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Jason Stewart talks creating, managing and leveraging brand advocates

Published: 28 September 2011

A lot of brands are starting to run ambassador programs and while some get it right, a lot get it wrong. Jason Stewart, MD of word-of-mouth agency HaveYouHeard, share's some lessons that will ensure an effective and higher performing ambassador campaign.

Jason Stewart talks creating, managing and leveraging brand advocates
By Jason Stewart

Before you can be an ambassador though, you need to be an advocate. So lets start with defining what that is - they are consumers who proactively recruit, endorse and sell your brand/product for you, without getting paid. A paid person is a promoter and there is no credibility in their relationship with the brand, nor their endorsement.

One step on from an advocate is an ambassador – where this individual is seen as the face and voice of the brand. The reason being that they represent the same values of the brand, are part of the culture of the brand and participate highly in what the brand is doing. Because of this higher amount of activity, the question of payment always arises – our view as an agency is against payment for the same reason as stated in the previous article on Celebrity Endorsement. What we do look at to balance the relationship is something we call the value exchange.

The value exchange is one of the most important elements of an ambassador campaign – it means the value the brand offers the ambassador to equal the value the ambassador offers the brand. Often the brand receives public endorsement, mentions on-line, community referrals and real time participation in events or even development of activities and content for the brand. What the brand therefore needs to offer in return needs to justify the effort of the ambassador in order to make the exchange sustainable.

This needs to be worked out specifically per campaign; however, some of the most important aspects we look at include:
- public recognition: how can you make them famous for their support for you;
- status: how you can you increase their status because of their support for you;
- exclusive: what you can offer them exclusively, that no one else can get, because of their support for you;
- value adds: what value can you add to their lifestyle (in relation to the brand) because of their support for you; and
- appreciation: how can you make them feel appreciated because of their support for you.

As you can see, a lot of the above is fairly logical and how most relationships/associations are formed. The key is personally understand each relationship based on the needs and personality of the ambassador to make it most effective and appreciated.

Some other key points are as follows:

Don’t call them ambassadors – nobody wants to be thought of as someone who is pushing a brand. Rather let them create a fun name, which they want to be associated with and which seems less corporate and less ‘paid for’ than ambassador.

You cannot make someone enthusiastic about something they don’t care about, so always make sure that before you make someone an ambassador, they are first a true advocate. This seems really obvious, but you will be amazed and how often brand will want to make anyone an ambassador – just so that they have numbers.

Provide a very robust framework for the campaign, and allow the ambassadors to dictate the detail or evolve the mechanics. Don’t get too stuck in the boardroom mindset - “this is how it was approved in the boardroom, so this is how we will do it”. You need to constantly remind yourself that this is not about you, it is about them – and they know best – almost always.

Leverage all activity on-line all through other media. What was a phenomenal experience for 50 people, should be broadcast to five-million.

Create a platform for this solution and open it up to others (online is easy).

Pay attention to what is happening in their lives and reach out from time to time – sending some flowers for an anniversary you saw your ambassador mention in a Tweet or phoning to wish them Happy Birthday are incredible for building love and appreciation in the relationship that is further rewarded with reciprocation in referrals and word-of-mouth – so whatever your motives; good or bad – always act and be a nice person.

Always be responsive to the ambassadors activity. They are like very small children – if they are ignored for too long they will eventually become passive.

Always ask their opinion and for feedback on everything under the sun. Everybody loves to be asked their opinion and the insights gained from this simple exercise will be highly valuable to you. Make sure you thank them and let them know what is happening with the feedback.

Build communities around the ambassadors – either in off-line groups that get together or on-line platforms that they manage or lead. This is very important as it feeds into elevating the ambassador while also creating a credible point of reference between the consumers and the brand (a real person who they respect).

Most importantly is build connections of substance. This is such an important topic that we have devoted an entire article to it, which is coming up next.

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