Running a business takes a lot of manpower, resources, and financing. There are countless tasks to undertake, and you and your team only have so many hours in the day and dollars in the budget.
This might leave you wishing there was a way to get some of your work taken off your plate and handled for free. But that would only happen in a world where pigs fly and you ride a unicorn to work, right?
If your business is smart about engaging with your whales—your most enthusiastic customers—then there is a way to make this happen, even in the real world! Some brands harness the excitement of their biggest fans to get something for nothing.
The secret is to create a brand ambassador program. It should make your fans feel like they’re part of your inner circle while transforming your incredible brand into something even better. Let’s take a look at some examples from companies that have the brand ambassador approach all figured out.
The Means for Updating Waze
Chances are that if you’ve ever searched for directions online, you’ve been guided, at least in part, by a Waze volunteer editor. Waze, a site that provides free driving directions and tips for optimizing your route that are updated in real time, was purchased by Google’s parent company in 2013. Today, Google Maps and Waze share data and updates.
Even with Google’s sizable network and deep pockets, there’s no way they could stay on top of updating maps daily on a global scale. That’s where their volunteer editors come in.
Waze invites volunteers to update their maps for them. By gamifying the process, awarding points and gifting the most dedicated editors bigger and better titles and avatars along the path, Waze has engaged a small army fans who do the work for no pay—just glory. Some fans think of it as a hobby with an added benefit of helping their fellow commuters; others even refer to their fellow editors as their “second family.”
Outside of the warm and fuzzy feeling fans get from contributing, Waze does offer some perks to top contributors. They fly their fans out to annual meetings. There, Waze solicits their input and gives them an exclusive preview of changes being rolled out on the platform. They also meet other superfans, compare titles and ranks, and aspire to move even further up the Waze editing pyramid.
Cooking Up Successful Recipes
America’s Test Kitchen has been busting cooking myths, perfecting techniques and recipes, and testing ingredients and equipment since they were founded in 1993.
Over the years, they’ve become a trusted voice in home cooking. Fans know that the America’s Test Kitchen team will put in the legwork. They run comparisons and tests to find not just the best technique, ingredient, or product, but why it’s the way to go.
Even though they’re staffed with experts, they look beyond their team for assistance with their recipe testing. In fact, they’ve assembled over 17,000 home cooks who volunteer to test their recipes and report back.
Just like the Waze volunteers, America’s Test Kitchen home testers cited altruistic reasons for signing up. Past recommendations from America’s Test Kitchen has helped them in their own cooking journeys. Now, they want to pay it forward for the next generation of home cooks.
Again, the word “family” crops up when these fans begin to describe what the community feels like to them. They get to connect with other people who are as passionate as they are about home cooking; they engage with them in online forums and on social media.
Enhancing the Fabric of the Community
Lululemon sells athletic gear. However, fans are passionate about this brand not just because they like the clothing. It’s also because they like what the brand represents. Their messaging is highly aspirational; their marketing nurtures the feeling that the right pair of yoga pants can help you conquer the world.
Lululemon has created an ambassador program that leans into that messaging as well. They engage ambassadors on a local level, so they can best serve the individual communities in which they operate stores.
Ambassadors act as a bridge between the company and the community. They teach classes in stores and host community events, like running clubs. They also speak directly with other customers and help Lululemon better understand the needs and wants of specific, local segments of their customer base.
In return, Lululemon invites ambassadors into an incredible community of like-minded people. They provide them with advanced access to products. Plus, they offer support and coaching to help the ambassadors achieve their own individual goals. This, they hope, will serve as inspiration to others following the ambassadors’ journeys.
Thinking About Starting Your Own Ambassador Program?
Now you’ve seen what a well-structured brand ambassador program can do. You might be thinking about establishing one for your own business. These brands have created incredible programs, and they make it look easy. While it’s not always as straightforward as it seems, there are a couple of key elements you should consider.
Community: The throughline we see in all ambassador programs is that fans of a brand love connecting with others who share their passion. Creating a space for these ambassadors to meet each other, talk about what they love most about your brand and mission, and build meaningful relationships is critical in establishing a successful program.
Meaningful Rewards: Think about the kinds of rewards that really matter to your whales. You will not be able to motivated ambassadors with offers of swag or money. They were more excited by the idea of helping other people. How can you make your fans feel like they’re giving back?
If you do move forward with creating a program, be sure to keep measuring results and experimenting with new approaches. No one is going to create the perfect program on the first try. Being willing to tweak the structure and offerings can help you generate better results in the long run.
About the Sterling Woods Group, LLC
The Sterling Woods Group’s mission is to help clients make sense of their data to build deeper relationships with their best customers, launch new products and membership programs, and execute smarter marketing strategies.
We use a hypothesis-driven, data supported methodology to discover your “spin”—a simple insight that no one else is paying attention to. Then, we help you assemble the right technologies, marketing plans, and resources to seize this opportunity.
About the Author
Rob Ristagno, Founder and CEO of the Sterling Woods Group, previously served as a senior executive at several digital media and e-commerce businesses, including as COO of America’s Test Kitchen. Throughout his career, his focus has been on embracing technology and analytics to spur strategic development and growth.
At the Sterling Woods Group, he and the team are passionate about helping clients understand their best customers through data, and developing products and membership programs that exceed expectations – and generate impressive revenues.
Committed to spreading this message, Rob is the author of A Member is Worth a Thousand Visitors and is a regular keynote speaker at conferences around the world. He has been featured on ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and Digiday.
He holds degrees from the Harvard Business School and Dartmouth College and has taught at both Harvard and Boston College.