to really take ownership of the program.
Now, this doesn't mean you just send them free stuff every once in awhile and disengage otherwise. Quite the opposite, actually. It means providing them with the tools necessary to steer their own ship and form a genuine sense of community.
Set your ambassadors up with a way to communicate directly with each other, such as a forum or a team management app, so they can share best practices and other information with each other easily. When you relinquish your control over the program, it asserts the fact that brand ambassadors are not just another corporate appendage; They are a valued, independent group of community tastemakers that other consumers know and trust.
Launching a brand ambassador program can be a game changer for your business. The community of ambassadors will serve to create associations between your brand and the lifestyles of those individuals. With the right team representing your products, you can seize this opportunity to make your company more than just a business - your brand will come to symbolize something that brings people together and helps them express who they are.
To get certified as an all-star brand ambassador program manager, check out our free Field Team Academy. Our free online training connects you with brands like Nantucket Nectars, Health-Ade, and UNREAL Candy, giving you the behind-the-scenes tips you need to take your career to the next level. Sign up and get started here!
Melissa is a recent graduate of Northeastern University and a content marketing specialist at Repsly, Inc. She is committed to applying her skills in order to bring value to Repsly readers and customers. Outside of work, Melissa enjoys practicing yoga, making music, and anything dog-related.