Marketers know that, when it comes to promoting a new product or service, word-of-mouth referrals, social media, and recommendations are still some of the most powerful tools available. That’s why many companies are investing in and launching brand ambassador programs and increasing investment into digital marketing platforms. The 2022 Nielsen report on global annual marketing reports that 22% of North American businesses report increasing spend on social platforms by 50% or greater this year, which is a primary touchpoint for brand ambassador programs. A brand ambassador can be a true champion for your business. They genuinely love what you offer and want to share everything they can about the brand.
Whether you’re a new or established business, if you have happy customers and happy employees, it’s time to start thinking about how to create a brand ambassador program to gather usable marketing data and build long-term partnerships with your biggest fans. The goal of creating these programs is to further incentivize that support.
Here’s what you need to know to get started building a successful brand ambassador program.
What is a brand ambassador?
The term “brand ambassador” is fairly broad and can encompass a number of different groups. But generally speaking, these people are often:
- Existing customers.
- Your employees.
- Business partners and associates.
As true fans of your brand, your ambassadors help promote your product or service organically and spread positive brand awareness within their own social circles, both on and offline.
Customers will always be your most effective brand ambassadors. They believe in what you sell, have direct experience with your products and services, and aren’t necessarily getting anything in return for their enthusiasm (until you set up your brand ambassador program, that is).
Closely following your customers are your employees. If people on your team are passionate about the business they work for, they’re also choice candidates for amplifying your brand. Plus, they have inside knowledge that customers don’t have access to, which makes them ideal for promoting new initiatives or behind-the-scenes looks into what the brand is doing every day.
Brand ambassadors in practice: Lululemon
Global athleisure brand Lululemon has one of the biggest and most successful brand ambassador programs in the world, utilizing a mix of “global ambassadors,” or elite and top-performing athletes, and “store ambassadors,” their everyday customers and store instructors who rave about their products.
One of the biggest benefits for Lululemon’s brand ambassadors is their exclusive access to new products and sometimes even those still in development. The brand gathers feedback and insights from this group of fans while building authentic relationships throughout the communities where their stores are located.
How is a brand ambassador different from an influencer?
It’s easy to think that there’s not much difference between an influencer and a brand ambassador, and while influencers can certainly fall under that broader umbrella, there are important differences.
Typically, influencers are contracted to work with a brand on paid campaigns to promote the business as a whole or a specific product or service. This could be a one-off campaign or an ongoing engagement. The marketing team will likely have significant input into the creative direction and objectives of any influencer campaign.
Many influencers only choose to work with brands that they support themselves and align with their values, but ultimately, they’re still being paid to publicly share your brand name. Brand ambassadors, though, are natural promoters who don’t expect any compensation for their recommendation of your company. You can choose to offer financial or product-based incentives as part of your program, but it’s not an expectation upfront. They may also have fewer social media followers than you’d expect when working with an influencer, but bring a level of authenticity that’s hard to find elsewhere.
The same goes for company spokespeople. These individuals represent the brand on an official basis, either as part of the internal team or an outside entity such as a PR firm. Their role is to present the official company stance on various topics and ensure that messaging is consistent in all public-facing communications.
While you can guide your brand ambassadors and provide them with social media graphics to help promote you with on-brand material, you ultimately have very little control over how they choose to share their recommendation.
How to create a brand ambassador program: a checklist
1. Start with the basics
When you’re starting to build a new brand ambassador program, you need to make sure that the essential components are covered. You should have:
- Loyal fans who you can call on to promote you.
- A recruitment strategy in place.
- Tools your ambassadors can use to talk about your brand to their audience.
- A system to track and manage your ambassadors.
- A way to reward brand ambassadors for their efforts.
2. Outline your objectives and goals
As with any marketing strategy, your first step should always be mapping out why and how building this program will grow some aspect of the business and what specific goals you have in mind for your ambassador program to achieve. Having a defined strategy is also a good way to provide ambassadors better guidance and set clear expectations upfront.
From there, have a plan in place to track and measure success and tie your efforts in the program back to any increased revenue within the business, especially if you’re providing financial incentives like with an affiliate program.
Remember, though, that brand ambassadors aren’t influencers and they’ll have their own reasons for wanting to promote your company. That’s why doing research on who should be your brand ambassador is a crucial followup to this initial task.
3. Define who your ideal brand ambassador is
You likely already have customer personas that your marketing team has developed for other initiatives, so apply this same approach for your brand ambassadors. Think about who they are (e.g., customers or employees), what their connection to your brand is, and what they might want to get out of a program like this.
It’s also important to think about other criteria, like how long they’ve been connected to you, what marketing channels they currently have that they might use to promote you, and what their personal values are. The latter can be especially difficult to pinpoint when you’re working with customers rather than employees or paid influencers. But if they love your brand and want to talk about you, that’s at least a meaningful starting point to build a relationship from.
4. Find and connect with potential recruits
Unlike an affiliate program, where any customer could potentially share their experience and make some money from promoting you, a brand ambassador is part of a carefully selected team of people. You’ve already taken the time to identify the type of person you want to work with, so now you’re ready to move on and actually find those individuals.
Start by talking to your most loyal and passionate employees to ask whether they’d be interested. From there, you can move onto taking a look through existing customer data — who buys from you regularly and has done so for a long period of time? Those are the customers you want to reach out to first to talk about your new brand ambassador program. This is also an ideal time to solicit feedback on the program structure directly from your best customers to ensure it appeals to them.
5. Lay out the incentives and guidelines for brand ambassadors
Your brand ambassadors will want to know exactly what’s in it for them before they commit to joining the program. Many may be happy to promote you without an incentive, but it’s always good to build additional good will with your ambassadors by offering them something as a “thank you.”
Gift cards, discount codes, a shoutout on social media or even a personal note are all good ways to show your appreciation for the time and effort your ambassadors have given to the program. Supplement brand Athletic Greens currently offers a financial reward for their brand ambassadors, typically around 30% commission on any sales made through their affiliate links. But individual incentives can also be discussed with ambassadors on a one-on-one basis if that works better for your business.
You’ll also want to put together a pack of information for your new brand ambassadors on how to talk about your brand in a way that aligns with your messaging. Share any dos and don’ts that they need to know about, what they can expect when signing up for the program, and any graphic assets for their social media that they can use as often as they’d like.
6. Track their success
When you’re onboarding your new brand ambassadors, remind them to always tag your official social media accounts whenever they post on their own channels. This is one of the best ways to help keep track of who’s talking about you, where, and how often.
There are numerous tools out there, such as subscription-based services like Fohr, Grin, and FriendBuy, as well as platform-based data sources such as Instagram, TikTok, and Google Analytics. These all help you stay on top of the data, including reposts and shares by your brand ambassadors’ audience, clicks on affiliate links, and any reward incentives that you need to pass along each month.
How to manage your program so it can thrive
While setting up a brand ambassador program is a significant undertaking, the work of a brand ambassador program doesn’t end once you’ve got your first people signed up. In fact, maintaining ongoing communication, continuing to build relationships with your ambassadors, and even evolving your program over time are all key to ensuring the success of the program. Your brand ambassadors want your company to thrive as much as you do, so make sure you’re giving them the right tools and staying in touch frequently to help them help you as much as possible.