If I said the words “brand ambassador” to you ten years ago, you’d probably think I was talking about Tupperware parties or housewives selling Avon from their homes.
Today, it’s a little different. Though Avon still has about 6 million global brand representatives—the precursor to the brand ambassador—that number is declining. Semantics aside, the responsibilities are similar, but ambassadors influence on a much larger scale. Thanks to the internet’s lack of spatial limits, brand ambassadors can reach almost anyone, anywhere, with just a smartphone. You’ve probably already come across a few without even realizing it.
Brand ambassadors aren’t held to a sales quota, but like an Avon or Tupperware rep, they do live and breathe the brand. Brand ambassadors are usually social media stars who are willing to talk about a company's products and showcase how they use or wear them, for free, or for a discount, or access to VIP perks. There’s no pay, but a lot to gain—especially for the brand.
Brand ambassadors aren't held to a sales quota, but like an Avon or Tupperware rep, they do live and breathe the brand.
The not-so-subtle power of Instagram
A quick scroll through my Instagram feed includes both sponsored and unsponsored brand content. My feed is practically bombarded by brands trying to sell me something. Actually, “trying” isn’t the right word; these posts are pretty successful. They are selling things—in fact, Instagram influences almost 75 percent of purchase decisions, and over 25 million brands are using it as a platform to communicate with customers.
Understanding its importance to businesses as a prominent discovery platform, Instagram added a feature that makes it painless for its users to shop directly from the app. For example, if I see something I like, it only takes a tap or a swipe to get to a purchasing page from my feed.
Marnie Levine, chief operating officer at Instagram, shared at the 2018 National Retail Federation (NRF) BIG Show, that she believes Instagram brings people closer to the things they care about, including content from businesses. Technology, and social media in particular, provides new ways of getting in touch with a brand. Tweet at a company and, with any luck, you’ll have a response in no time. Or, comment on a brand’s photos and begin a conversation, just as you would on a friend’s social profile. What brand ambassadors can do is extend that reach—and those conversations. being your authentic self, and Conversations with a brand ambassador allows for a more organic discussion that customers are more prone to trust. Plus, empowering customers that love to talk about your brand, means that you don’t have to all the time.
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The best marketing and support is free
Case in point: David Oh, chief product officer and head of growth at FabFitFun, explained in a panel on fanatical customers and brand loyalty that customers are “clamoring” to participate in the brand’s streaming TV service and to create content like the fitness or other videos that show customers how to use the products it ships. Realizing the value of this, Oh said, “We’re working out the legal details right now on how [they] would create content that we could showcase.”
It’s a smart move because, according to Frederick F. Reichheld, a director emeritus at Bain & Company, customer satisfaction and loyalty aren’t necessarily the best indicators of growth. Instead, he argues, companies need to know what customers tell their friends. “The percentage of customers who were enthusiastic enough to refer a friend… correlated directly with differences in growth rates among competitors,” he wrote in the Harvard Business Review. While customer satisfaction and loyalty remain important metrics of success, the key to new growth may be your ability to turn existing customers into an ad-hoc marketing department.
While customer satisfaction and loyalty remain important metrics of success, the key to new growth may be your ability to turn existing customers into an ad-hoc marketing department.
Brand ambassadors can also act as stand-in support for your customer service team. Ambassadors encourage their followers to see them as a source of information and an expert in the brand—a claim that’s likely true, and can be supported through an official brand ambassador program. Followers can send a direct message on Instagram to talk about a product or service without feeling like they’re contacting a company’s support team, allowing for a more conversational approach. It works because brand ambassadors have a vested interest in your success and want to help you succeed and grow.
According to the founder of Orangetheory Fitness, Ellen Latham, “creating brand ambassadors was huge for the growth of our company.” She explained that the company’s brand ambassador program contributed to a net promoter score (NPS) that rivals Apple’s. “We’re very excited about that,” she said.
Identify your ambassadors
Maker’s Mark has a much-lauded brand ambassador program, which began as a way to identify people who cared deeply about the brand and aimed to deepen the relationship between customer and company. There’s no cost to join and an ambassador’s only task is to share their love of Maker’s Mark with friends and family.
“Our Ambassadors clearly feel a real sense of ownership of our brand, and we truly value that relationship,” said Valerie Netherton, senior field marketing manager at Maker’s Mark. “They share a tremendous connection with Maker’s Mark, and in turn recommend it to their friends much more often than non-Ambassadors.”
Identifying potential ambassadors might be easier than you think. Look for people who are so passionate about your brand, they’re already posting on their social media, unprompted. Those customers may love to be given the chance to work with your brand.
Blogger Hope Pierson jumped at the chance to work with FabFitFun after the brand contacted her to be one of their brand ambassadors. Though she does make a small commission when her readers sign up using her affiliate link, she cares more about the recommendations she’s making. “I always think carefully before accepting any kind of partnership because I like to make sure that I love and believe in the products I’m recommending to my followers,” she said.
"I always think carefully before accepting any kind of partnership because I like to make sure that I love and believe in the products I’m recommending to my followers."
- Hope Pierson
Kelly Halverson feels the same way. She first encountered BANGS Shoes on her social media feed from other ambassadors and quickly fell in love with BANGS’ product and mission of funding new entrepreneurs. When the opportunity to become a brand ambassador arose, she completed a short application and was chosen.
Halverson knows that she provides cheap marketing that feels personal to BANGS Shoes’ desired demographic. “My friends know me, and they value my opinion, so that kind of promotion carries more weight,” she said.
To create a brand ambassador program of your own, think of it as a forum for your biggest fans to share their love for your product. Whether you choose to directly invite customers to join or have an application process that asks a few questions about what the customer likes about your brand or why they want to be an ambassador, there’s little to lose. Once you harness the power of your customers’ passion and empower your ambassadors to speak up—and provide an avenue to funnel feedback back to you—they’ll take it from there.