Brand Ambassador programs are a great way to nurture relationships with your most passionate Advocates and get more positive Word of Mouth or even sales.
Are you thinking about launching a Brand Ambassador program? Here's some info and insights:
What’s a Brand Ambassador?
A Brand Ambassador is an enthusiastic person who agrees to participate in a structured, ongoing program to recommend your company, brand, products, or services to others. Ambassadors may be:
In most cases, Ambassadors receive perks like free or discounted products or services in exchange for their time and effort. Some Ambassadors receive pay, although I don't recommend this approach. (More on this below.)
Ambassadors are “Power Advocates”
I like to think of Ambassadors as “Power Advocates.” These are Advocates who formally agree to help build your brand and business. (Of course, like any healthy relationship, this isn’t a one-way street. You need to love on your Ambassadors. More on this later.)
Benefits of a Brand Ambassador Program
A Brand Ambassador program can help you:
- Increase awareness of your company, brand, product, or service at a fraction of the cost of paid media
- Generate qualified leads, boost sales, and increase revenues
- Drive advocacy, positive Word of Mouth, and social reach
- Generate authentic, high-value content like reviews, stories, testimonials, blog posts, and more
- Get valuable product feedback and money-making ideas
- Deepen relationships with valued customers and others
- Defend your brand's online reputation from haters and detractors
Brand Ambassador Profiles
Brand Ambassadors are typically people who exhibit these characteristics:
- Very enthusiastic about your brand, product, or service and eager to recommend to others and spread enthusiasm
- Viewed as credible and trustworthy
- Moderate to heavy users of social media
- Often create and share content
- Hundreds or even thousands of friends and followers online
- Outgoing, personable, articulate
For Love or Money?
Some Ambassadors will engage with you simply because they love your brand, product, or service.
But Ambassadors usually receive some form of compensation in exchange for their participation. This may be perks, free products, tickets to events, special access to premium content, etc. The rewards you provide Ambassadors generally reflect:
- The commitment (time, effort) you’re asking for from Ambassadors.
- The level of influence of Ambassadors. The more influential they are, the more you’ll need to reward them.
5 Steps of Building an Ambassador Program
Here are the five key steps in developing an Ambassador program:
- Create your Ambassador plan. Clarify your goals, objectives, strategy, Ambassador profiles, programs, timeline, and budget. As part of this, create your Ambassador program terms and conditions (T’s and C’s.)
- Identify potential Ambassadors. Build a target list of segments and people within these segments you would invite to become Ambassadors. (See “How to Find Potential Ambassadors” below.)
- Begin recruiting Ambassadors. This can be as simple as sending an email to potential Ambassadors with links to a sign-up form and T’s and C’s.
- Start engaging Ambassadors. Ask Ambassadors to participate in an activity. This could be giving you feedback on a new product, creating content, or sharing content you provide to them. (See the list below for ten ways to leverage Ambassadors.)
- Re-engage Ambassadors. Ambassador programs are usually ongoing programs, not one-time events. Re-engage your Ambassadors in other ways. (See the list below.)
How to Find Potential Ambassadors
If your company is a small one, you probably have an idea of who may be willing to serve as Ambassadors. They’ve probably already recommended you countless times to their family, friends, or business associates.
However, you may need some help finding potential Advocates. Here are some ideas:
- Look for customers who post highly positive reviews, stories, or other content about you online.
- Ask your sales team and other customer-facing employees for suggestions on who might be effective Ambassadors.
- Invite customers and others to apply to become Ambassadors. Make sure to be clear about the qualifications and requirements.
Top 10 Ways to Leverage Brand Ambassadors
Here are ten popular ways to leverage Ambassadors. You can encourage and enable Ambassadors to:
- Create and share content such as reviews, testimonials, blog posts, tweets, and more.
- Share your brand content like videos, infographics, white papers, etc. plus special offers
- Refer friends and peers to you
- Serve as references for major deals
- Give you feedback on new products
- Provide ideas for improving your customer experience
- Help recruit other Ambassadors
- Launch new products
- Participate in company-produced videos, case studies, testimonials
- Represent your company at offline events like trade shows, seminars, and at online events like Google hangouts, webinars, and tweet chats
Measurement & Tracking
Here are some of the key metrics you’ll want to track for your Ambassador program:
- # Ambassadors
- # Ambassador actions
- # content pieces created
- # content pieces shared
- # referrals
- # impressions generated by Ambassadors
- # re-Tweets, re-posts by Ambassadors friends
- # clicks back to your website, landing pages
- # conversions
- Value of conversions
Keep in mind these are sample metrics. Measure what matters most to you.
Examples of Brand Ambassador Programs
- Lulu Lemon is one of the best-known examples of a Brand Ambassador program. I like how Lulu Lemon shows photos and profiles of their Ambassadors on the company's public website. I recommend this approach in most cases. (Some of their Ambassadors are shown in the photo above.) The sportswear company has recruited thousands of athletes, personal trainers, yoga teachers, group exercise leaders, and others to become Ambassadors. Lulu Lemon groups its Ambassadors into three categories:
- Global yoga Ambassadors
- Elite Ambassadors Ambassadors. These are "elite athletes.
- Store Ambassadors. Ambassadors get free apparel. Here’s a page of one of Lulu Lemon's Ambassadors.
- Maker’s Mark Bourbon has created a thriving Ambassador program with over 100,000 members. They reward Ambassadors with Christmas gifts, a personalized barrel of bourbon, inside information and discounts, plus invitations to special events, and more. Here’s a video created by Makers Mark Ambassador.
- SolarCity has created a “Solar Ambassador” program aimed at generating referral leads. SolarCity pays Ambassadors $200 for each referred customer. (Referred customers also get one month service free.) The company also has run contests where Ambassadors get a chance to win “solar for life” or $15,000 for referrals. SolarCity has enrolled over 100,000 Ambassadors in the program. I think of this as more of a glorified referral program than an Ambassador program. Let's see if SolarCity evolves how it engages with its "Ambassadors."
- Hootsuite, the social marketing platform company, has 1,400 Ambassadors. The company has grown the program from 55 Ambassadors only three years ago. Ambassadors, who are required to commit to the program for a minimum of three months, are encouraged to provide product feedback, create and share testimonials, share Hootsuite content, and more. Hootsuite gives Ambassadors discounts on social media training and certification; online recognition; plus swag. Here's something cool: Hootsuite holds "Hoot-Ups," offline meetings where Ambassadors can celebrate their Hootsuite love.
Here are a few other companies with Brand Ambassador programs:
- Fiskars (scissors) This is of the best-known and most written-about examples of Ambassador programs. Fiskateers, as the company's Ambassadors are called, helped turn scrapbooking into an obsession and drove massive sales increases for Fiskars. The program has changed a lot over the years but it still is a "best-in-class" example of how to grow a passionate Ambassador community.
- Footmark (workout bags)
- Microsoft (More of a technical support community. Check it out at mvp.microsoft.com
Top 10 Ambassador Best Practices
- Set clear goals and measurable objectives for your Ambassador program
- Communicate clearly what your expectations are of Ambassadors
- Educate your Ambassadors about your company mission and values
- Make it easy for Ambassadors; give them tools that make it easy for your Advocates to spread positive Word of Mouth about you
- Make sure that Ambassadors are transparent about their relationship with you when they recommend you to others. When in doubt, disclose, disclose, disclose.
- Build relationships with your Ambassadors. Encourage their feedback. Listen, learn, and act.
- Choose Ambassadors carefully. Make sure they will represent your company and brand well. They should reflect your company or brand's mission, value, goals, culture.
- You may want to gamify your Ambassador program. Create friendly competition that boosts participation, engagement, and results. Think leaderboards, badges, and fun titles for your top ambassadors.
- You may want to consider creating an online community where your Ambassadors network with each other, learn about new ways to engage with your, view leaderboards, or more.
- Give back to your Ambassadors in ways other than money. Promote your Ambassadors by following them and sharing their content or help promoting their careers and businesses.
I recommend that you don’t try to bite off more than you can chew. Start small with your Ambassador program. This allows you to learn and adopt.
If you are a SMB, you may want to start with a handful of Ambassadors – like 10 to 25. You can always add more Ambassadors later.
A basic program as shown below is a good place to start.
"basic" Ambassador program:
Here's what you'll need for basic Ambassador program:
- An Ambassador gameplan
- T's and C's
- Someone to manage the program (estimate about 25% of one person's time.)
- Online tools for Ambassadors and analytics (can be provided by a third-party like Zuberance.)
"DELUXE" AMBASSADOR PROGRAM
Here's how you can step it up:
- Feature Ambassadors on your public website
- Create private online community for Ambassadors
- Add an online forum within community
- Points, leaderboards, swag
- Create tiers and/or categories of Ambassadors
- Special, "Ambassador-only" online and offline events
Note that "stepping it up" means increasing Ambassador program costs. This typically includes devoting more people to manage the program plus additional software costs.