What a good BA does
for your brand
What is a Brand Ambassador?
“Brand ambassador” (or “BA”) is a term that describes a few different types of people who amplify positive sentiments about your brand to others. They could be paid or unpaid; acting in an official or unofficial capacity; employee, consumer, or public figure. If you’ve ever recommended a brand you love to someone else, you are a brand ambassador!
Within this broader category, we will define three specific types of BAs: brand advocates, influencers, and representatives.
A brand advocate is an unpaid promoter of your brand who can organically attract new customers on your behalf. They may write reviews, give word-of-mouth recommendations to friends and family, create brand-relevant content, or all of the above. However they choose to talk about the brand, what makes a brand advocate unique is that the only incentive they have is an emotional one. Brand advocates are, therefore, the most authentic ambassador for your brand (92% of consumers trust friends’ and family’s content over all else), but have the least amount of reach as their audience is limited to the people in their social circle.
An influencer is a public figure who is paid to promote your brand but is not directly employed by your company. They have a loyal following of people who listen and trust their opinions and recommendations. Their audience is either significantly larger (mega- and macro-influencers) than that of the average person, or highly specific (micro- and nano-influencers) to a particular niche. Influencers are paid by your brand for their ability to, you guessed it, influence their followers’ behavior, and push them further down the conversion funnel.
Finally, brand representatives (also called reps) are those individuals directly employed by your company [or a third party working directly with your brand] to promote your brand(s). Reps are probably what comes to mind first when you think of BAs: uniforms, in-person engagements, likely with some scripted points to bring up in conversation. They lack the reach of a brand advocate or influencer but make up for it by being the physical embodiment of your brand and delivering a controlled brand experience to your potential consumers. They are the most informed about your offer, and their number one priority is pushing consumers towards conversion.
We will be focusing primarily on reps as we discuss what makes a strong brand ambassador program, as they will provide you with the most opportunity to shape your brand’s narrative.
History & Evolution of Brand Ambassadors
The origins of brand ambassadors go much further back than you might expect. In medieval times, the king would commission a blacksmith to craft weapons for him. This would be public knowledge, and the blacksmith’s products could command a higher price. In the mind of the common people, if the blacksmith’s work was good enough for the king, then it must be worth paying more. In this way, the king was like an influencer.
Royal Warrants of Appointment were an evolution of this. Issued by members of the royal family and their court beginning in the 15th century, these warrants were (and continue to be) granted to those who supply goods and services to the royal family, allowing them to advertise this fact publicly.
The 1800s saw the rise of major brands that remain household names to this day: Coca-Cola, Wrigley’s, Cadbury, to name a few. They would send free product to influential people, with the hope that those trendsetters would spread the word. On a smaller, localized level, door-to-door salespeople acted as brand ambassadors, offering more personalized pitches to potential customers. Avon is probably the most famous example of this approach, and the strategy proved effective for almost 100 years!
In the 1950s and 1960s, brands began to craft ambassadors of their own, giving rise to characters like Ronald McDonald, the Marlboro Man, and the famously irritating but effective Mr. Whipple. Around that same time, product placement in films and television became commonplace, sometimes creating iconic pairings like James Bond and Rolls Royce (and later Aston Martin).
Promotional Photo of Dick Wilson, ‘Mr. Whipple’ in Charmin television commercials. 1964. Reuters. https://fr.reuters.com/article/us-whipple-idUSN1951159720071119. Accessed 22 Oct. 2020.
Modern Brand Ambassadors
Consumers today are more aware (and suspicious) of brands’ marketing tactics than ever before. The internet has made it easy to instantly compare competing brands and products, and BAs caught in a lie or half-truth can turn a consumer off your brand for good.
However, when trained and outfitted with the right tools, your BAs are the most effective touchpoint for driving awareness and conversion. They represent the front lines, humanizing your brand and welcoming consumers with a memorable experience.
Here are a few key attributes and tools that make an effective BA:
No amount of training or tools will help a brand ambassador that’s unlikable or lacking in social intuition. Before they can even start advocating for your brand, they must be approachable – someone that your target audience wants to talk to. The BA also needs to have strong listening skills, so they can identify consumers’ individual needs and respond accordingly. While responding, they will need to project credibility and expert-level knowledge of the product or service they’re championing, to gain the consumer’s trust. Finally, the BA needs to be able to inspire action, whether that is a signup, purchase or other business objective.
Tablets and smartphones can put an almost limitless amount of information at your brand ambassador’s fingertips. They have obvious utility in interactions with consumers, complementing the BAs knowledge and charisma with visual support and make capturing data for signups easy.
These devices also enable a range of backend solutions. Many different brand ambassador management softwares exist that can be customized for a variety of purposes, including: identifying and referring BA candidates; training; on-the-job tools; and incentivization programs.
How your reps look is going to reflect on your brand, so make sure both are aligned. The key is to fit in while still standing out. Some BAs will be outfitted in true uniforms, with highly visible brand elements. Another approach is a looser dress code, giving your BA the flexibility to inject their own individual identity into their look.
If your target is young, athletic and values performance over all else, you’ll want your BA in activewear that will put them on the same page as your audience. Also consider where your BA will be engaging with people. If it’s at a nightclub or bar, a more chic-casual look might be appropriate, whereas if they’re acting in a B2B capacity with store owners or clerks, a more professional attire is likely best.
A script does not need to give rigid lines of dialogue that the BA needs to follow verbatim. In fact, such an approach to scripts would come off as inauthentic. The script is a framework for starting and then guiding the conversation, branching off to respond to individual consumers’ interest and level of knowledge about your brand’s product or service.
Your reps are your field force, and they will bring back valuable insights from their interactions with consumers and your business accounts. But they don’t necessarily have the same holistic view of the brand that you do. You have to empower them to ask the right questions to get the data you need. Surveys let you structure specific BA interactions with key stakeholders to pull out the right questions to get the data you need. Surveys let you structure specific BA interactions with key stakeholders to pull out the most actionable insights from your consumers and your target consumers.
Modern Brand Ambassadors
The pandemic has made us rethink how we handle not just traditional face-to-face BA interactions, but even the training that a rep must go through in order to be effective. Here are some considerations for you and your creative agency to keep in mind when developing your brand ambassador strategy.
BA management software takes on added importance when in-person training is too risky. Not only can your brand ambassadors be trained remotely through the software, the decentralized nature of the platform will allow you to quickly distribute news and other important updates to your entire BA network.
Face-to-face interactions can’t always be avoided, but physical contact can be. Rather than having a consumer enter their data into your device, your BA can display a QR code that the consumer can scan with their phone and fill out the required forms on their own device.
Offering a memorable and replicable experience
It’s difficult to achieve the cut-through necessary to ensure your brand sticks with a consumer after an interaction, even for the most engaging BA. Consumers are inundated at all times with brands vying for their attention, and only the most memorable experiences will stay top of mind. Traditional leave-behind materials like cards and brochures are more likely to end up in the trash or forgotten at the bottom of a bag. Augmented reality marketing is here to help, bringing a modern twist to these kinds of materials, with enough cool factor to make them worth revisiting. And it’s not just about standing out – they can have utility, too, sending consumers to social media pages, capturing data with signups, and even offering a fun and easy way to place an order.
Tweaking how channels are used
Consider the venues where your brand might normally make use of a brand ambassador, and how that can be adapted for the current climate. For shopper marketing tactics like in-store sampling, consider sending the samples directly to the consumer; the BA can still be in-store to facilitate the sign up. Festivals are a favorite venue for brands looking to make a splash with bold activations run by skilled BAs. Keep the activations outdoor or open-air; BAs will still be able to interact with consumers as normal, without anyone feeling uncomfortable.
Brand ambassadors can be a very effective part of your brand marketing strategy. They put a face to your brand, offer a responsiveness that other touchpoints can’t replicate, and have high potential to quickly seal the deal with consumers. But the engaging nature of a BA interaction also means an increased risk of making a poor first impression (not knowledgeable enough, too pushy, wrong target). On top of all of that, we have the new reality of a global pandemic to contend with. It’s no longer as simple as slapping a logo on a BA shirt and sending them out the door; you’ll need a robust brand ambassador program that fits seamlessly into your overall brand marketing strategy if you want to maximize your return.
VIBRANT’s expertise as an experiential marketing agency makes us the perfect partner for developing a holistic and nuanced brand ambassador program that’s built for the modern realities of the world. If you want to deliver uniquely memorable and individualized brand experiences to your audience in the channels that matter, talk to us today.