What we're talking about
A brand ambassador is someone with an intimate knowledge of your business, or an authority in your sector, who spends time promoting your business – normally on a long-term basis. They might start conversations about your brand within their personal or professional networks, shout about you on social media or show up at events IRL. Sometimes they're employees or freelancers paid per hour of work; sometimes they're happy to advocate in return for freebies, discounts or commission on any of your products that they sell.
As a small business, you might work with a handful of people on an ad-hoc basis, or decide to set up a scalable ambassador program. That means standardizing how you recruit and manage brand ambassadors and setting specific goals.
Why it's important
Brand ambassadors often form the human face of how you market your brand, and they can make a huge difference when it comes to spreading awareness about what you do and how you're perceived. A recent study showed that one in three consumers now uses social media to discover new products and services – positive representation on these platforms, in particular, can be huge.
Choosing the right brand ambassadors for a well-considered program can have a positive impact on your sales, reputation, customer engagement, ideas testing and content creation. But you've got to pick the right ones – they should be people who know and love your brand, or who hold a lot of sway in your sector.
Things to note
There are different kinds. Different types of brand ambassadors can offer different things for your business. Requirement-driven ambassadors are expected to fulfill a certain criteria – be it creating social posts or attending a certain number of events. They're useful if you're after user-generated content or individuals who can experiment and respond to what's working. Affiliate brand ambassadors are primarily focused on increasing sales, sharing links and codes that ensure they get commission.
Get clear on the skills and traits you need. It might not be like making a full-time hire, but you're still recruiting someone to represent your company and they might need specialized skills or experience to do that. Attractive qualities include previous experience working in social media, marketing or sales, or a sizable and engaged online following. Graphic design, photography and writing ability are other pluses. Character traits, meanwhile, should include confidence, creativity, approachability and professionalism.
Software can help you scale. If you're looking to scale a brand ambassador program, plenty of tools exist to help. They can help you see who's mentioning your brand online, create challenges for ambassadors to complete, manage your relationships and track how individual ambassadors are performing.
It can be very similar to influencer marketing. There are pretty strong parallels between what a brand ambassador can do and how you work with influencers or creators. Influencers might be leveraged like an affiliate brand ambassador (with financial incentives for posting about certain things or selling products), or used across the business as something else entirely – eg, as more of a creative director, who can direct and advise on content.
How to find the right brand ambassadors
1. Confirm that your business is ready. Make sure you have a well-defined brand, with a clear mission, goals and values. If you can't describe these, a third party won't be able to. Think about the practicalities: do you have vibrant social profiles? Do you have an awareness of the kind of offline spaces you want to be promoted in? And who will be responsible for running the program?
2. Set goals. Figure out what you're hoping to achieve and the standards you'll set. Brand ambassador programs often have one specific goal – eg, driving traffic to a new campaign. Other goals might relate to sales, social media engagement, customer trust or brand image. Some of these will be easier to track than others, but you want them to be measurable.
3. Set expectations. Based on your goals, get clear on how those goals will translate into an ambassador's responsibilities. It might be to hit a target for sales, post reach or link traffic. Alternatively, it might be to create a set amount of content per month. You might change this as you negotiate specifics with individuals, but it can still help to plan.
4. Get clear on your budget. Assess your financial situation: do you have cash to invest in marketing? If so, how much? This figure should help you determine what kind of ambassador you opt for (and how many), how they're rewarded for their work and how long you want the relationship to last.
5. Determine what engagement level will work for you. Based on what you know, decide what kind of engagement will work for your business – whether that's a part-time role or something more sporadic. That should help you decide if you'll formally create a job spec and role, or instead be proactive in reaching out to people who seem like a good fit. Creating a job description – even if you don't use it – will help you understand the ideal person you're looking for.
6. Look within your customer base. Begin with your current customers and those who actively engage with your brand. You might have an idea already but, as mentioned, lots of free software exists to help. Think about frequent buyers and people who interact with you on social channels or give you regular feedback – this might be a good way of formalizing and rewarding their relationships with you.
7. Think about your professional network. Reach out to industry connections to see if they've worked with any good brand ambassadors in their time, or if they know any prominent names that would click with your cause.
8. Look outside your immediate following. If you're opting for the expertise route, you'll need to embark on a general search. That might start with notable names and figures specifically relevant to the sector you're operating in. Don't be afraid to look far and wide: from the social profiles of businesses you admire, collaborate or compete with to media publications. There are also websites that collate freelancers who would fit the brief of a brand ambassador (see below).
9. Have a conversation. Once you've amassed some promising leads, schedule in an introductory chat. If it's someone unfamiliar with your brand, you might send them your product or have them trial your service. The conversation itself doesn't need to be super formal, but it'll provide a chance to assess their dynamism, interests and commitment. You're looking to form a partnership, so you'll want their input on what the role looks like and their creative suggestions on how they might promote you.
10. Select your brand ambassador(s). Decide who fits your business and brief. Consider aspects like how you can get the best value from your budget, who will thrive and develop the most in the role, who has the most suitable skills and personality traits and who has the right authority in your sector.
• The right brand ambassadors can act as an authentic voice for your brand out in the wild – helping you boost your brand image, visibility and sales.
• Different kinds of brand ambassadors bring different skills and seek different remuneration. You'll need to pick whatever suits your current position and end goals.
• To find the right people, look to your customers, network and leading voices in your sector.
Perspective. Alex Kowtun is the co-founder of vodka brand Monkey in Paradise. For business magazine Forbes, he outlines how he found the most effective brand ambassadors for his business – and how you can, too.
Example. Influencer marketing tool Brandbassador has a selection of short videos where business owners discuss how brand ambassadors work for them.
Tool. Here's a list of places to search for (and, in your case, hire) brand ambassador roles online.