In a crowded digital marketplace, it’s often difficult to make your company’s voice heard, and just as difficult to connect with potential customers when you do. To stand out from the crowd, it’s vital that you’re able to communicate authentically, develop your relationship with your audience, and create awareness and excitement about your products. That’s all easier said than done, of course, but you can give the process a boost by finding members of your existing community to act as ‘brand ambassadors’, as part of an ambassador marketing strategy.
Ambassador marketing is an increasingly popular option for companies seeking to build their presence in the marketplace, and reach new and existing customers in innovative and personal ways. Given the need for authenticity, however, it’s important to get your ambassador marketing strategy right, including choosing suitable individuals to deliver your message, and supporting them as they do.
With that in mind, here’s a guide to the most important aspects of ambassador marketing.
What is a brand ambassador?
Brand ambassadors are individuals who represent your business to the wider community and bring a level of genuine credibility and understanding when talking about your products. Typically, you’ll partner with a brand ambassador on a long term basis so that they can develop a relationship with your audience that helps you communicate your brand messages, and achieve business goals.
There are no hard and fast rules about who can be a brand ambassador for your business, but it’s obviously worth your while thinking carefully about who will represent you best to your audience and prospective customers. Here are some common categories of brand ambassador:
- Social Media Influencers: The brand ambassador that will likely have the most visibility is a social media influencer. With an established presence online, influencers are trusted by their audiences and deliver their content in an engaging and entertaining way. You don’t necessarily need to engage an influencer with a following in the millions as a brand ambassador: micro-influencers with smaller but more dedicated or special-interest audiences can be just as effective at getting your message out to the people that need to hear it.
- Influential customers: Sometimes the most effective communicators are the people who simply use your products the most. It’s possible to identify certain people who use your products or services heavily or frequently, and who bring a greater level of credibility and understanding of your brand than other types of customer. These influential customers often make highly effective brand ambassadors thanks to their knowledge of certain products, with the added benefit of bringing a level of genuine enthusiasm to their role.
- Industry experts: When you have an effective product, experts in your field tend to take note and may be willing to serve as brand ambassadors to spread the word. Depending on the sector you are operating in, industry experts can make good brand ambassadors because of the level of credibility they bring, and will likely be able to communicate the features and benefits of your products or services to their audiences more capably than other types of ambassadors.
- Employees: Don’t overlook the energy and enthusiasm of the people behind the curtain. Your employees often make the best brand ambassadors since they know your products inside out and work to make them better every day. If you can identify or recruit employees who can communicate eloquently about your brand and business, you’ll have ready-made ambassadors that can be deployed in a variety of ways.
What’s the difference between a brand ambassador and an influencer?
It’s easy to conflate the roles of influencers and brand ambassadors because there’s a lot of crossover between the two. Both involve an influential person using their platform to spread a positive brand message, and both require a strong relationship between the individual and the brand.
Where the two roles differ is typically the length and scope of this relationship. Ambassador marketing is always a long term play, and campaigns can vary greatly depending on who the brand has partnered with.
For instance, a team of Bumble brand ambassadors may promote the brand through campus events and competitions, while a celebrity brand ambassador may become the ‘face’ of the brand, featured across all marketing material and campaigns – just think Emilia Clarke and Clinique.
Because of this variety, compensation can differ too. Brand ambassadors are often compensated monthly or annually to cover many promotional activities – as opposed to influencer payments which are often one-off or campaign dependent. However, both can still be applicable for product seeding campaigns – it all comes down to the goal of each specific campaign.
It’s important to note that while brand ambassadors can be differentiated by the long-term nature of their brand partnerships, that doesn’t mean influencer relationships can’t be long term too. In fact, some of the best typically are. With any influencer campaign, complete synergy between the brand and influencer is crucial, to effectively communicate the brand message in a relevant way to the right audience.
Why is ambassador marketing useful?
Modern audiences are tech-savvy and sophisticated, which means that the way your brand talks to them matters as much as the content you’re communicating with. Launching ad campaigns on social media platforms or paying for Google search results may increase your visibility, and reach large audiences, but won’t guarantee that you connect with the people you really want to connect with.
Brand ambassadors, on the other hand, already know how to connect with, and are typically trusted by, their audiences, meaning that what they say about your products is likely to resonate more than a screen or print advertisement. Ambassador marketing essentially acts as a referral - but one that comes from a trusted source that the prospective customer has an pre-existing connection with.
Ambassador marketing is also more efficient than traditional marketing mediums. An ambassador is much more likely to engage with audiences that generate conversions for your products than a conventional screen or print advertisement distributed to the general public. Even better, you can gauge the effectiveness of your brand ambassadors and, to an extent, control their output by contractual arrangement.
What are the different types of ambassador marketing strategy?
Your brand ambassador strategy can take any shape you want, and be as creative or conventional as you see fit. Bear in mind that you’ll want to play to your ambassadors’ strengths in order to make their message as resonant and authentic as possible, so you should think carefully about what you want your strategy to be before you engage.
You may start the relationship by sending ambassadors free samples of a product, to allow them to test the product and get a feel for your brand. If they’re a fan, you might begin exploring paid incentives in exchange for them featuring it in a post; conducting a review or ‘unboxing’ on their social media channel. Depending on what you want your brand ambassadors to do, you may need to have a formalized agreement in place with them, setting out the details of your relationship and the guidelines they will need to follow (learn how to do this easily with Aspire).
With those factors in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most common ways to partner with ambassadors:
Social media platforms: Brand ambassadors can make social media posts about your products and services using their social media platforms. The way that your product is mentioned or featured will depend on the social media channel (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, TikTok, etc), and could take the form of, text, image, video, or simple link-sharing.
Influencers with large followings often make more effective ambassadors for this strategy, but don’t overlook the potential of smaller micro-influencers with enthusiastic, special interest audiences. Influencer marketing typically involves a contractual agreement and payment for promotional posts. You will likely be able to set out a structured program of promotional activities and, to an extent, control the way that the influencer promotes your brand.
Affiliate marketing: Affiliate brand ambassadors are a type of brand ambassador that earns commissions based on the sales they generate for your brand. Typically, affiliate marketers will receive a personal referral code which they can distribute to their fans or followers: whenever someone makes a purchase with that code, they receive a percentage. Like influencer marketing, it helps if affiliates can reach a wide audience, but the relationship differs because you won’t have a structured agreement in place with them.
Higher education: Colleges and universities are fertile ground for the attention of potential new customers thanks to their rich mix of interconnected social networks in the valuable 18-25 demographic. A college brand ambassador program might involve you appointing students from a particular institution to promote your products or services to their peers: these ambassadors may be able to put up posters, arrange special events, staff booths at student fairs, distribute samples, or hand out free ‘swag’ around campus. Check out how Bumble and Fenty effectively launched college ambassador programs this year.
Customers: If your customers are excited about your products, it’s a good idea to let them express themselves. Engage your top customers in a marketing campaign and kickstart some organic word of mouth: customers are an excellent way to get actionable feedback and, as a bonus, can share referral codes with their friends and family.
Expert partnerships: If you’re a beauty brand, working with qualified make up artists adds a layer of validation and trust that non MUA influencers may not have. Similarly, if you specialize in skin care products, creating a tight knit group of doctors or scientists could be a great way to really bring professional credibility to your brand.
Informal promotion: You don’t necessarily need to structure your ambassador marketing program around a contractual arrangement. Similar to affiliate marketing, but typically without structured commissions or payments, an informal ambassador marketing strategy involves recruiting normal customers that are simply enthusiastic about your brand, and that want to share that enthusiasm with friends and family.
Informal ambassador marketing is about generating word of mouth at ground level, between customers themselves. Like affiliate ambassadors, informal ambassadors receive a referral code or link to your products: whenever their code or link is used to make a purchase, the informal ambassador receives some form of reward: rather than a commission, that reward might come in the form of store credit or a discount coupon for a future purchase.
How do you set up an ambassador marketing strategy?
There’s a process to effective ambassador marketing. Let’s take a look at the key steps:
The goals for your ambassador marketing strategy should align with those of your business. What do you want your brand ambassadors to achieve, do you need to increase brand awareness within a specific market? Do you want your current social media followers to visit your website? Are you trying to drive sales? Are you looking to create more content? and so on. Those decisions will influence which ambassador marketing strategy you choose, the brand ambassadors that you find to represent you and how you measure the success of your campaign. Whatever your goals, you’ll need to think about how to establish metrics which you can use to gauge the success of your program. Learn more about setting effective goals here.
With your objectives set out, you’ll need to find brand ambassadors with the skills to help you achieve them. Your brand ambassadors should be aligned with the values and philosophy of your company, and be available to commit to the structure and obligations of any arrangement you put in place. There are a several ways to identify suitable brand ambassadors, including:
- Social media platforms: If you don’t have specific ambassadors in mind, the best place to start looking is social media, where you’ll be able to identify personalities, see the content they produce, see follower counts, and so on. It may be useful to explore hashtags or brand mentions to identify individuals that use or talk about your products regularly (learn how to do this easily with Aspire’s Influencer Search Engine). Remember: your brand ambassadors don’t necessarily have to be influencers with large followings, you may be able to find normal customers on social media platforms with the potential to communicate your brand message just as effectively.
- University events: Most colleges and universities host trade fairs or similar events at which brands may be able to recruit college brand ambassadors. Make sure to stock your booth with plenty of free samples and swag to increase the number of eyes on your brand.
- Existing contacts: Your own databases are going to be useful for selecting suitable brand ambassadors. Depending on what types of metrics you’re tracking, you’ll be able to select individual users with relevant attributes to approach as affiliates or informal ambassadors.
- Influencer Marketing Platforms: Aspire’s ecommerce integrations make it easy to browse your influential customers and invite them to ambassador campaigns.
- Creator Marketplaces: Many content creators sign up to networks known as creator marketplaces, allowing them to browse upcoming campaigns and partner with the brands that interest them the most. You can post details about your marketing campaign on a creator marketplace and then see which applicants would be the best fit as brand ambassadors.
Compensation and rewards: Ambassador marketing programs are flexible and cost-effective but they aren’t completely free, and you’ll need to set aside funds to adequately compensate your brand ambassadors for their efforts. While you may be paying some ambassadors, you may be able to offer other kinds of incentives or perks to others in the form of free products, samples, or subscriptions.
Facilitating ambassadors: You’ll need to offer your ambassadors support while they represent you. Depending on the type of arrangement you have with them, some ambassadors may be able to promote your brand on their own initiative, using their own platforms and content. Other ambassadors may need resources from you, including information, sample products, guidelines, and briefings. As your brand grows, you may want to add more ambassadors, which means you should also have plans to scale your strategy.
Analytics: Like any marketing strategy, you’ll need to measure your ambassador program to gauge its results, and to monitor the performance of your individual brand ambassadors. You’ll need metrics to identify the parts of your strategy that are working well, and options to adjust the parts that aren’t, as the weeks go on. Learn more about measuring ambassador ROI the right way.
Build, innovate, connect
Your ambassador marketing strategy is an opportunity to build relationships and innovate with your brand in ways that you may not previously have explored. Executed effectively, you’ll create a distinctive voice that helps you connect with customers and build loyalty on an ongoing basis. That’s why it’s important to take the time to get your strategy right, which means understanding your customers, finding ambassadors that understand your brand, and then empowering them with the kind of strategy and resources they need to connect with your audience.
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