Brands are hard-pressed to grow without the support of its customer base. Take the Skimm for instance. I learned about the company through a friend and my friends regularly hear about the company from me. This sort of word-of-mouth endorsement happens all the time, and often under the radar for many brands.
In order to capitalize on the natural recommendation engine that powers conversations among friends, family members and coworkers, many companies rely on support from their loyal audience members to amplify awareness and enthusiasm to help drive business goals. Loyalty, third-party credibility and natural referrals are strengthened when companies invite customers to become part of the company mission as ambassadors.
What can we learn from brands who have successfully mobilized their audiences to help with promotion? Here are 3 key takeaways to help you formalize an ambassador program, or simply ensure you are making it easy for brand enthusiasts to help drive the message forward:
1. Focus on where ambassadors and potential customers naturally interact with one another
As part of its 10th-anniversary activities, the Jessica Simpson brand offered a one-semester brand ambassador program aimed at college women at 10 universities. To be part of the program, ambassadors had to complete a multi-step application process which included interviews and completing a creative project. “Jessica Simpson is an awesome brand, especially because it caters to all sizes of females,” says Emily Randall, program manager at Youth Marketing Connection (YMC) — the company that coordinated the ambassador program. “Her line doesn’t discriminate and anyone can wear and feel good in Jessica Simpson.” The brand listened to the customer and was authentic and personable, and had ambassadors at each school represent and promote them through social media content and events. She also notes that “The results of this program were the successful awareness of the Jessica Simpson brand, increased engagement of the brand on social media, and increased social impressions on social media, ultimately leading to increased sales online and at store retailers,” and that although this was a one-semester deal, they are still in contact with the brand and hope to offer another activation in the future.
Nia Washington was one of two ambassadors at University of Georgia, and her role consisted of spreading awareness via social media, hosting free events ranging from fashion to pop-up shows, and visiting campus organizations to talk about the Jessica Simpson brand. At each event attendees left with free JS clothing, accessories and beauty products. Nia believes it was successful because the Jessica Simpson and YMC teams used college girls to market to, well, college girls. She says, “We knew how to relate to our audience because we were part of the target demographic. People want to hear about fashion advice from people they can relate to and trust.” She also notes that “the program allowed me to strengthen my marketing skills, grow my social network, and add a ton of beautiful pieces from the JS collection to my wardrobe.”
2. Build in feedback mechanisms (and take suggestions to heart)
Another brand that successfully targets the college demographic is 31 Bits, a socially good fashion brand. Each semester, the brand works with a team of international students who represent 31 Bits on their campuses. Reps have the opportunity to earn money through sales tied to their activities and to gain experience in event planning and social media. They also help their reps set up a marketing plan, use an exclusive Facebook group, and have a handbook that provides information about the jewelry, the company, sales tips and tricks, and event ideas.
Courtney Frantz, 31 Bits’ Director of Involvement, explains that “campus reps have truly paved the way for 31 Bits’ future in each of their own communities and campuses. Thanks to our passionate advocates and campus representatives, 31 Bits has been able to make an even larger impact on empowering people to rise above poverty.” Importantly, the company listens to ambassador feedback to help improve the program and influence company decision-making.
3. Connect around lifestyle/values, not simply the product
For nearly 4 years, FitGirls_Inspire has celebrated women who love to lift and lead a healthy lifestyle through apparel and content. The company’s brand ambassador program focuses on working with social media influencers who are already passionate about health and fitness. Ambassadors are required to share a weekly photo or video highlighting Fit Girls_Inspire clothing (ambassadors get new styles first), along with an ambassador-specific discount code that can be shared with followers.
The company understands that truly effective ambassadors balance passion with promotion. Founder and CEO Anual John Jackson Jr shares that he looks for ambassadors who are excited to “spread not only the clothing but the entire message on which the company was founded,” noting that “being honest and believing in what you stand for is the best way to grab audiences’ attention and grow organically.”
These are just a few of ways brands are connecting with their audiences to become brand ambassadors. In the end, authenticity, access, and respect are tenants that make it easy for enthusiasts to continue to spread the good word about the companies they love.