The Ins and Outs of Brand Ambassadors

Brand ambassadors are a time-honored means of marketing products large and small. These respected middlemen can help potential customers overcome doubts and uncertainties on their buying journey.

We may receive compensation from partners and advertisers whose products appear here. Compensation may impact where products are placed on our site, but editorial opinions, scores, and reviews are independent from, and never influenced by, any advertiser or partner.

If you’ve ever found yourself standing in the middle of the snack aisle professing the benefits of those corn snacks that look a little bit like they should be fingernail covers, you have some idea of what it’s like to be a brand ambassador. A deep-seated longing for crunchy snacks is only the beginning, though. Brand ambassadors regularly have a certain something when it comes to social media engagement.

Because an increasing number of brands are adopting the brand ambassador role, brand representatives are becoming a much more important way to reach potential customers, both online and off. Whether their interests lie with beef jerky or high-end hair care products, there’s a brand out there that could use an ambassador’s help with brand positioning.

Overview: What is a brand ambassador?

Brand ambassadors, also sometimes known as influencers or corporate ambassadors, are a special breed of humans who love sharing the items they use in their everyday lives. In fact, if brand ambassadors had a theme song, it would be "My Favorite Things," from The Sound of Music.

These top fans of your company will spend their time and considerable skills creating social media content that promotes your products or services. Their amped-up product endorsements come from a place of authentic enthusiasm that’s difficult to find in more traditional advertising.

Brand ambassador duties can be performed online or off, though often social media campaigns take place in both realms. Real-life crossovers give followers ways to more tightly connect with both the brand rep or brand ambassador and the product in question.

2 types of brand ambassadors

Although brand ambassadors can be broken down into many specialties, based on the type of company they represent and functions they perform, generally they’re divided into two simple categories: online and in-person.

1. Online brand ambassadors

Online brand ambassadors are the ones we’re most likely to give titles like influencer or brand evangelist because their love for the products they promote is easy for the world to see.

They play a huge part in the social media strategy of their company, building huge online followings and then reminding those people just why they're so thrilled with a product or service. They can provide invaluable help to market your business on social media.

Companies may have many brand ambassadors, and although some may be celebrities in their own right, many are simply what we in the marketing world used to refer to as mavens. Mavens are people who have something about them that draws others into their orbit, and those people who get stuck in their gravity look to them as experts in specific areas, including product choices.

2. In-person brand ambassadors

You’ve probably seen in-person brand ambassadors, even though they may seem less common than their online counterparts. You might have run into in-person brand ambassadors at trade shows, product-related events, or even in your supermarket, handing out sausages to anyone who would take a sample.

Like online brand ambassadors, in-person brand ambassadors are enthusiasts for your brand, but often much less obvious. After all, you can’t easily share the experience you had meeting the guy handing out the newest hard candy-coated chocolates in your supermarket with a simple click of a social media button.

As far as brand ambassador perks go, the in-person variety often does the best financially. Not only do they generally receive free products, but they also tend to receive an hourly wage or commission to present the product in a public space.

Is brand ambassador marketing right for your business?

Nearly any business can benefit from a brand ambassador, though larger companies with deeper pockets may be more comfortable diving into these waters. After all, it can require a significant investment to get into spaces where brand ambassadors can do a lot of good, such as a trade show or other large public event.

However, with the widespread acceptance of online brand ambassadors, smaller companies can also get a foothold into the brand ambassador game. Between online and offline experiences, you'll find a limitless number of ways to use brand ambassadors.

Encouraging the use of a new product line online

One of the coolest things about social media management tools is that they allow you to see who your audience is and what they’re about. This also creates opportunities for launching new products within existing product fanatic groups.

If you have a bunch of people who already like your flagship product, your brand ambassadors can help encourage groups within your diehard fanbase to try new brands, based on other information.

For example, Caroline’s followers love your coconut conditioner, but they also favor tropical scents and like to travel to exotic locations. Caroline could encourage those fans to try your newest conditioner line that happens to smell like pineapples. This is an imperfect science, but if you have access to social media analytics, you can use that information to help drive new product launches with your brand ambassadors’ help.

Making an in-person scene

As I stated above, the most common undercover brand ambassadors are the ones that let people experience products in large public areas. It usually comes in the form of free food samples, but this faceless army of ambassadors can literally do anything, from demonstrating your latest ultra-realistic fake fireplace to raising money for the ASPCA with the help of a basket of kittens.

The important part is they’re willing and able to engage with the public, possibly while wearing highly recognizable branded clothing.

Take, if you will, the original Playboy Bunny. There are few brand ambassadors so iconic, so recognized, and so individually anonymous as these ladies were (and, in some ways, remain). They sold magazines and advertising by simply mingling in crowds dressed in their floppy ears and poofy tails, and not much more.

They were weaving a fantasy for fans that they couldn’t shake, and these talented women did it with well-greased efficiency.

How to create a brand ambassador program for your business

Creating a brand ambassador program for your business isn’t that different from any other type of marketing campaign. It all starts with knowing your product and your customers, creating promotions that are delivered by your ambassadors, and measuring the results.

1. Choose a product or service to promote

Brand ambassadors can be used to promote a whole company or particular products. They’re an excellent way to introduce new product lines or services or to spread the word about a brand new business in a very personal way. Step one is figuring out what it is you’re going to promote: generally the more specific, the better.

2. Identify your customer base

For every product or service, you'll have an ideal customer. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that everyone wants to buy what you have to sell. It’s a fool’s errand to try to please all the people all the time. Instead, encourage women 18-25 to buy your newest floral fragrance and 55-and-older retired men to pick up a musky aftershave.

Use your sales records, online chatter, or anything you can find that will help identify who it is that’s most likely to purchase the item you want to sell. Do this over and over for each product you want to include in a brand ambassador program.

3. Determine the characteristics of your ideal brand ambassadors

Based on your products and customer bases, identify the characteristics of brand ambassadors that make them likely to be trusted by the people you’re appealing to. In the case of younger women, other younger women are almost certainly your best bet.

List characteristics other than simply age, though, to guide your search. She may need to be under 25, but she should probably also be articulate and up on current fashion trends.

For your fellas, it’s a bit trickier. They may prefer someone a little different from them, rather than someone they want to fit in with. For example, they might be motivated to buy aftershave because they want to attract women that are roughly their same age — or a bit younger, no judgment. In this case, you’d want to choose women whose endorsement of the product really matters to your male demographic.

4. Establish goals for your brand ambassadors

Regardless of your product or audience, you need goals. Without them, your brand ambassador program is just adrift in space, without any real form or reason. You can’t know if you’re actually making progress unless you know what that looks like, you know?

So before you kick off your brand ambassador marketing program, define its goals. Should it simply raise awareness of your product, which can be measured with social media shares and likes? Or should it actually help generate additional sales with in-person events?

5. Use data to track and adjust ambassador messages as needed

Identify those key performance indicators (KPIs) before you launch your program, make a note of where they are on the day you start using your brand ambassadors and, if possible, do it along lines dividing your demographics. If you can see how each brand ambassador is performing among their audience, you’ll be able to better adjust your messaging to get the results you’re looking for.

Obviously, this is much more important if your audiences are wildly different. If there’s considerable overlap, it may be difficult to tease out how each ambassador is doing, depending on your goals and metrics. If you can’t see a clear picture, you may want to bring in a marketing-oriented data analyst to help examine your data in different ways that could be more informative.

Tips for finding brand ambassadors

Knowing who it is you want as a brand ambassador is only the beginning of the story. Your next and final task is to actually find them. While it may be intimidating to actually ask someone to represent your brand, finding a brand ambassador can be pretty easy.

1. Look within your own company

You may be surprised how much some of your own people love your products or services. There’s literally no one better to promote your product than someone who helps to deliver the goods. Send out an all-points bulletin as part of your global search for brand ambassadors.

2. Check out who’s mentioning you

Online brand ambassadors can actually be pretty easy to track down. You can set up alerts for when your company is mentioned, and with these alerts, you’ll know who is a true fan of your products. They don’t always need to come to you, you can make the first move and ask potential ambassadors to join your cause.

3. Advertise on your website

Being a brand ambassador is a job like any other, and you can find highly qualified candidates the same way you hire other employees. Post a job opening to your website or your social media account and wait for the eager beavers to come to build bridges between your company and your customers.

Brand ambassadors are another piece of the marketing puzzle

Whether you want to become a brand ambassador for a product you really believe in, or you want to hire a few to help spread the word about your product, it’s important to realize that the job is all about marketing a product or service. When hiring brand ambassadors, you'll increase your chances of success by identifying eager candidates who embody your corporate philosophy and whose values align with your product.

6 Digital Marketing Strategies You Can Use Today

Digital marketing can accelerate your business, but it can also be overwhelming. Let our experts walk you through the basics – including 6 strategies you can implement and how to decide which one to tackle first.

The Motley Fool has a Disclosure Policy. The Author and/or The Motley Fool may have an interest in companies mentioned.