Harley Davidson, Intel, Starbucks, Apple. We all know brands that have a loyal group of customers, brand ambassadors, who love to talk about the brand and recommend them to their friends and peers. And these recommendations drive sales. According to the Boston Consulting Group, 9 out of 10 consumers and over 50% of B2B customers trust recommendations from friends, colleagues and peers when making their purchasing decisions.
You can invest lots of money in marketing campaigns, but for many companies the most powerful sales driver is a recommendation from a brand ambassador. And a strategic brand ambassador program may be the difference-maker in your bottom line.
Brand ambassadors are the people that love your brand or product so much they are willing to proactively recommend it to others. Trust is critical to the value of a brand ambassador’s recommendation and so you can’t “hire” true brand ambassadors for the program to work, you must “earn” them. Many companies are successfully engaging their loyal customers and turning them into a “volunteer sales force”.
The Fiskars "Fiskateer" brand ambassador program is a great example of a company turning its biggest fans into brand ambassadors who are empowered to market the Fiskars brand. Cisco’s Super Fan campaign is another example of a company engaging loyal customers and encouraging them to talk about Cisco.
Brand advocacy starts with converting the customers who already know and love you into advocates that want to share their passion for your brand with others. First, you need to identify who is a customer, who is a fan, and who is an advocate. Don’t confuse fans with advocates. Customers and fans might like you but they may not be actively talking about you and recommending you. People often “Like” or “Follow” a company in order to get discounts or “freebies”. This doesn’t make them brand advocates. It is important to find the customers who are sharing and engaging others in what they have shared.
In today’s digital world, it is easy to listen to what your customers and potential customers are saying. Listen to conversations about your brand, product, or service. If people are raving about you, you have brand ambassadors. Monitor mentions of your brand on Twitter, posts on Facebook, mentions in blogs. Monitor who is talking about the need your product or service meets. Are you included in those conversations? Social media monitoring tools such as Radian6 make it easier for brands to monitor specific keywords and phrases. Importantly, make sure your brand advocates know you heard them—respond to them, engage them, use the information they provide.
People like to feel special and when they do they talk about it. One way to create brand ambassadors is to bring them “inside”, make them feel part of your brand community with a brand ambassador program. Give them sneak previews of new products, solicit their input, ask them to test new products, invite them to visit, give them special rewards. Treat Brand Ambassadors like valued members of your team.
Surprise them. What can your business do that is: Unexpected? Remarkable? Will get your satisfied customers talking? The simple act of saying thank you, sending a sample, sharing or retweeting their content, providing an unexpected discount, are all great ways to get people talking about your brand, product or service. When I created a Brand Ambassador program for a leading educational publishing company, I found that including a thank you along with an exclusive promotion in outgoing shipments not only increased repeat purchases, it generated positive conversations about our brand on social media and among their fellow teachers. Give your Brand Ambassadors something to talk about, and they probably will!
Brand Ambassadors like to share what they know with others—so make it easy for them to talk about your brand or product. Sometimes the easiest way to get Brand Ambassadors to share is to ask them—ask them to provide testimonials, post pictures using your product, invite dialogue on your social media sites, run contests that engage consumers. Another way to make it easy is to share content that is valuable to them, and to their peers, give them product samples—anything that makes it easy for them to share their passion about your brand.
When you create a branded community, like the Fiskars Fiskateer website, you bring your brand ambassadors together to engage not only with you but with each other. Your brand advocates will share not only their love for your brand but they will also share ideas, advice and more.