Starting a brand ambassador marketing program is a full-time job. Make it a bit easier with these 9 tips.
When we build communities around products, we dream of creating something larger than a product or even larger than a brand name. We want to create deeper meaning in peoples’ lives. There are many ways to start building meaning around your product, but there is really no more effective way than empowering individual brand ambassadors to run with your vision and to better their own lives as a result. And if you’re a marketer, you are noticing something peculiar happening. Products from ice cream to earbuds to mattresses seem to be creating cult-like followings online. But if you’ve never done it before, how do you begin? Read on for an exploration of the key traits that define companies with brand ambassador programs.
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Starting a brand ambassador program is an uphill climb, but we can take a cue from a brand like Lululemon. They started small, and then leveraged passionate brand ambassadors to achieve hyper-growth. Today Lululemon has over 1200 brand ambassadors around the globe. But a lot has changed in the last decade. Social media allows consumers anywhere to become brand ambassadors by sharing their experiences in Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. That creates challenges for marketers, especially those looking to control or harness the conversation to create revenue.
That’s why Lululemon is such a fantastic example of brand ambassador marketing. By leveraging word of mouth marketing in the days before consumers obsessed over their Instagram feeds, the company was able to kickstart a female-led revolution in activewear, and define the model for companies with brand ambassador programs in every category.
Sure, there’s plenty of smack you can talk about Lululemon (see-through pants anyone?) but you can’t argue over their success. That’s because Lululemon sells products as well as aspirations of youth, energy, calm, vitality, health, perky butts, and discovering-your-chi-in-real-tight-pants. And their brand ambassadors are living it.
So let’s get started. Here’s how to create brand ambassador gold from scratch:
1. Don’t reinvent the wheel when starting a brand ambassador program.
When you’re creating something new it’s tempting to want to do it all yourself. The secret successful brands like Lululemon, Porsche, and Restoration Hardware is often an outside partner with expertise in building these programs. In the case of the aforementioned brands, NOTICE Agency was the common thread that set up a framework for success, allowing the brand marketers to focus on their objectives without worrying about the unknown. If you are considering ramping up a brand ambassador program without agency help, start with our quarterly Brand Ambassador Directory for access to fresh content creators.
2. Define your immediate goals for your initial outreach.
Be realistic. Here’s a good place to focus when starting a brand ambassador program: Identify and empower 10 users to do what they love more effectively while using your product. Don’t waste time at this stage trying to convert people into users though. Companies with brand ambassador programs often use social listening tools to find who is already advocating for you.
Setting brand ambassador KPIs may be challenging for some brand marketers. After all, we’re all supposed to be generating bottom funnel sales from thin air, right? Easier said than done, and with a brand ambassador program careful planning and communication is needed. That means the first few quarters of your new brand ambassador program may revolve around communication and relationship building.
Marketers may report how many qualified brand ambassador conversations they had in a given month, and how many of those led to a direct discussion around expectations, compensation, or perks? Finally, how many new brand ambassadors has the company onboarded, and what are their new activities generating from an impressions, clicks, and – potentially – sales perspective? It can be tough to swallow if you’re a hyper-growth, demand generating, performance marketing, ROI hacking machine of a brand.
3. Decide how the “ambassador program” will be structured.
Don’t get too complicated when starting a brand ambassador program, but try to create a trajectory for the future. You should start simple. Call it a “Pilot”: it’ll make you less afraid to mess things up a bit. For example, Lululemon creates two groups of brand ambassadors: general regional “ambassadors” who are experts in their field of health and wellness, and “Elite Ambassadors”, who are professional athletes recognized on the world stage. Clearly these levels require different types of interaction, budget, and overall marketing support.
Smaller brands may want to follow Lululemon’s model by creating buckets of brand ambassadors. While many companied don’t have the budget to work with professional athletes, they may find it easy to categorize prospective brand ambassadors by social media following size or field experience. Creating an A, B, and C group can help prioritize big wins vs. getting the program moving.
4. Create swag and “win-win” benefits.
One of the most interesting things about Lululemon’s brand ambassador program is how many touch points the marketing team has developed between the brand and their ambassadors.
When starting a brand ambassador program you need to ask yourself the question: “What does my community/user base value, and how can I deliver that to them?” Lululemon outfits their ambassadors with free product, offers them regular discounts on their collection, and even sends them to an annual brand ambassador summit, which is meant to inspire and brand ambassadors’ heads in the game year round. Since they started the trend, swag has become a common element of companies with brand ambassador programs. After all, it only makes sense for your brand ambassadors to live the product, right?
Creating opportunities for your brand ambassadors to engage with you via events, social media engagement, and swag to share with others. Lululemon even allows their brand ambassadors to put their status on their online portfolios, start their own brands piggy-backing off of Lululemon’s strong brand recognition, begin teaching classes at Lululemon stores (for free, obviously) and promote their brands in Lululemon’s marketing pieces.
All of this adds up to more events and activities for Lululemon’s customer base, deeper connection between customer and ambassador, and more clients for the ambassador as well. That’s some serious win-win right there.
5. Relinquish your control.
When thinking about how to start a brand ambassador program, it’s important to prepare mentally. Running a successful brand ambassador program means giving your community power to deliver your message with their own unique flair. Keep in mind, you do need to give brand ambassadors the space to express themselves and to speak to one another, whether it be through Medium, Facebook, WhatsApp, Slack, LinkedIn, forums, events and experiences, or your own fully integrated product. You may have a major hand in starting a brand ambassador program, but at some point – if you’re successful – it’s no longer in your hands.
In the case of Lululemon, there’s an entire brand ambassador portal that allows brand ambassadors to privately discuss challenges, share successes, and communicate 24/7 on all topics. Reps from Lululemon are also present to moderate, offer advice, or answer product questions. That’s a powerful way to make sure your brand ambassador community is thriving and not dying on the vine. To better understand how Lululemon manages this internal community, download our academic case study.
6. Give brand ambassadors the spotlight.
Feature your ambassadors. Feature all of them. Give them a spot on your site and/or your blog. Allow them to link this to things like their LinkedIn profile so that your reputation and their reputation can be tied together as one. Allow them to find the simple answers for your brand and help yourself recruit new brand ambassadors by answering questions like how to become a fashion brand ambassador. Starting a brand ambassador program means making things all about them!
Don’t be afraid to use brand ambassadors in marketing and advertising efforts, including flyers, social media posts, and even television or streaming video commercials. Companies with brand ambassador programs maximize value by utilizing talent in major campaigns. Benefits can include increased motivation to participate in you brand ambassador program and creating additional behind the scenes content covering your marketing efforts. That kind of authentic content leaves a lasting impression on consumers and may differentiate you in competitive markets.
7. Keep rewarding your biggest fans.
As you find success starting a brand ambassador program, continue outreach to your most vocal and active fans first. Sure, it’s great to gain new users, but retaining and activating those that are already using your product creates brand loyalty. That’s what a brand ambassador program is all about! That’s what senior leadership will want to see. Anne Guitteau, Creative Director and brand ambassador campaign expert at NOTICE puts it this way:
“We’re looking for content creators who are not already tapped by brands. They are passionate about what they do, and are excited to be at the center of an incredibly viral marketing program for our clients. Our BAs are willing to go the extra mile and do more because they know we will bring them many opportunities to do meaningful work in the space they love.”
In Anne’s case her company actually presents marketing plans to groups of brand ambassadors before they are finalized. It’s a great way to bring them into the fold while getting valuable feedback. Almost like a brand ambassador focus group. She notes that after these types of events and activities it’s a lot easier to activate brand ambassadors and get them moving in the right direction. While most companies with brand ambassador programs think about the marketing side, few are circling the wagons during the planning process to include brand ambassadors in real business decisions.
8. Keep asking. Keep measuring.
Companies with brand ambassador programs measure success based on what’s most important to them, including total size of the ambassador community, surveys about perception from the ambassadors themselves, response time to your product feedback inquiries, or simple check-ins. Starting a brand ambassador program takes time, so having smaller goals that ladder up to larger ones will help you keep funding and excitement flowing. Influencers are also getting smart about how brands review their accounts, and building free Instagram followers with a few tricks of the trade. Learning their side of the business can also help you spot red flags.
Measuring the ROI of a brand ambassador program can be complicated. Challenges include an indirect link to retail and a multi-channel funnel that may start with social and lead to organic or paid search. Providing brand ambassadors with discount codes or other electronic means of tracking like customized links can help create direct measurement. The reality is a successful brand ambassador marketing program generates awareness before it generates sales. Be patient!
9. Companies with brand ambassador programs don’t stop creating.
Continually find ways to increase value to this community and think of ways that they can contribute as well. Lean on your agency partners to help you continue to come up with fresh ideas when starting a brand ambassador program. If you want to keep the momentum building (you do), always ask yourself these two questions: 1) How can your brand keep delivering value to your ambassadors? 2) How can your ambassadors keep delivering value to other users and to one another?
Once your program is underway, you’ll wonder how you ever did without it. And if you’re a community manager working with, say Instagram influencers, you’ll also wonder how you ever did without the energy that these ambassadors bring you each day. Companies with brand ambassador programs may hold the keys to our digital, social, experiential marketing future.