The concept of brand ambassadorship is nothing new. The first recorded instance of a celebrity endorsement, a precursor to modern “brand ambassadorship”, dates back to the late 1800s. The renowned stage actor, Lillie Langtry, endorsed Pears Soap, spiking the sales of Pears Soap and paving the way for other businesses to employ similar strategies. Fast forward to today, where we live in a world filled with various stages (and new ones rolling out every day… ahem, we’re looking at you, Threads) and plenty of actors playing upon them.
If you’ve been keeping even half of an eye on current events, you’ll have noticed big names in various industries harnessing the influence of celebrities to drive their brand messaging; you’ll have seen them experience success (one of our recent favorites is the Edwards Pie partnership with Jason Biggs) as well as experience reputation-tarnishing backlash (a la the Kendall Jenner + Pepsi partnership). The practice of leveraging the power of celebrity to build word-of-mouth business is nothing new, but thanks to new technologies and trends, the concept has gotten much more complex, and much more accessible.
Moving from major celebrity endorsements to niche influencer promos
The advent of social media has allowed a wider variety of businesses to consider influencer marketing as a part of their promotional strategies. One of the most renowned and successful examples of influencer marketing partnerships is the collaboration between the fitness brand Gymshark and fitness influencer Nikki Blackketter. Gymshark leveraged Nikki’s massive social media reach to connect with their target audience, promoting their products through her authentic, relatable content. This partnership not only resonated with her followers but also transformed Gymshark from a small business into a globally recognized brand. It’s a textbook example of how effective a brand ambassador program can be when executed correctly.
On the flipside, these efforts can also yield less-than-desirable results if not managed properly. Most recently, the collaboration between Dylan Mulvaney and Bud Light – that resulted in controversy and brand damage for both parties – is a cautionary tale for those seeking to market via influencer partnerships. Seeking to appeal to a younger demographic, Bud Light partnered with Dylan, an openly trans individual, for a marketing campaign. This ignited a backlash not only from Dylan’s followers, who criticized him for endorsing an alcohol brand but also from anti-trans voices, further fanning the controversy. The backlash created a negative ripple effect, not only failing to generate the intended buzz for Bud Light, but also damaging Dylan’s reputation among his followers and damaging the Bud Light brand among previously loyal customers. The Mulvaney/Bud Light case underscores the importance of being thoroughly cognizant of your target audience’s values and expectations when selecting a brand ambassador.
Terrifying and daunting as it may seem to take a risk like this, there’s no doubt that every business, big or small, can tap into this concept that is often a marketing goldmine. Imagine turning your favorite customers into enthusiastic brand ambassadors, spreading the word about your product or service! At the core, efforts like these are about building a word-of-mouth business using your website and social media, and it’s more achievable than you might think. But before you start to create your own successful brand ambassador program for your company, make sure you really understand the concept – and how it can best apply to your brand.
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Defining a brand ambassador
A Brand Ambassador – AKA “Influencer” or “Referral Partner” – program is essentially a strategic alliance where individuals who already adore your brand take their love one step further and actively promote your products or services. These individuals don’t have to be celebrities or YouTube stars; they could be satisfied customers, industry experts, fans who are at every show, bloggers, or even your own employees. The goal is to leverage their influence, social reach, and credibility to drive word-of-mouth business through your website and social media platforms.
Ultimately, a brand ambassador partnership is about fostering genuine relationships with people who believe in your brand and can act as its credible representatives, creating an authentic and powerful impact. In essence, it’s about finding those who can personify your brand’s values and ethos in the most relatable way possible to your target audience.
Why you should consider a brand ambassador-type program for your small business
Such programs can significantly improve brand recognition, expand customer base, and boost sales. However, it’s critical to know that successful ambassador programs don’t always mean getting a YouTube star for endorsement. Your business might not benefit from a traditional, influencer-style partnership, but that doesn’t mean the concept doesn’t apply at all. In fact, what you might actually be looking to create is a “referral partner” relationship. The goal is to find those who can personify your brand’s values and ethos in the most relatable way to your target audience, and cultivating a relationship with those people in a mindful way. So… if you’re sold on the concept, it’s probably time to consider creating a brand ambassador program for your company.
Where to start when building a brand ambassador, influencer, or referral partner program
Establishing a formal framework within your business for these kinds of relationships can provide a significant boost to your business’s marketing efforts, strategically driving traffic to your website, generating leads, enhancing existing customer loyalty, and ultimately increasing sales. Now that you’re totally sold on the concept, let’s dive into the step-by-step process of how you can effectively establish one for your business.
Secure internal buy-in for your program
Before you can launch a brand ambassador program, you need to convince the decision-makers in your company of its value. Presenting case studies of successful programs, providing data on potential return on investment, and showing how it aligns with the company’s broader strategies can help you win their support.
Design your program intentionally
Your brand ambassador program should align with your brand’s image and goals. Consider the type of ambassador that would resonate with your target audience, how you’d like them to promote your brand, and what incentives you can offer to encourage their participation. It might be as simple as paying a popular Instagram influencer, but it could also mean building a network of thought leaders in your industry who are willing to promote your brand in exchange for your brand promoting theirs (or just because they love you). It all comes down to your unique business.
Identify potential partners for brand promotion
Look for influencers who align with your brand values, have a dedicated online following, and possess the ability to genuinely and effectively promote your products or services. For optimal results, their audience should align with your target demographic or ideal customer profile.
Structure the relationship
You’ll likely want to work with an attorney, in the same way you would for hiring contractors or vendors for other areas of your business, but the core tenets are the same. Work with your internal team and your ambassadors to establish clear expectations, boundaries, compensation details, and relationship length upfront. Do not forget to include a plan for gracefully ending the partnership, should it become necessary.
Plan for the long-term
To ensure the longevity of your brand ambassador program, set up an intentional internal administration system for these relationships. Keeping track of who’s actually on payroll or under contract is just one part of it. You’ll want to make sure you have consistent and reliable communication methods in place, a way to share files, and a plan to monitor ongoing mentions of or conversations about your brand both in traditional and on social media. Depending on how formal or extensive the relationship is, you might also want a shared content calendar so that your internal marketing resources have visibility into what your partners will be sharing.
Mindfully organizing your program can help maintain consistency for your brand, regardless of whether your business experiences employee turnover.
Then… Incorporate partner content into your own strategy
Your referral partners shouldn’t be the only ones posting or talking about your brand as a part of these efforts. This part isn’t just about reposting when a partner posts about you… it’s about creating an ongoing conversation between your brand and your partners. Keeping a close eye on media mentions can help inspire you to create new content of your own, perhaps even inspiring new campaigns for the future.
If you’re curious about how Berry Interesting Productions can support your business during a rollout of a program like this, drop us a line or book a consultation directly with our fearless leader, D’nelle. You can also sign up to get emails from Berry Interesting, and we’ll keep you in the loop.
You might be interested to know that this post was created with the help of generative AI tools like ChatGPT. Find out more here.