Laura Petrolino

Spin Sucks Question: Cultivating Customer Brand Ambassadors

By: Laura Petrolino | January 24, 2020 | 
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brand ambassadorsIn last week’s #SpinSucksQuestion we asked about the future of influencer relations in the new decade.

And boy, do the leaders of the communications industry have a lot to say about this ever-evolving topic. 

While there were a lot of different opinions, one thing everyone agreed on is we need to prioritize our work around customer and employee brand ambassadors.

I like to call these “influencer OGs.”

Because I’m a preppy white girl who thinks using the word “OG” gives her street cred.

Or something like that. 

After collecting the responses from our group of all-star experts, I decided to break up customer and employee brand advocates into two posts. 

We shall tackle customers this week and employees the next. 

I’ll let our crew take it away with their insight while I create some sick beats in the hood.

(And I live in Maine, so by “hood” I mean the hood of my huge winter coat. It has great acoustics.)

Stats Around Customer Brand Ambassadors

If you doubt customer brand ambassadors are worth the investment of time and energy, these stats will change your mind. 

So let’s go step by step through the suggestions from communications leaders in the Spin Sucks community on how to best encourage brand ambassadors and design an effective program.

Step One: Do Good Work

Let’s start at the very beginning…because that’s a very good place to start, right? 

Roger Friedensen lays it out pretty simply. Customer brand ambassadors are a privilege you must earn:

It may sound simplistic, but experience has taught me the most important step to cultivate brand ambassadors is to be worthy of such support in the first place. That is, the most authentic, effective, and powerful ambassadors one can have are those who are inspired by your firm’s culture, performance, ethics, and commitment to excellence in all aspects of your work.

Steve Turner agrees: 

Go the extra mile for your customers. Go above what is expected. You need to do an excellent job of course, but then exceed expectations. Whether that means meeting clients before or after hours or on weekends to finalize a project, working on important marketing materials around their convenience and deadline, even helping them find an accountant or realtor. Once you gain a high level of trust you can ask them for testimonials for marketing purposes. They will be happy to provide whatever you need. 

Step Two: Have a Plan

In some situations, brand ambassadors self-propagate.

It’s the result of living in a digital world, and our human nature of wanting to share things we love, hate, find, and cultivate.

If you are a stand out company (as Roger outlines above), brand ambassadors will happen. 

But smart companies take that organic nature and create a plan to make customer ambassadors a strategic driver of their organizational goals. 

As Shane Carpenter explains: 

We need to know the why of a brand ambassador program, and not just in a general way. Be specific. Why are we doing this? Because of x, y, and z. We need to know how we are doing it. That could be really big because it really does come to great service for customers (which doesn’t stop at the point of sale) and a great environment for employees (which can be highly subjective for each employee). What do we want them to do and where do we want it to take place? And of course, how are we going measure to know that it’s working to achieve the goals and objectives we have in place? 

Ozan Toptas agrees:

Clearly define the rules of engagement—what is expected of them, what will be provided, what is acceptable and what’s not, have a policy on hand. And provide training if you want good outcomes.

Step Three: Understand What’s in it For Them

If there was a communications 101 textbook, this question would be the entire first chapter.

“What’s in it for them?” is the first thing we are taught to ask when creating a plan to motivate customer action.

Yet sometimes we can get so busy doing our “communications thing” we lose sight of the forest for the trees. 

Christopher Penn believes this is true when it comes to customer brand ambassadors: 

Figure out what’s in it for them. Brands tend to be so self-centered  they neglect their customers, ambassadors, and communities. At best, they’re tokens. At worst, they’re completely ineffective. When it comes to your community, if you can’t give more value than you take, then you have no business trying to manage brand ambassadors.

Step Four: Relationships Lead. Always. 

Funny how every communications strategy always comes down to relationships.

What an interesting trend, right? 

Relationships are the basis for all communications.

And whether we are talking about influencer relations or customer ambassadors, or anything else we do…that never changes. 

As Mary Getz so aptly states, it’s about “ acknowledging that humans are humans—and building the relationships both within an organization and then with clients and customers.”

Mike Vannest’s organization does this by making the client feel at home from day one: 

At our company we take the time to visit with everyone’s client and understand their wants and needs.  From our maintenance workers to our corporate office staff, each employee makes a point of introducing themselves to each new client we sign.

Eleanor Smith agrees: 

Get to know them personally and find out what they care about.

And for Chris Williams this means the causes they care about too.

One thing we’ve done is to support causes our customers’ support. Most of the time they’re causes we’d support anyway – Wounded Warriors is one example – but we make sure certain customers know it. Since we agree on these causes, it’s an easy step to ask them to share content.

Step Five: Your Customers ARE Your Brand Story

Brand storytelling is one of those buzz words communicators love.

It sounds so great and impressive.

But the reality is very few do it well. 

Brand storytelling and customer ambassadors go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Your customers are a crucial part of your brand story.

When you empower them to tell it as ambassadors, you create something more powerful than you could ever tell on your own. 

As Ashton Whitney  explains:

People remember stories they identify with, stories that mean something. Without that, statistics and sales pitches are ineffective and quickly forgotten. When you make your message about the customer, you make it their story. And people love telling those with everyone they know.

Step Six: Ego Wins…Always

As Julia Brolin explains:

Make the customer the HERO of your story! Stroke their ego—make them feel like they are the smartest person alive and you want to learn from them and gain insight. We do this a lot to build customer testimonials. Once they understand how valuable their insight is and your intention on sharing their thoughts and ideas they are bound to share!

Tony Gnau agrees:

If you have people who love you, feature them in testimonials. Not only will they share it, it sends a signal to others in your community that you value the people in the community.

Step Seven: The IKEA Effect is REAL

We’ve talked before about the IKEA effect.

The amazing power of helping your customer feel part of your organization.

A well thought out brand ambassador program can do that.

Making it a win for them and a double win for you. 

As Kelly Kostanesky explains:

Involve the customer as much as possible in developing new products and make them feel like you care and that they are part of something bigger than themselves.

Step Eight: Don’t Forget The Legal Fine Print

Before we end this look at customer brand ambassadors, Heather Feimster has an important legal disclaimer: 

TL;DR: Do your homework on any kind of legal or contractual restrictions before reaching out to clients/customers.

I’m going to put up a speed bump for a minute on this. BEFORE you dive headlong into contacting customers/clients, it’s wise to speak to your sales/legal department and ensure there aren’t any contractual restrictions with it. As a contractor in a highly regulated industry (oil and gas), we are contractually PREVENTED from disclosing client names, projects, services—most won’t even allow us to name them in industry conference case studies or white papers! This may not be the case in your industry, and probably not much in B2C, but it’s worth noting. Most of our clients have corporate policies preventing them from even accepting swag or dinners from contractors! So we are legally prevented from giving them shirts, hats, etc.

That means much of our content focuses on our own team and what they do, who they are. In turn, some of our account managers have such great relationships with individual project managers on the client side that they do share our content on social, but we can’t create any kind of strategy around that. We’ve found, however, they are more likely to share content about our people and/or major industry regulatory changes than just sales-ey posts.

Which is a great segue for next week’s look at cultivating employee brand ambassadors.

Until then join this and many other conversations important for communications pros in the Spin Sucks community.

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About Laura Petrolino


Laura Petrolino is chief marketing officer for Spin Sucks, an integrated marketing communications firm that provides strategic counsel and professional development for in-house and agency communications teams. She is a weekly contributor for their award-winning blog of the same name. Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.