In 1984’s "Guerrilla Marketing", Jay Conrad Levinson presented a technique called street marketing in which promotion is done on the streets. It’s an idea that indie bands have long used to hand out fliers and get the word out about their events through fans, often called street teams. More recently, authors have adopted the street team method to promote their books. Today, many brand-name companies have taken the street team concept, especially into the digital world, to create brand ambassadors.
What Is a Brand Ambassador?
A brand ambassador is a client or customer who loves your product or service and is willing to tell others about it. This goes beyond referrals or a single review, and instead, the customer broadcasts their reviews and other positive messages about the business through online sources. While it’s similar to an affiliate program, the focus is a bit different. Brand ambassadors are raving fans first and in most cases aren’t paid, although they do receive perks. It’s like a fan club where the fans also speak out about their love of the company and products/services.
Pros of a Brand Ambassador Program
There are many reasons to consider creating a brand ambassador program for your home business including:
- Free promotion. While you want to offer some perks, such as behind the scenes access or freebies, you’re essentially getting free publicity and referrals from your happy customers.
- It doesn’t take many ambassadors to make a difference. If you have 20 happy customers who reach 100 people with a positive message about you, that’s 2,000 people who now have heard about your business.
- Because your ambassadors are already happy customers, their messages are authentic and more likely to be heard by potential new customers.
- It creates a feeling of belonging and ownership by your fans.
The Cons of a Brand Ambassador Program
There are potential downsides to starting a brand ambassador program, such as:
- It can take time to set up and generate results.
- You need to have regular interaction with your ambassadors, adding additional tasks to your already full to-do list.
- You need to have perks to offer your ambassadors to entice them to participate.
- You may end up with deadbeat ambassadors who want the perks but who don’t pass along their positive messages about your business.
- Obnoxious fans might end up hurting your brand by misrepresenting it, or ganging up and trolling people who don’t have nice things to say about your business.
- Ambassadors might feel entitled to more than you want to give such as additional discounts for free products/services.
How to Start a Brand Ambassador Program
The benefit of good reviews, referrals, and endorsements by customers can’t be underestimated, and if you’d like to take advantage of that by starting a brand ambassador program, here’s how to get started:
- Create a culture around your business. People don’t want to share your business simply to just to tell others about it. They do it because they feel like they belong and want to spread the joy. You can create a culture around a mission, an experience, or the benefits your business offers. For example, Disneyland isn’t just a place for families to go on rides. It’s "The Happiest Place on Earth".
- Decide what perks your brand ambassadors will receive for being a part of your program. Will they get a special email or be part of an online group? Will they get more access to you? Other things you can offer is a first look at your products or services, review samples, special events, exclusive community, branded swag and more. Keep your perks related to your brand and what you offer.
- Outline how you’ll help your ambassadors spread the word. While you want your ambassadors to share their authentic love for your product and services, it doesn’t hurt to give them a few tools or ideas. You might have social media graphics for them to share. Perhaps you can let them know specials you’re running or memes you have that they can share. You can ask them a question that they can answer to their network.
- Determine how you’ll pick your brand ambassadors. One of the challenges is finding people who’ll follow through on their agreement to share about your business. You might start with people who are already saying nice things about you. Or you can reach out to your best customers. Beyond that, will you have an application, or will you stick to invitation only?
- Pick a name for your ambassador team. This will give them a sense of belonging and special status. For example, Red Bull’s brand ambassador program is Wings Team. Fiskars (the scissor company) has the Fiskateers.
- Outline your program, including expectations of your brand ambassadors as well as benefits they receive. It’s important to provide all the details about your program upfront so there is no confusion. Be sure to indicate what you expect from your brand ambassadors (i.e. 1 share a week), as well as what they get in return.
- Set up metrics to measure the success of your program. How will you know your brand ambassadors are delivering results? For example, you might have ambassadors tag you in social media or use a hashtag. Maybe they’ll have a special link, similar to affiliate programs.
- Build a sense of community with your ambassadors. Don’t just sent out share reminders and updates. A brand is a promise of an experience, and it’s that experience you want your ambassadors to enthusiastically tell others about. Consider creating a group (i.e. Facebook group) where your ambassadors can connect with you and others on the team. Use it to get feedback, as well as provide inside access, share messages, and other reminders and tips.
Existing (and Successful) Brand Ambassador Programs
To get more ideas about how to set up and run your brand ambassador program, consider checking out other successful programs. Here are a few you can look into:
Yelp Elite Squad: Yelp allows it’s reviewers to nominate themselves to be a part of the Yelp Elite Squad. It says it wants writers (reviewers), photographers, and adventurers, who are active in the Yelp community and provide helpful tips and reviews. Members of the Elite Squat get a special badge on their profile, exclusive invites to events, and more.
Just Strong: Just Strong is a clothing line promoting strong women. It offers an initial 20 percent discount on all clothing purchases, 10 percent commission on referral orders, and exclusive products, releases, and promotions. In return for these perks, Just Strong asks it’s ambassadors to post content once a month wearing a Just Strong piece of clothing, be passionate and positive about empowering women and provide constructive feedback to the company.
Red Bull: Red Bull taps college students to help spread the word about its high energy drink company. Touted as a job in which students can learn marketing, the Red Bull Student Marketer networks on campus and in the community, and gives away Red Bull products, t-shirts and hats, and more.
Lenny and Larry: Lenny and Larry make protein and fiber-rich cookies. They offer their brand ambassadors a personalized landing page which tracks the ambassadors’ links, and bases perks on promotion. The more the ambassador shares, the more they get including free cookies, discount codes, company swag, and commissions from sales. At a minimum, the company asks their ambassadors to post an image of any of their products with a specific hashtag at least twice a month on Facebook or Instagram.