How to launch a brand ambassador programme

It turns out what employees say is much more credible than what owners or key executives say about a company’s products, according to a 2012 survey of over 30,000 done by the Edelman Trust Barometer. Turning employees into brand ambassadors also increases employee engagement and that’s always good for business. 

Here are five ideas for putting together a brand ambassador programme on a tight budget from my new book, Breakthrough Branding: How Smart Entrepreneurs and Intrapreneurs Transform a Small Idea Into a Big Brand (Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2013):

1. Seek out employees who embody your brand’s values

Nowhere is brand ambassadorship more important than in retail. HealthZone, a UK retailer that sells health products and complementary therapies, looks for employees who are knowledgeable about the health category and passionate about its health values. As a result, HealthZone recently won the UK Best Health Shop Award for outstanding customer service from Better Retailing Magazine based on secret shoppers who visited health stores in England and Scotland. 

2. Recruit people who are already social media mavens

Indie drinks brand Jones Soda is dramatically outspent by big competing brands, so its brand ambassador programme is key to is success strategy. As Jones Soda targets young people, the company recruits students who love the drink, are active online through a blog or social media like Facebook and Twitter, and can lift 50 pounds. 

Along with the blogging, tweeting and posting, the Jones student brand ambassadors share the soda with their peers, give out free bottles of Jones Soda during exam periods and distribute it at major campus events. The payoff to the student ambassadors? Lots of soda, hourly compensation and instant popularity on campus.

3. Find influential people to partner with your brand

The idea of tapping bartenders as drinks sales representatives began in the UK in the 1990s and has now taken hold around the world. Who better to connect with bartenders and show them how to mix new drinks than drinks reps who “speak bartender” and know what it’s like to tend bar? 

UK yoga and fitness clothing brand, Sweaty Betty, partners with fitness and yoga instructors in its local markets as fitness ambassadors and customers have access to free classes through its “get fit for free” campaign. It’s a win-win since the fitness ambassadors are able to meet potential new clients for their private classes and training sessions. Sweaty Betty not only gets their clothing out in the fitness community, its fitness club and free classes are a great perk to offer customers.

4. Grow your brand ambassador programme as your business grows

It takes some improvising to launch a brand ambassador programme if you’re still at university, like the four enterprising MBA students at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business who launched eyeglass company Warby Parker when they were still students. In 2008, the group was brainstorming business ideas and one topic was glasses/spectacles and how expensive they were. This led to their new business idea, an antibrand glasses brand with good prices and good designs that could be bought over the internet as well as in brick and mortar stores. 

The student-co-founders realised that school was the ideal incubator for their start-up idea since their classmates were their target consumers. To sell the glasses, they recruited bespectacled student leaders as brand ambassadors. As the Warby Parker brand took off, they expanded the brand ambassador programme to include department store buyers, maître ds and other people who wore glasses and come into contact with a lot of other people. The deal for Warby Parker’s brand ambassadors? They get a free pair of glasses and a discount for their friends and acquaintances.

5. Make it easy and fun for for employees, partners and customers to tout your brand

Make it as easy as possible for employees, partners and customers to be brand ambassadors and share their brand experience. Encourage social media use by forming a Twitter tribe or Facebook brigade so they can share ideas and feedback. Many companies even send out weekly or monthly ideas on topics, customer stores and other relevant news for employees and partners to tweet and post. Customers can become ad hoc brand ambassadors when you add “share” buttons to your website and posts so they are easy to pass along.

If you want to get your business noticed, maybe it’s time to adopt a winning strategy from the marketing playbook. Get other people to promote your brand for you with a Brand Ambassador programme. You may think it is a small thing, but it’s not. It’s a big thing and it can even go viral.

Catherine Kaputa is a brand strategist, speaker and author. Her latest book is Breakthrough Branding: How Smart Entrepreneurs and Intrapreneurs Transform a Small Idea Into a Big Brand (Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2012), winner of the Silver Medal, Book of the Year Awards, 2012 (Business category) sponsored by Foreword Magazine. 

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