Activating brand ambassadors is not a new concept, and most marketers know the importance of generating brand advocacy to drive sales. But like most things in marketing today, the strategy, tools, and best practices are constantly changing.
- A brand ambassador program can be a powerful tool for marketers looking to build strong relationships with their consumers and drive growth.
- Brand ambassador programs can also yield significant value by helping to increase brand awareness, credibility, and trust.
Let’s explore exactly what an ambassador program is, how to find brand ambassadors, how to run a brand ambassador program, and the key ingredients of success.
What is a Brand Ambassador Program?
- A brand ambassador program is a marketing initiative in which a company partners with a group of targeted and enthusiastic individuals to spread a brand’s message.
- Brand ambassadors help deliver specific business goals such as increased sales and conversion, brand awareness, promoting a positive brand image, and overall word-of-mouth conversation.
What is the Difference Between a Brand Ambassador, a Brand Advocate, and a Brand Influencer?
When it comes to driving social conversation for your brand, there are a lot of buzzwords thrown around by marketers. You might be asking questions like, “Is a brand ambassador the same as a brand advocate?” or “What is the difference between an influencer and an ambassador?”
While there is always overlap in how each role operates, there are some distinct differences that can help you determine which one aligns best with your brand needs. Let’s walk through the difference between each group.
A brand ambassador is a dedicated spokesperson who embodies your brand’s values and who has credibility and trust among particular social circles.
- Brand ambassadors have a clear partnership or formal commitment to represent your brand for a set period of time.
- Sometimes there is a traditional payment arrangement, but monetary compensation is not always a necessity.
- Many brand ambassadors receive free products or exclusive product experiences as compensation for their participation.
- A brand ambassador is typically someone who is heavily involved in your brand’s industry or a particular lifestyle.
Brand advocates are consumers who have a strong positive connection with your brand and are ready and willing to sing your praises to their friends, followers, subscribers, and other social audiences.
- Brand advocacy campaigns are often deployed by companies to mobilize brand advocates at scale and spark them to create user-generated content (UGC), write product reviews, and share branded content.
- Brand advocates are also an excellent resource for gathering product feedback, gaining consumer insights, and crowdsourcing new ideas.
- Brand advocates are often rewarded with free products, special perks, or fun gamified rewards like badges and points.
- Brand advocates can also recruit other brand advocates and boost loyalty, purchase frequency, and overall brand equity.
Influencers are people with a substantial social reputation online and have an established following that mirrors your target audience. Influencers can range from a few thousand followers to millions of followers.
- Similar to brand ambassadors, there is typically a formal partnership created where each party understands what is expected of them.
- Influencers will create different kinds of content for your brand – a video review, a dedicated blog post, a creative expression of an online trend, or just engaging visual content featuring your brand.
- Influencers differ from brand ambassadors in that influencer programs are often viewed as campaign-based partnerships, while brand ambassador programs are seen as relationship-based partnerships.
- Ambassadors are also far more knowledgeable about your product than influencers will be, and influencers will often partner with many different brands.
What Do Brand Ambassadors Receive in Return for Their Participation?
Brand ambassadors are incentivized for their participation in a number of ways, and there isn’t necessarily a “correct” way to go about it. It’s based on your specific organizational goals and internal processes.
- Some brands will enter a financial contract with their brand ambassadors and will pay them money for their efforts. Others might design a structured commission or affiliate marketing arrangement so the ambassador will earn money for every sale they help facilitate.
- Another way ambassadors receive value is through exclusive experiences. This can include things like accessing new products before anyone else, trying products for free, and receiving brand swag or brand-related gear. They can also receive special discounts, exclusive giveaways, and VIP sneak peeks.
Don’t underestimate the power of public recognition – having their voice heard is a huge incentive for many ambassadors. This can include:
- Having their content featured by the brand
- Conducting a special interview with the ambassador
- Asking your ambassadors to help with a design idea or product feature that can then be showcased to the public.
How Do You Find Brand Ambassadors?
So you’re sold on doing a brand ambassador program. The next question is always, “How do I find brand ambassadors?” Here are three ways that we’ll go into next:
- Look for ambassadors among your existing customer set
- Seek out authority voices in related communities
- Enlist your employees to find and recruit ambassadors
Look for Ambassadors Among Your Existing Customer Set
Some of your best ambassadors are hiding in plain sight, and all you need to do is give them the opportunity to step forward. Look within your own customer database or social media following to identify those with the greatest potential.
Example in Action: Pura Vida
- Pura Vida, a company that sells hand-crafted jewelry, invites their existing customer base to apply for their brand ambassador program, the Pura Vida Crew, from its brand website.
- The brand then qualifies each applicant to make sure they fit specific needs. Pura Vida is most concerned with finding those who are genuinely passionate about the brand’s mission and who are highly trusted among their peer groups.
Seek Out Authority Voices in Related Communities
Brand ambassadors can be people with certain expertise that aligns with your brand’s product or overall lifestyle, and they can often be found in already-established online and offline communities.
These prospective brand ambassadors are usually existing customers who believe in your brand but also are trusted voices in specific social circles.
Example in Action: Veggies Made Great
- Frozen food brand, Veggies Made Great, is on a mission to offer healthy, delicious food choices for the whole family. As part of their strategy to drive awareness and credibility, they’ve cultivated relationships with a network of dieticians and nutritionists.
- They tap into this network by inviting them to be ambassadors in their online brand community, the “VegHeads.” Nutrition experts are then activated to share their praises of Veggie Made Great products.
- Veggies Made Great ambassadors also write articles, do Q&A sessions with consumers, and give feedback on new products by sampling.
Enlist Your Employees to Find and Recruit Ambassadors
Your internal team of employees is often an overlooked asset that has huge potential. There are usually many highly connected and vocal employees sitting at the desk next door.
- Employees are incredibly knowledgeable about your product or service, and it’s safe to assume that if they are working at your company, they believe in what you’re selling.
- A large part of utilizing employees as brand ambassadors is training and arming employees with the right messaging, but also allowing for authenticity and their unique voice.
Example in Action: Adobe
- Adobe noticed that their employees who shared on social media were generating more sales for the company than their own marketing efforts. They created an employee strategy to educate employees about becoming a social media brand ambassador.
- In exchange for their participation, employees get rewards and incentives. The marketing team also seeks out high-quality employee content to promote on brand-owned channels.
When asked about the best impacts of its employee ambassador program, Head of Employee Advocacy at Adobe is quoted saying, “It’s the fact that it humanizes the brand and helps us achieve our various campaign goals around social volume, engagement, share of voice, impact in the community, as well as getting out the Adobe story beyond just the corporate jargon. In addition, and maybe even more importantly, it is helping us facilitate a global workplace community that unifies us as a company and connects us as people.”
How Do Brand Ambassador Programs Work?
A brand ambassador program typically works through these steps:
1. Identify and mobilize brand ambassadors: Create a digital gathering place for brand ambassadors. Online brand communities are excellent “homes” for your brand ambassador programs to foster emotional connection and long-term participation.
2. Outline specific tasks and activities: Be clear and transparent with what you are asking your brand ambassadors to do. This could be a combination of online activities (visual content, product reviews, video demos) or offline activities (local events and groups, in-store demonstrations, or tradeshow participation).
There should be a clear understanding between both parties that always emphasizes how the ambassador will benefit from participating.
Be clear with ambassadors about your company goals. Everyone works better when there is a common task – whether that’s driving more brand awareness, boosting presence on a specific social media site, or generating product reviews and sales on ecommerce channels.
3. Provide training, education, and necessary tools: Make sure your brand ambassadors are armed with helpful information and the latest features and are knowledgeable enough to answer frequently asked questions. While you may want your ambassador to be 100% “on brand” all the time, it’s important to give them room for authentic expression.
Additionally, ambassadors do some of their best work when they come bearing gifts. Equip your brand ambassadors with product samples, discount codes, sweepstake entries, and more to boost their credibility among consumers and drive conversion.
4. Relationship-building and ongoing ambassador engagement: Making your brand ambassadors feel special and valued is not an optional part of a brand ambassador strategy. Be sure to have a thought-out plan in place to foster a relationship. This could be anything from featuring their content on brand channels, sending personal letters from company executives, inviting them to exclusive events, or even a trip to company headquarters.
5. Deliver rewards and incentives for participation: Many brand ambassador programs will have defined rewards or compensation for participating. This could be brand swag, free products, gift cards, or monetary payment. Make sure to deliver on promises you’ve made to brand ambassadors in a timely manner. This will build trust and boost their engagement in the program.
6. Measure and optimize ambassador impact: Tracking and measuring a brand ambassador program is similar to measuring a brand advocacy strategy. It includes measuring both the participation of the ambassadors as well as their ability to acquire new consumers.
Generally, ambassador programs can be measured by the amount of activity they generate, the number of people reached by an ambassador, and the number of conversions yielded. There is also enormous value in measuring the quality of content generated and repurposed, the insights gathered from feedback, and the overall brand-positive conversation online.
What Makes a Great Brand Ambassador Program?
A great brand ambassador program will have three key elements:
- Authenticity and genuine self-expression
- Clear and simple expectations
- Dedicated management and relationship-building
Authenticity and Genuine Self-expression
One of the biggest benefits of a brand ambassador program is that brand ambassadors will promote your products and services without being too “salesy” about it. They help humanize your brand and make brand values come to life.
A brand ambassador cannot be a brand robot. You must train and educate your brand ambassadors, but make sure to leave plenty of room for creative self-expression.
Example in Action: Gymshark
- Fitness brand, Gymshark, has a wildly successful brand ambassador program.
- They enlist a variety of fitness video influencers and created a close network of long-term ambassadors.
- Some ambassadors even have collaborations to create their own Gymshark lines.
Authenticity is a big focus for the brand. As Gymshark’s Head of PR explained to Fashion Monitor: “It’s all about being authentic. The vast majority of Gymshark ambassadors were once fans and consumers of the brand. Who better to represent the brand than those who actually love Gymshark? It’s all about the vision and what they stand for. We are more interested in how [potential ambassadors] engage their followers rather than how many they have.”
Clear and Simple Expectations
Well-run brand ambassador programs leave little room for confusion. While being a brand ambassador does require effort, it shouldn’t require a headache. Make your expectations clear from the beginning and make them easy to complete.
Example in Action: Xbox
- Gaming platform, Xbox, is clear about its goals of providing an inclusive, community-driven experience and how its brand ambassadors can help further those objectives.
- Xbox ambassadors are tasked with connecting and assisting other gamers and keeping the community welcoming and safe.
- Ambassadors gain points for completing certain activities like making friends with other members, sending encouraging messages, or starting conversations about Xbox games.
- As they accumulate more points, they can “level up” their ambassador status and put their points towards exclusive swag or earn a chance to be featured.
Dedicated Management and Personalized Relationship Building
A successful ambassador program will involve planned steps to make your ambassadors feel special and valued for their contributions. This goes beyond compensation or just saying “thanks!” It’s about getting to know the ambassadors on an individual level and delivering tailored and personalized engagement opportunities.
Online brand communities are an excellent place to collect zero party data to fuel personalized experiences. Unlike first party or third party data, zero party data is information that is proactively shared with a brand and is primarily related to personal preferences, emotional leanings, lifestyle behaviors, and more.
Using this data, brands can deliver a personalized ambassador experience for each participant. This creates a positive feedback loop between the data they share, the activities they do, and the value they get in return.
Example in Action: Clio Snacks
- Fast-growing frozen yogurt company, Clio Snacks, knew they had a passionate set of fans. Like many brands, they turned to Facebook and Instagram, creating and engaging with a limited group of targeted consumers in private groups. They asked their followers to complete challenges, from taking “shelfies” of the product in-store to posting reviews.
- The Clio team tracked the activities in Excel and rewarded their ambassadors with swag on a monthly basis. The problem was 100 ambassadors quickly overwhelmed their team. In an effort to streamline their ambassador strategy and cultivate long-term relationships, they created an online brand community, The Clio Cravings Club.
In an episode of the Community Powered Marketing podcast, CMO Rachel Moore shared her thoughts on designing a quality ambassador program. “A lot of ambassador programs out there are really based on purchase behavior. If you buy, you get a discount, or if you buy, you get swag. And for us, we felt like that is a piece of the pie. We do have a dotcom. We do sell products on our website. But what was more important to us was sharing and learning, and using our ambassadors not only as kind of an internal insight group, but also as a megaphone for the brand to share with our friends and family.”
How Can Vesta Help With Your Brand Ambassador Program?
Online brand communities are a prime channel for connecting ambassadors together. This helps ambassadors feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves while also creating efficiencies and streamlining efforts for marketing teams. It’s truly a win-win scenario.
Vesta’s online brand community platform empowers you to mobilize your brand ambassadors in a dedicated branded destination and cultivate lasting relationships. With more than 30+ engagement activities available to brands, ambassadors can be assigned a wealth of activities to participate in – from writing product reviews, creating user-generated photos and videos, completing surveys and polls, participating in discussions, amplifying ecommerce and in-store efforts, and much more.
Using Vesta, brands can drive new customer acquisition significantly, secure emotional and long-term brand loyalty, and “future proof” with agile insights and ongoing data collection.
Interested in more?
Check out our article on how to build brand advocacy.