The Important Role of the Brand Ambassador

Brand Ambassador:  Someone who embodies the brand he/she is endorsing, providing the brand with credible promotion and visibility.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?  And while every small business owner would love to find several brand ambassadors underneath their Christmas tree, it’s not that easy.  No matter how much you beg, Santa isn’t going to wrap one up and stuff him down the chimney (that’s called kidnapping) and you can’t buy one from a catalog (that’s illegal).

Brand Ambassadors, also called evangelists, don’t just show up on your doorstep and shout your small business praises like a medieval town crier, yet they are all around you – maybe even closer than you think.  And with a little work, some investment in time and a dash of patience, you can cultivate your own brand ambassadors that will serve as enthusiastic champions for your cause.

Having brand ambassadors is another way of saying there are people who are passionate about your brand.  This passion can’t be bought, sold or dictated – it must come organically from the person who is endorsing your brand.  Otherwise, the testimonial won’t be authentic and people will see straight through it like a senator’s latest excuse.  An authentic brand evangelist is more effective than paid ads, company sponsored blogs and social media business pages.

So who can be a brand ambassador?  There are three basic types.  We’ll take a look at each one, examine how to identify each and discuss how to empower them to become effective and successful brand ambassadors for your business.

1. Owner / Senior Management

If you are a small business owner, you may not have any other members of senior management in your company.  Regardless, any owner or senior manager should be, by default, a brand ambassador for their business.

Whether you’re at a seminar, conference or business meeting, people expect you to deliver a polished pitch when inquired about your business.  Can you?  If you fumble around with the words that describe your business, you won’t be taken as seriously as someone who can talk effortlessly and enthusiastically about their business.  After all, if you don’t appear excited about your company, why should anyone else?

This message may not come across to potential customers as always being authentic since you have a vested interest in your business, but you should always be ready to deliver your message to vendors, peers and heads of other companies.  They are all potential customers, and quite possibly, potential business associates.  You never know what opportunities await you.  Nor do you know what capabilities are behind every person you meet.  We have clients that have found investment funding after talking passionately about their business to someone they didn’t even know had financial clout.

Identifying Key Brand Ambassadors – Just because someone is an owner or a senior manager doesn’t make them automatic brand ambassador material.  Much of it comes down to the individual’s area of influence (clout), their level of sincerity and their passion about the business.

Even then, it is easy for a person in power to oversell and lose credibility quickly.  An overzealous owner or senior manager can easily do more harm than good if they’re not careful.  Look for those who understand these potential problems and are savvy enough to avoid them.

How to Empower – At this level, the message must be clear, concise and delivered well.  If it’s just you, practice in front of a mirror, a spouse or an associate.  If it’s several members of upper management, consider professional classes.  Make sure each brand ambassador knows and understands the power of effective communication without overselling.

If you or one of your upper management team writes a blog, be careful about the message you send.  A hard sell approach will most likely be viewed negatively.  At this level, use the blogger’s expertise to share information or enlighten, rather than be a cheerleader.

If one of your upper management members shows promise, send them out to tradeshows / conventions, mixers and other events.  Monitor them closely at first but allow them to speak in their own voice and use their energy and passion to become successful evangelists for your business.

2. Employees

Not only are employees your most valuable assets, but potential customers will view them as a more credible source than owners or senior managers.  Customers tend to believe what employees say about a business because they have less at stake than upper management.

Employees have their own networks, both online and offline.  Finding creative ways to tap into those networks can give your business a huge boost in awareness and visibility.

Turning employee into brand ambassadors can be nerve-racking at times.  It’s a leap of faith to turn an employee loose and speak about your product or service.  You can’t control what they say or write, and there’s always the potential for something to go wrong.  Many business owners feel the need to control everything.  Brand ambassadorship isn’t a perfect system and if you’re looking for perfection, you’ll always be disappointed.  You’ll need to loosen the reins with employee evangelists and give them room to speak in their own voice.  Otherwise, their credibility will be shot and the whole purpose will be defeated.

The obvious way to make sure employees are saying good things about your business is to treat them right and have solid business practices in place that all employees can believe in.  And if you take the time to properly identify the prospective brand ambassadors and empower them, the chances of something going wrong are greatly reduced.

Identifying Key Brand Ambassadors – Look for enthusiastic, motivated employees with large networks in their social media circles, clubs and other areas of influence.  Just because someone has 1,000 friends on Facebook doesn’t mean they have any sway over those people, or that their EdgeRank is soaring.  Take time to research how other people interact with the employee on his/her social media networks before you approach them about taking a more significant role.

Also, just because an employee is influential with a large network, it doesn’t mean they understand the objective of the brand.  They need to ‘get’ the brand in order to talk about it.

Since blogging and posting social media updates takes solid writing skills, make sure the employee has an adequate grasp of grammar and can clearly communicate his/her ideas.  Even the best of intentions can backfire if the written word gets misinterpreted by the reader.

How to Empower – There are many ways to motivate employees to become successful brand ambassadors.  Perks, money, promotions, titles; all of these can motivate employees to sing your praises.  Some will do it just because they believe in the company and have pride in their work.  Others will become very successful evangelists for a chance at a promotion.

Whatever means of motivation you use to get an employee to become an evangelist, you need to provide them with the tools to be effective.  Some companies allow certain employees to break new information first by leaking it through Twitter.  Others prepare guides and statistics for their employees.

Trust the employee enough to put the information in their own words.  If you try to dictate too much what they say or write, it will come across stale and calculated – then credibility will be lost.  Just make sure the information is factual, accurate and consistent with the overall brand image.

3. Customers

When customers talk to potential customers, people listen.  It’s just like when you tell your neighbor about your new barbecue grill.  Since you don’t have a stake in the company and have no reason to falsely hype the product, your view will hold much more weight than a company spokesperson, a corporate produced video or press release.

A customer endorsement of a certain product can be more effective than high paid ads or thousands of direct mail flyers.  Testimonials can make or break brands.  Look at movie companies that spend millions of dollars of advertisements for the film’s opening weekend, only to have the movie flop after the first weekend because of negative word of mouth.  In this digital age, a tweet or status update can potentially sway thousands of minds.

You may already have people who love your business and would be willing evangelists.  You just have to identify the right ones and empower them.

Identifying Key Brand Ambassadors – It’s sometimes easier to find potential brand ambassadors within your customer base than it is your own employees.  If you monitor your brand online, you can pinpoint enthusiastic customers that you may have never been aware of.  Follow them through their blogs and social media circles to find out the extent of their influence.  This is one of many benefits of subscribing to a brand monitoring/reputation awareness service.

Not all potential brand ambassadors are online though.  Many people who are not cyber geeks still have influence.  Bartenders, waiters, hairstylists and others talk to lots of people each day.  Think of the people in your life that could persuade others.  Even if they aren’t your customer yet, they may benefit from your product or service.  Give them a free sample and tell them to share their experiences if they find it beneficial.

How to Empower – The first part of this answer is easy to say, but harder to implement.  Having great products and excellent customer service will produce evangelists.  People love positive experiences and will talk about them, almost as much as they love to talk about negative experiences.   Create a wonderful experience for your customers and they’ll tell their friends, family and neighbors.  Of course, create a bad experience and they’ll tell even more people.

For your customers with larger circles of influence, devise ways to keep your brand in their thoughts.  Perhaps you can invite them occasionally to your place of business to sample the latest product.  If you have special news to announce, allow these influential customers to broadcast it to their social network first.  If you know ahead of time that a customer will be writing about your brand in a blog, offer to supply them with photos or give them a free product sample.

If one of your enthusiastic customers is a fellow business owner or manager, offer some samples that they can give away to interested prospects.  It makes it easier to talk up your product when they have a sample they can give out.

Don’t try to directly influence their words.  It’s better to be just supportive of them than to try to put words in their mouths.  If you make a product you’re proud of and have provided them with great customer service, trust them to say the right things.

Have you identified any potential brand ambassadors?  What steps do you take to empower these people to become evangelists for your service or product?  If you already are lucky to have brand ambassadors, what type of success have you had with them?  Please let us know by sharing your experience on this post’s section of our Facebook Fan Page.

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