How to Market Your Business With Brand Ambassadors

by Stephanie Taylor Christensen on March 12, 2013
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Word of mouth and direct referrals can build your customer base, but even your most loyal supporters may not have enough marketing clout to help you gain the attention you need. Enter brand ambassadors: people who already wield influence in your target market and can serve as trusted “vehicles” for delivering your company’s message.

This marketing tactic is a key reason that fitness retailer Lululemon Athletica has become an industry leader in yoga-inspired apparel, even though the company spends very little on paid advertising and the brand commands higher prices than most of its competitors.

Could brand ambassadors successfully market your small business? Here’s how to set up an effective brand ambassador program.

1. Choose your ambassadors carefully. You want to reach as many customers as possible through a brand ambassador, so you should contact established bloggers and industry insiders with the most social media followers, customers, and name recognition, right? Wrong. According to the experts at Brains on Fire, a brand identity and marketing shop, a truly convincing brand ambassador must be passionate about your company and what it offers. Selecting a brand ambassador based on popularity does not guarantee a successful relationship, and there’s a good chance that the person will sell out to the highest bidder when a better opportunity comes along. In turn, their messages won’t be heartfelt or convincing, and their followers won’t be convinced or inspired, either. Seek like-minded individuals who share your “fire” for your product, service, or image and who are gaining influence (but are still on their way up).

2. Cultivate symbiotic relationships. Winning customers boils down to winning their trust. Conquering this complex emotion can be challenging and expensive. The right brand ambassadors, however, have already established trust in their community of followers, which is your target audience. Lululemon gained traction by making brand ambassadors of yoga instructors and fitness teachers who embodied its lifestyle brand and had established followings. The program continues today. Although “Lulu” ambassadors aren’t paid a salary, they receive some free merchandise and are asked to wear the brand when giving classes and making public appearances. Lulu also supports its ambassadors by endorsing them in social media and featuring them in marketing initiatives and in-store signage.

3. Make ambassadors an integral part of your team. The best brand ambassadors don’t blatantly promote your product, say the experts at Brains on Fire. Their value is in igniting two-way conversations that focus on how your product or service enhances people’s lives. BrandTwist founder Julie Cottineau says that, ultimately, effective brand ambassador language hinges on communicating a “we” mentality. When discussing what it is that they love about your product, a brand ambassador shouldn’t use statements like “they have developed this great new solution or sent me this product,” but rather communicate a sense of “we” (as in, your business and the brand ambassador). For example: “We’re excited to launch our new line of computers.”

4. Respect your ambassadors’ insights. You choose brand ambassadors to develop customer trust. In turn, you must trust your brand ambassadors. Although you can “plant seeds” by supplying product samples and news of your latest initiatives, you must give up control and allow them to communicate your message in a way that feels natural to their followers. If they have suggestions for improvement, make their ideas a priority in your future strategy. Brand ambassador programs aren’t about talking heads; they’re about partnerships built on mutual respect. Ambassadors’ input can be invaluable to your understanding of your target market and what it wants.

Stephanie Taylor Christensen is a former financial services marketer who brings more than a decade of experience in marketing and writing to her career as a full-time freelance writer and small business owner.

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