Before there was influencer marketing there were brand ambassador programmes. A proven strategy, ambassador programmes allow brands to empower their customers and fans to tell their story and share their message. It creates deeper connections with audiences, and builds meaning, engagement and community around a product or service.
Brand ambassador programmes are a major marketing strategy for mega-brands – Lululemon and Adidas have created academic business case studies around theirs. And for small businesses on tight marketing budgets? They’re an effective way to drive your vision forward. But where do you start? I checked in with a few friends to dig deeper into how they’ve created powerful programmes for their businesses.
Define your goals for your ambassador outreach
Brand ambassador programmes are a smart marketing channel but, they take time to develop. Defining how it supports your marketing strategy and your immediate goals, will help you collaborate more effectively – and measure success.
Alli Abdelal, founder of independent luxury design company, RUSKIN, an independent design company that creates a range of luxury bags, believes it’s all in the planning. “Plan out exactly who you are trying to reach, what you are both going to do to achieve this and how the collaboration will be mutually beneficial. I know this seems remarkably obvious but it’s amazing how things get lost in translation and partnerships rapidly fall apart leaving disappointment and even bad feeling.”
“We have found from experience that the key is to take plenty of time to find the ‘right fit’ for your brand and then plan, plan, plan!”
I encourage clients to set out objectives and engagement milestones as you activate the relationship. Consider ambassadors’ personal goals too, to personalise your strategy. Motivations tend to go beyond financial, and can be more intrinsic. Your ambassadors could be looking to grow and nurture their own communities, and achieve professional recognition alongside business growth.
Start where you are
Starting small and keeping it simple is wise. I’d even suggest trialling your programme as a pilot, then build on this as you gain momentum. Together with her sister Zoe, Jen Beby, founder of independent fragrance and lifestyle brand, Join, designed a programme to include their best brand ambassadors – their customers, who include the likes of Designers Guild, Firain and Tinker Tailor.
As Jen explains, “People love styling candles. We are lucky enough to have several other inspiring women running their own creative businesses supporting our brand. This has encouraged me to think more strategically about how we connect with our customers to grow our little eco-friendly business. They share our values and believe in our product – so ultimately, they’re the best ambassadors for our brand. In the same way, we love giving them the spotlight across our community too.”
Aggi Kowal, Manager at Sweaty Betty Marlow and fitness and life coach adds, “We are always looking for someone who already and naturally lives the Sweaty Betty lifestyle, inspiring women through fitness and beyond. Our ambassadors become a part of our family.”
Create a clear format and structure
This is key; as with many areas of influencer marketing, arrangements are open to misunderstanding.
This happened to RUSKIN as Alli explains, “We, perhaps rather naively, started out with good faith discussions and agreements for our early collaborations. Now we would approach any new project much more carefully, honing our audience, discussing expectations and terms and ultimately creating a written agreement. This doesn’t need to be too involved, just a document providing clarity about the project and expectations from both parties.”
As your programme grows, you may look at tiering your partnerships, so offering different incentives in line with success. Aggi explains how Sweaty Betty leverages their globally successful programme, “We have global ambassadors and local store ambassadors. This way we get ultimate brand exposure but also tailored to the location of every store. We have a yearly contracts and we mutually agree to collaborate.”
Select brand ambassadors who connect with your customer
Selecting brand ambassadors that truly represent your values – and those of your customer – is vital for a successful and authentic collaboration. Brand ambassador programmes are how The Primal Pantry, the real food snack bar, creates awareness in specific customer communities, their sports audience for example.
Suzie Walker, founder and Chief Firestarter at The Primal Pantry, explains, “For us it’s about how we connect with customers through trusted – even expert – recommendation and authentic engagement. We’ve created a programme of ambassadors who are genuinely passionate about our product. These guys create aspirational and inspiring narratives around Primal Pantry and how it supports their training, their well-being and their performance.”
The Primal Pantry builds additional brand loyalty by retaining and activating their biggest fans.
“Athletes like Zac Purchase, Matthew Pritchard and Emelye Dwyer share our ethos, our commitment to the real food revolution and a desire push the limits. They care about our brand. They’re already engaged with our company’s vision and mission so we know they’re the best advocates for us.”
Enrich your community through your programme
Think about how your brand ambassador programme brings value and enhances your community. It’s a compelling way to strengthening your brand’s purpose. Ask yourself “What does my community value the most?” Then, create opportunities for your brand ambassadors to engage with you through events, social media engagement, and product offers to share – reaching their audiences too.
Jen says it’s worked well for Join. “Our brand ambassador programme is another way that Join can increase our value to our customer community and contribute more creatively. One aspect I focus on is collaborative events. We recently ran a joint workshop with our stockist and local florist, Bloomologie, and invited a handful of influential bloggers to attend, with a view to creating that longer term brand association. Our ambassadors get a great, value-added experience, learn more about products as well as create lovely content for their own audiences. Making sure it benefits everyone is key to effective programmes.”
Make it count – track success
Measuring ROI on a brand ambassador programme can be complicated. Tracking links back to a range of sales channels, led by social or organic search, can get foggy. Creating customised links and offers can help with direct measurement. You can also review ambassadors’ engagement levels – effectiveness in drawing their audience out to an event, for example. Awareness will come before sales. Measurement will always tie back to your specific goals too.
Brand ambassador programmes are about partnership – communicate your goals openly with your ambassadors and take time to understand there. Working together, you can create truly innovative and engaging strategies to connect and build your audiences, creating an invigorated, loyal and sustainable customer community.
As Alli concludes, “I love it when I can find someone with the same energy and enthusiasm because I think it is possible to achieve so much more in the collaborative spirit of things… it is just a matter of finding your people!”
It’s what creating a story-driven brand is about.