In 2023, brands are realising the importance of community-led growth. That is, growing their brand through word of mouth from a loyal community of consumers and fans. Brand ambassador programs are one of the forefront methods of facilitating community-led growth, with brands of all sizes utilising this powerful marketing strategy.
But for those brands who’ve yet to dive into the revenue-generating waters of ambassador marketing, the process can feel a little daunting. What exactly is a brand ambassador program? How does it differ from a run-of-the-mill customer loyalty program? And where can you learn how to create a brand ambassador program?
Everything to Know About Brand Ambassador Programs
How Does a Brand Ambassador Program Work?
Are you a part of any brand loyalty programs? Chances are, you are. In fact, most of us are probably signed up to dozens of loyalty programs we’ve completely forgotten about - like the time you handed over your email address in exchange for some points when you bought a pair of jeans at the mall in your early teens.
Customer loyalty programs are great because they can increase the chance that your customers return. After all, if you know you’re just a few more drinks away from getting a free coffee, you’re probably going to keep buying your coffee at the same place. But what loyalty programs don’t do as efficiently is draw new customers in. That’s where ambassador programs shine.
Imagine you’re in the market for some new workout clothes. You decide to try out a brand and Oh. My. God. They’re perfect. The clothes fit just right. They don’t show your sweat. The bottoms don’t slide down when you jog. They’re flattering. They even have pockets. You love them.
You start telling your friends about the brand you bought them from. Someone compliments you at the gym and you start gushing about how everyone needs to know about this brand. You offer to bookmark the website for them on their phone.
Whenever they have a sale, you share a link with your friends. And of course, you tag them and praise them in all of your super hot gym selfies on all the social media platforms. Then, you’re invited to join their ambassador program.
What does that mean? Well, essentially, you’ll keep doing what you’re already doing. You'll shout about them online. You'll create content. But now you have the chance to earn money, free products, and other rewards for it!
How to Gamify Your Brand Ambassador Marketing
Now, imagine you are the brand. You create gamified marketing tasks for your brand ambassadors to perform in return for rewards. They spread the word about your brand, create social buzz and hype, and drive sales for you in return for cash, points, gift cards, freebies, or whatever else you want to offer. It’s a win-win relationship!
These marketing tasks are anything you can think of. A simple task could be asking your brand ambassadors to follow your social media channels. More involved tasks might be showing off a new product in a TikTok video, or handing out samples on their college campus.
The beauty of this form of word-of-mouth marketing is that these tasks can be anything you want. And we mean anything. You could ask your ambassadors to perform a solo dance routine in the middle of a busy crosswalk at a red light while wearing your brand and upload the video to Instagram. Or get your logo tattooed on their ankle. Anything! There’s no limit when building creative brand ambassador campaigns.
Just remember, the wackier and more complicated, the higher the reward will need to be to see an effective number of participants. So… maybe skip the tattoo request unless you have some really diehard fans.
As brand ambassadors complete tasks that promote your brand, they build brand awareness, drive sales, and create social buzz. Running a brand ambassador program also nurtures the relationships between you and your customers. It’s a unique relationship that is mutually beneficial to both you and your ambassadors.
How to Manage a Brand Ambassador Program
We’ve worked with a lot of brands building successful, fun brand ambassador programs. And one of the themes we’ve seen again and again is that there needs to be a dedicated manager to oversee your ambassador community.
Your Community Manager is the main touchpoint for your brand ambassadors. Any questions and concerns ambassadors have will be directed to them, and they will be in charge of continuing to create exciting marketing tasks and ensuring that your ambassador marketing efforts align with your overall marketing strategy.
The Community Manager is also in charge of building activation campaigns to entice your existing community of customers, followers and fans to sign up as brand ambassadors, finding and reaching out to content creators you want to join, and approving applications based on the criteria you set for your community.
Without a dedicated Community Manager, brands tend to miss important messages, have irregular and ineffective marketing campaigns, underestimate the time it takes to manage a brand ambassador program, lose the interest and engagement of their brand ambassadors, and generally receive an unsatisfactory ROI. Ambassador marketing programs without dedicated managers also lack a unified community, as too many people are trying to implement different ideas and values.
How to Get Community-Led Growth
You can’t have community-led growth without a community! Before you get too deep into planning your program, it’s important to ensure that you have enough loyal customers, followers, and fans to build your army of brand ambassadors. You also want to make sure your community is ready to join.
In our experience, brand ambassador programs tend to succeed when the pool of available community members to activate is around 10-20k followers on a single social media channel and an email list of 10-15k subscribers. Any less than this and many brands don’t see enough ambassadors join to get a good return on their investment.
But community building doesn’t end when you launch your program. As you activate your community, and they shout about your brand online, they attract more members, some of whom will also want to be brand ambassadors. This is what community-led growth is all about.
What Makes a Good Brand Ambassador?
Nothing flops an ambassador program as quickly as having the wrong ambassadors for your brand. Brand ambassadors become the faces of your products, so you want to make sure that the people you invite into your community truly represent your brand's vision and align with your values. Just as you want to define your brand's target audience, you also want to define your target ambassadors.
For instance, let's say that you're a small business that recently started a skincare line. When we mention ambassadors, you may immediately think of general beauty influencers as the best candidates. But that's not always the case.
As a brand, you may be better suited focusing only on beauty influencers that are solely focused on makeup reviews/tutorials. While other beauty influencers may be larger/more popular, focusing on being a solution to help repair skin for those that wear makeup can lead to better results.
One way to do this is by creating an ambassador persona. This is an internal document that outlines the qualities you most want in an ambassador. It highlights your ideal demographic, their interests, their content and style, and anything else you can think of.
FNot every brand ambassador you approve needs to fit this criterion 100%, but it’s important that they share some of the qualities. This ensures you’re maintaining your brand image and creating a unified ambassador community. It also helps you attract the right audience for your brand.
Be picky about who joins your program. Are you looking for college students, or mom bloggers? Gamers or fashionistas? Unlike loyalty programs that tend to ask every single customer to join, successful ambassador marketing programs require interested creators to go through an application and approval process. This keeps out anyone who isn’t an authentic fit.
A great place to find people who will represent your brand genuinely are the customers, followers, and fans who already love you.
What Rewards to Use for a Brand Ambassador Program
A brand-to-ambassador relationship is mutually beneficial. Sure, your brand ambassadors are creating amazing content for you and generating awareness and sales, but what are you providing for them in return?
The best brand ambassador programs offer a variety of rewards. These can include:
- Reward points
- Exclusive discounts
- Gift cards or store credit
- Sales commissions for affiliates
We’ve found that cash and freebies tend to be the most popular among brand ambassadors, but each of these rewards has its place. Using rewards is a great way to gamify the brand ambassador experience. As your community completes tasks, they unlock their rewards and build a stronger relationship with your brand.
The key to long-term engagement and better ROI is giving valuable, worthwhile rewards. This encourages your brand ambassadors to put in more effort and be consistent with their participation. Successful ambassador programs are a result of brands who invest in their communities and therefore see a greater return on their investment.
How to Run an Affiliate Brand Ambassador Program
Did you know that brand ambassadors can also act as affiliates? Knock out two birds with one stone by combining your ambassador marketing program with your affiliate marketing program. Many brands offer their brand ambassadors unique discount codes that they can share with their followers, as well as a special tracking link so that any sales they refer earn them commission.
If you’re offering discount codes to your brand ambassadors, it's important to have a solid tracking system in place so that there aren’t any mixups regarding your ambassadors’ commission. Promising a payout and not delivering is one of the fastest ways to lose loyalty from your community.
It’s also important to note that brand ambassadors should be awarded the highest discount available for your webshop. Why? Because there’s no incentive for someone to buy through your brand ambassador’s discount code if they can find an even better one on your webshop. This will quickly make your ambassadors’ discount codes irrelevant and frustrate them as they are unable to earn commission.
How to Track Brand Ambassador Program Performance
Any marketing campaign can be made more successful by understanding what’s working and what isn’t. Tracking key metrics allows you to monitor your program and make the adjustments necessary to see success.
While it is possible to manually track this information, it is time-consuming and leaves more room for human error. This is why many brands opt to use brand ambassador management software that automates this process and makes it easy to view and export data and reports.
Metrics you should be tracking are community growth, reach of your ambassador community, engagement rates, investment, revenue, and ROI. Not only should you be tracking these metrics for your program overall, but it’s handy to track some of these for individual marketing tasks as well, to learn which tasks perform best with your community.
Being able to tell which of your brand ambassadors are driving the most revenue or engagement is extremely valuable as well as it allows you to create exclusive marketing tasks and work with your top-performing ambassadors on specific campaigns, amplifying your results.
How to Get User-Generated Content
When you create a community online, you benefit from user-generated content. UGC, is one of the most valuable assets for brands. UGC is any kind of content that you receive from people that use your products or services, which you can repurpose on your own feed. This could range from photos and gifs to Instagram Reels and TikTok videos.
While you may be generating UGC from advocates of your brand and obtaining permission to use them, an ambassador program allows you to better curate this content. You can create marketing tasks that ask for very specific types of content, get ahead of holidays, and even request content for products that aren’t launched yet.
Why is UGC so important? Consumers are losing trust in branded content. Paid ads and content created by brands are seen as inauthentic and overly salesy. But word of mouth has always been a source of trust for people.
UGC is authentic content created by people who genuinely love your products. Because of this, it’s more trusted and has more of an impact on consumer behaviour. In fact, according to the McCarthy Group, 84% of millennials say they don’t trust ads, but a study by Gartner found that 84% of millennials claim UGC - even from strangers - influences what they buy.
Working with brand ambassadors long-term gives you the opportunity to refine this UGC and help your community create more quality content that you can reuse in future campaigns.
Should You Consider Management Software?
Many smaller brands choose to manually run their brand ambassador program in the beginning. But if you’re successful - and we all want to be successful - you’ll quickly outgrow this system. While manual management is cost-efficient, it certainly isn’t time-efficient. It lacks the ability to automate tedious tasks and requires you to invest more time in the day-to-day running of your program. And you know the saying: time is money.
Thankfully, there is brand ambassador management software available that helps you find, recruit, and build relationships with your brand ambassadors. This software automates tasks, allows you to build and run campaigns, tracks metrics, builds reports, and ensures that you have everything you need to manage your entire brand ambassador program from one centralised location. They take a lot of the grunt work out of a brand ambassador program so that you can focus on your ambassador relationships and gamified tasks.
We've created this software - a centralised hub that gives you everything you need to build, launch, and run a successful brand ambassador program. With bespoke advice and an ambassador marketing specialist assigned to help you create your brand ambassador strategy, you’ll have your program up and running in no time.
UGC cover image: @kirsty.1997 for Byrokko