Brand ambassador programs are one of the most effective ways to market your business. They combine the virality of word of mouth with the power of authority figures and influencers.
Who wouldn’t want that?
But first, let’s start by defining the strategy behind a brand ambassador program.
A brand ambassador program formalizes the relationship between your brand and the people who love your products or services. More specifically, it invites the best people to represent and promote your brand to the public.
The program requirements are different for every relationship (we dive into the details below). But the main purpose of a brand ambassador program is to enlist your biggest advocates and achieve the maximum marketing results.
What is a brand ambassador program?
A brand ambassador program helps standardize the way your company works with individual ambassadors.
It’s usually based on a specific goal, such as increasing sales, driving conversions, or building brand awareness. To accomplish this goal, an ambassador will actively promote your brand to their social networks. This can be online (social media accounts, blog posts) or offline (events, trade shows). Usually, it’s a blend of both.
Traditional brand ambassador programs are invite-only, especially for smaller companies with a niche audience. Bigger brands, however, have started using informal programs (more on the types of ambassador programs below) or holding contests to find their next brand ambassador.
While brand ambassador programs don’t have a standard duration, these relationships are generally more long-term. (If you’re more interested in short-term partnerships, consider working with an influencer.)
For this reason, it’s important to equip your brand ambassadors with insider information – new product details, the latest marketing campaign, up-to-date messaging. This excites and gives them more reasons to share your brand with their audience.
Benefits of brand ambassador programs
Brand ambassadors work closely with your company for long periods of time. In many ways, they serve as the face of your brand and an extension of your philosophy and values.
To keep the relationship running smoothly, it’s best to create a brand ambassador program. A program formalizes all the details of the relationship, including any requirements, guidelines, and incentives that have been agreed on.
Here are six reasons your business should create a brand ambassador program:
1. Brand ambassadors are trusted.
According to a Nielsen report, 92% of consumers believe recommendations from family and friends far more than direct messaging from a brand. Recommendations that come after a personal experience, such as with brand ambassadors, are one of the most trusted sources of information.
If you want to tap into a new target market, the right brand ambassadors can help you do so in the quickest way possible.
2. Brand ambassadors promote your products authentically (without being too sales-y).
Since ambassadors have already used your products, they can use their own perspective and words when sharing your brand with others. This translates to promotions that are infinitely more effective than standard press releases or sales pitches.
In fact, you may notice brand ambassadors will even promote products without prompting (because they genuinely love your brand). It’s this real, powerful testimony that leads to more conversions.
3. Brand ambassadors create and share content for you.
Whether it’s a social media post, a blog article, or a glowing review, ambassadors create content that shines the spotlight on your brand.
As long as you furnish ambassadors with your latest products and information, you can sit back as they roll out fresh content in their own distinct style.
This unique content is posted and shared widely throughout their network. You can also repost the content on your own site and channels.
4. Brand ambassadors have a significant reach.
Even if they don’t have a massive audience, a brand ambassador can still be in a great position to expand your market share.
Choose an ambassador who has authority with an audience that is also your brand’s target market. Even if they have a smaller audience, as long as your ambassador provides regular engagement, you have the makings of a word-of-mouth campaign and a community you may not be able to access on your own.
5. Brand ambassadors offer great feedback.
Brand ambassadors are already fans of your product – which makes them great testers. They’ll share what they love, as well as what they think you can improve on. This honest feedback helps iron out any rough spots before launching a new product to the general public.
6. It’s cost-effective to set up a brand ambassador program.
Even if you decide to reward your ambassadors with store credit or discounts, brand ambassador programs are still one of the most cost-effective marketing strategies. Any payments are based on results, meaning you only incur costs after you make a new sale or meet another goal.
Who should set up a brand ambassador program?
With so many benefits, ambassadors are a great addition to any marketing strategy. However, managing a brand ambassador program does require a bit of extra work. Some businesses may be more prepared to handle these types of programs. Here are a few signs your business is ready to start a brand ambassador program:
- You are confident in your products and services. The best brand ambassadors already use your products and are eager to share them with their audience. Before you jumpstart your word of mouth with a formal brand ambassador program, make sure you iron out all the kinks and provide the highest quality possible.
- You have a happy customer base (and some are already sharing your product!). No matter how large your market, having happy and loyal customers shows you’re doing something right – and others need to hear about it. In fact, many ambassadors start out as loyal customers who have shared your product with others, without you even asking them to. (Hint: These are the customers who you should look at when creating your brand ambassador program.)
- You have the resources to create strong marketing campaigns. If you run a brand ambassador program, that isn’t a replacement for your entire marketing strategy. While ambassador programs are a great source of content and promotions, brand ambassadors still need something to share. It’s important to maintain a lineup of engaging campaigns, and work with your ambassadors to maximize exposure.
- You’re active on social media. These days, the majority of marketing happens online and through social media – this is the same for brand ambassador programs. When an ambassador shares content about your brand, you want to be present on the platform so they can direct viewers to your business account. It’s also a good opportunity to directly engage and answer any audience questions.
Furthermore, brand ambassador programs are highly recommended if your business also meets the following:
- You’re in a highly competitive industry. Even with the best products, it can be difficult to stand out in a highly competitive industry where it’s difficult to differentiate yourself. This is where affiliating yourself with an expert or notable personality can give you that edge you need. Brand ambassadors can help make your product stand out from competitors with their unique perspective and content.
- You’re targeting a niche audience. While new brand ambassador programs are popping up across all sectors (from soft drinks to software), it can be especially effective if you’re targeting a niche audience. In smaller niches, there are usually a few prominent individuals who stand out and audiences follow. These are the individuals to invite to your brand ambassador program.
4 types of brand ambassador programs
Do you think your business will benefit from a brand ambassador? There are four types of brand ambassador programs to choose from:
Requirement-driven brand ambassador programs
This is what many marketers consider to be an official brand ambassador program. There are specific requirements that an ambassador must complete on behalf of a brand within a specific time frame. For example, this can be 10 social media posts a month or five brand mentions on their personal blog.
The benefit of this type of ambassador program is the versatility and direct control over your budget. Brands can use requirement-driven promotions across any industry, and can easily refresh the requirements to fit the overall marketing strategy.
Affiliate brand ambassador programs
Building on the marketing efforts of brand ambassadors, this type of affiliate program aims to ultimately generate purchases. Affiliate brand ambassadors promote products and services on their own platforms (usually social media and personal websites), including a unique affiliate link that attributes the sale back to them.
In exchange, they receive a commission for every completed purchase. It’s common to offer tiered incentives – the more sales an affiliate brand ambassador drives, the higher their commission percentage.
Informal brand ambassador programs
Informal brand ambassador programs are basically an open invite to anyone who loves your brand. With this type of program, there are no signed agreements or requirements. Oftentimes, there are no rewards, although some brands offer special incentives to their top-performing ambassadors.
An informal brand ambassador program is great for generating word of mouth and referrals. But without any guidance or structure, it can be hard to track and optimize where your new customers are coming from.
College brand ambassador programs
Colleges and universities provide the perfect setting for starting a brand ambassador program – a massive number of students, with natural groupings by interest, sport, or hobby. Not only are college brand ambassadors active on social media, they can also share your brand through word of mouth and guerilla marketing tactics (i.e., sticker bombs, branded outfits, product handouts).
Although this type of brand ambassador program focuses on the 18-25 age bracket, it allows for a lot of fun promotional potential. Plus, college students are eager to gain practical experience and will often promote your brand in exchange for free products and skill development.
James Zhu is a Polo Ralph Lauren campus ambassador at Boston College.
How to create a brand ambassador program in 5 steps
Starting a brand ambassador program may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, if you have happy customers cheering for you, you’re already off to a good start.
Here are five key steps to follow – they cover all the essentials of how to create a brand ambassador program:
1. Set the goals of your brand ambassador program
Before you start reaching out to potential brand ambassadors, it’s important to create clearly defined goals for your program. This helps set your expectations and requirements from each brand ambassador.
While goals differ for every business, knowing what you hope to achieve makes it easier to gauge whether or not your brand ambassador program is successful. Here are a few common goals to draw from:
- Increase brand awareness
- Generate sales
- Drive conversions
- Expand to new audiences
- Build a social media following
- Foster customer loyalty
2. Establish criteria and guidelines for your brand ambassador
Now, it’s time to define your ideal brand ambassador. Aside from showing a passion for your brand, brand ambassadors can be almost anyone – loyal customers, employees, industry experts, etc.
Most brand ambassadors fit at least one of these categories:
- The enthusiast: People who are very enthusiastic about your brand make excellent ambassadors. Not only do these fans already love your products and services, their passion comes through their promotion. Enthusiasts are effective at getting people excited about your brand, especially during events and experiential marketing efforts.
- The expert or niche authority: The expertise of these brand ambassadors increases the odds of someone trusting their recommendations. For example, an athlete would make a great ambassador for a running shoe company, or a dermatologist could help promote a new skincare line. Brand ambassador authorities are perfect if you’re in a medical, technology, or other highly specialized field.
- The peer: Peers are brand ambassadors who can easily reach your target audience. Not only are they more approachable and friendly, a majority 92% of consumers trust peer recommendations more than any other source. For example, if your brand is geared toward college students, it might help to recruit brand ambassadors on campus. If your company makes plant-based food products, it makes sense to team up with nutritionists or vegan chefs (or even foodies who are impressed by how much your products taste like actual meat).
- The celebrity: You’ve probably heard of them before. Celebrity brand ambassadors are famous, recognizable people (at least in their niche) with a large following and the ability to influence trends. Just one mention from a celebrity brand ambassador can get you in front of a massive audience. However, a lot of celebrity content can be seen as superficial, so be careful when enlisting these types of brand ambassadors to do heavy promotion.
Adding structure to your brand ambassador program shows potential ambassadors you value their work and want to build a beneficial long-term relationship. Depending on the type of brand ambassador you choose, you may want to establish criteria and guidelines for how they will promote your brand. Here are some points to get you started:
|Ambassador Criteria||Guidelines / Expectations|
3. Identify and reach out to potential brand ambassadors
The best brand ambassadors are carefully handpicked, which makes this step a little different compared to, say, a referral program or affiliate program.
A good start to identifying your ideal brand ambassadors is to look at where your target market spends their time. What platforms are they on? Who do they listen to? Do these individuals meet your brand ambassador requirements?
There are many ways to find a good brand ambassador. Here are six of the best ones:
Social media searches
This is relatively simple but time consuming. If you already know of people who have posted about your brand, they are a good place to start.
If not, search through your top social media platforms for any posts that have tagged you or include your brand hashtag. This requires some discernment – not everyone who uses your hashtag is a good fit to be a brand ambassador.
Fortunately, there are amazing software programs to help you find your perfect brand ambassador. Instead of spending hours manually tracking mentions of your brand, a simple tool can do all the hard work for you.
Brand mention tools reveal who is talking about you, allowing you to filter through any mentions of your brand or products on select platforms. Once you’ve found some potential ambassadors, a full-fledged brand ambassador software or alternative ambassador program can also help you reach out to them and manage your entire program.
Another way to identify brand ambassador candidates is to look at your own customer data. Who are your most loyal customers? Who buys from you most often? Loyalty is a strong sign someone might be a strong brand ambassador.
A good idea is to check your own customer data first, and then search social media for any brand mentions from the loyal customers you’ve identified. After all, it’s important for a brand ambassador to be an active promoter, as well as a loyal customer.
Influencer marketing platforms
Thanks to the rise of brand ambassadors and influencers, there is a corresponding crop of influencer marketing platforms. While these platforms are built for influencer marketing, they can also be used to find the best brand ambassadors.
Influencer marketing platforms do a lot of the legwork for you. They pool together a pre-vetted database and in-depth data, analyzing metrics like follower size, engagement rates, audience reach and interests, and more. Simply set filters according to your preferences and the platform will reveal your top matches.
Formal application forms
You can also employ traditional methods to promote your brand ambassador program. A common example is publishing a brand ambassador application form and letting potential ambassadors come to you. You can add the form (or a link to the form) in targeted emails, post-sales messaging, and other pages customers visit on your website.
In the application form, ask why the customer bought your product and reasons why they love your brand. Also ask if they’d be willing to consistently share your products with their network. The submitted answers help you determine the customer’s viability as a brand ambassador, and give you an idea of the voice of their personal content.
(Tip: You can also send out an NPS survey that asks similar questions.)
The benefit of an application form is that only really interested parties will fill it out. Add a web application toward the end of your selection process, helping you narrow down the list of your best candidates.
Informal application process
The same application process can be used to run a brand ambassador program that’s more informal. Similar to a referral program, this type of application process invites anyone (or almost anyone) who loves your brand to join.
Customers sign up to become brand ambassadors via a simple form on your website. They’ll receive a code or link to share with their friends and followers. Whenever someone uses that link to make a purchase from you, that particular ambassador will earn an incentive.
Even with an informal application process, you should still personally reach out to customers and let them know about your ambassador program. You can run an informal brand ambassador program for all your customers, while inviting your best customers (or best-performing informal ambassadors) to join your formal brand ambassador program.
Just make sure to offer formal ambassadors bigger incentives to reflect their long-term commitment to your brand (more on incentives below).
Once you’ve identified some brand ambassador candidates, start forming relationships with them. Follow them on social media (especially on the platforms you want them to post on), comment on some of their posts, and read how they engage with their followers. If you want, you can also repost some of their content and see if it resonates with your own brand followers.
Pura Vida’s brand ambassador application form
4. Reward and recognize your brand ambassadors
You’ve signed on the first ambassadors for your brand ambassador program – congratulations!
Keep them motivated and committed to promoting your brand with the right rewards. While some ambassadors are fine promoting your brand for free, rewards are a nice way to show how much you value the ambassador’s effort.
Rewards don’t have to be expensive or even monetary. According to Maria Cuasay, who helped create referral programs for Lyft and Opencare, the “importance of incentive is really to catch someone’s attention.” While cash obviously attracts attention, other incentives like store credit, gift cards, freebies, and other items of value can work just as well.
Think about what motivates your potential brand ambassadors, and offer these as a token of thanks for their support. Make sure you inform ambassadors when they will receive their rewards – after each post, every month, every quarter, etc.
In addition to rewards, recognizing a brand ambassador’s achievements is an important part of making them feel valued and part of your team. Here are a few ways to show your appreciation:
- A personal thank you note
- A special feature on your website
- An “ambassador of the month” series promoted on your social media and blog
- A shoutout on Instagram Stories
You can also ask them about their experience with your brand and share what makes them a stand-out ambassador. This is a great way to personalize your ambassador shoutouts, and highlight your brand ambassador program in the process.
5. Track the progress of your brand ambassador program
With your brand ambassador program up and running, you’ll find there are a lot of things to keep track of. Every brand ambassador, each time they promote your brand, and all the engagement and feedback that comes from each promotion.
Don’t let all this data go untracked. Once you (and your ambassadors) agree on what will be tracked throughout your brand ambassador program, it’s best to use a software analytics tool to bring all this data together. Here are some important metrics to track:
- Frequency of posts (blog posts and social media posts)
- Impressions and engagements
- Reposts and shares
- Brand reach and inbound traffic
- Issued rewards
In addition to these, a brand ambassador tool can also be used to communicate with your ambassadors, manage key elements of your program, and even search for new brand ambassadors.
Best practices for building brand ambassador programs
Brand ambassador programs rely on building long-term relationships. And with any long-term relationship, you don’t just reach out once and leave it at that. It takes continuous work and care to maintain a successful brand ambassador program.
Here are a few best practices to build a brand ambassador relationship that lasts:
- Provide onboarding: Even your best customers should be briefed on your brand ambassador guidelines. Whether this is through a 1-on-1, email drip campaign, or webinar series, make sure you cover all the details of the relationship before promotions begin.
- Be available: Make sure brand ambassadors can easily reach you with any questions or suggestions, and respond within a reasonable time frame.
- Send regular updates: Are you starting new marketing campaigns? Are you launching new products? Let your brand ambassadors know. Regular updates are necessary for brand ambassadors to promote fresh content to their followers. You can also create a newsletter especially for your brand ambassadors with promotion reminders and best practices.
- Encourage ambassadors to express themselves: The purpose of a brand ambassador program is to spread the word about your company through your ambassador, using their presence on social media, websites, events, and other networking. Aside from sharing basic brand guidelines, ambassadors should always promote your brand authentically and in their own voice.
- Ask for ambassador feedback: Ambassadors want to see your brand succeed. As a member of your target market, they can offer fresh perspectives to help your campaign resonate with others. Ambassadors can even test out new products and provide in-depth feedback before you launch to the public.
- And give them feedback in return: In the same way you recognize ambassadors for their success, you should also offer constructive feedback. As long as you don’t stifle their creative control, feel free to suggest ways they can better promote your brand.
- Keep constant communication: Don’t be afraid to ask for check-ins or updates from each individual ambassador (within reason, of course). You can schedule these regularly with individuals or as a group.
Refresh your program (using data): Through time, your brand, your ambassadors, and your audience will change – your brand ambassador program should change, as well! Look at all the data you’ve tracked to see what resonates best with your audience and brings in more customers. Then, adjust your program to double down on these efforts.
Brand ambassador program examples
Now that you know the basics of building a brand ambassador program, let’s review a few notable brand ambassador program examples run by today’s popular brands:
The goal of Lululemon’s ambassador program is to provide feedback about the brand’s product and help with social impact programs. It also encourages autonomy and personal growth, for both its employees and consumers.
For this reason, the program is built to include two types of ambassadors: Global Ambassadors and Store Ambassadors. Each ambassador is selected because they reflect the Lululemon culture and today, the brand has a mix of partnerships with local ambassadors and influencers, alongside elite athletes and fitness gurus.
2. Red Bull
Red Bull’s Student Marketeer is the perfect example of a college brand ambassador program. The company has “4,000 student marketeers around the globe generating awareness and excitement for the product and brand.”
Red Bull presents its brand ambassador program as a professional career. Depending on their skillset, ambassadors are assigned to mobilize campus campaigns or even an entire region. Student marketeers are in direct contact with customers, support the company’s sales teams, work with renowned athletes, and are invited to product trials.
SkullCandy launched an ambassador program as a way to give consumers reliable information and aid in their purchasing decision. They put their product to the test, recruiting SkullCandy Ambassadors to personally try the products and then provide authentic product reviews on SkullCandy’s website. The feedback and user-generated content this program provided is now used to help future customers identify which of the brand’s products will work best for them.
SkullCandy also has a list of members they consider “SkullFamily.” SkullFamily is a group of athletes who show off the SkullCandy products in their everyday lives. This additional tier of ambassadors has been very effective in influencing all the fans around them.
In conclusion: How to start a brand ambassador program
Brand ambassadors are experts at sharing word of mouth and building trust with an audience. Plus, they’re already passionate about seeing your brand succeed. Why not take the relationship to the next level and invite them to your brand ambassador program?
For more on how to set up an ambassador program, and how to run a brand ambassador program, don’t miss the other brand ambassador resources in our Definitive Guide to Brand Strategy.
And if you’re looking for brand ambassador software, check out how Referral Rock can help you grow word of mouth with our brand ambassador solution. It’s flexible enough for all types of referral programs, affiliate programs, ambassador programs, and partner programs.
Don’t just sit and wait for word of mouth – accelerate it with Referral Rock!