DTC brands are no strangers to the power of influencer marketing, but they may not be making the most of the opportunities this strategy offers.
Ambassador marketing takes influencer partnerships to the next level. Rather than paying for one-off posts, ambassador programs let brands build genuine relationships with these people. “They want partnerships that are grounded in mutual respect with individuals who are genuine fans of the product they are promoting,” writes Kate Haldy, Director of Public Relations, Influencer Marketing and Events at lifestyle brand Anthropologie. “Most of all, brands want loyalty, and in a competitive market, reviews and recommendations are king.”
Creating that kind of loyalty is not easy. Here is what a successful ambassador marketing program looks like and how brands can achieve it.
Find the Perfect Ambassadors
A successful ambassador marketing program hinges on the caliber of the influencers that brands work with. It is not just a large following and high engagement metrics that are essential. Ambassadors should mirror a brand’s positioning and ethos.
Micro-influencers are often the best choice, writes Alex McPeak at email marketing platform Klaviyo. “These micro-influencers, who typically have less than 10,000 followers, are less likely to be millionaires posting from their mansions and more likely to be parents posting from their apartments.” They typically create more authentic content and take much more care when crafting a brand message.
Or Use Your Employees
Employees are already some of a brand’s best ambassadors, so why not make it even more official? H&M launched a year-long ambassador program for employees in 2019, writes Bryan Wassel, Associate Editor at Retail TouchPoints. The brand chose ambassadors based on a number of factors, including personality, location, content, brand values and style. Each ambassador has their own personal page on the H&M website, complete with their Instagram name and shoppable images.
Brands do not have to accept everyone who applies to become an ambassador. They should actually be extremely selective to ensure their brand values are not corrupted or diluted.
That is the approach sunglasses and sportswear brand Oakley takes, rejecting 93% of those who apply, writes Avery Schrader, Founder & CEO at influencer discovery platform Modash. Oakley also uses strict guidelines and a close, ongoing relationship to ensure only the best ambassadors promote their products.
Find Someone Your Customers Identify With
The best ambassadors reflect a brand’s customers. They share those customers’ values, which allows them to act as a bridge that connects those values with what the brand stands for. This can be especially useful in luxury product categories or with beauty brands, for example.
“When it comes to luxury and beauty brands, decisions to purchase are tougher,” says Fernanda González León de la Barra, Director of eCommerce Solutions at Scalefast. Those purchasing decisions are rooted in both emotion and a personal analysis for each customer. When the product in question is an eyeliner that costs three times as much as the customer’s old eyeliner, for example, that customer might hesitate to buy.
“Getting recommendations from someone you admire and trust might make the journey to decide to purchase easier,” she explains.
Communicate Clear Goals
Setting goals is a crucial part of any ambassador program, Daniel Troesch, Co-Founder and COO at influencer marketing platform Fourstarzz Media writes. Brands need to know what they want to achieve to guide and advise ambassadors accurately.
“The goals that you set will also help you zero-in on the key performance indicators (KPIs) that you need to follow to determine the progress of your campaign,” he explains. Troesch offers a range of common goals brands may wish to achieve through their ambassador program:
- Build brand awareness.
- Improve brand image.
- Boost sales.
- Increase customer retention.
Brands should also define their customers, writes Kim Kosaka, Director of Marketing and Program Management at Alexa. “Create a buyer persona that includes both demographic and psychographic segmentation,” she says. “Once you know your audience, it will be easier to identify the top people they follow and websites they use.”
Ambassadors have their own goals, too, and brands should recognize and account for this, writes the team at referral marketing platform ReferralRock. “For example, they may want to grow their own following, scale up their partnerships, or augment their income. It is best to find a brand ambassador with goals and values that align with your own.”
Give Ambassadors the Tools to Succeed
One of the biggest benefits of working with ambassadors rather than influencers is that they require less oversight, writes Brent Barnhart at social media management platform SproutSocial. They should already understand a brand’s products and messaging.
“Still, hooking them up with a style guide and set of expectations is helpful,” he writes. “For example, you obviously want them to maintain their own personal voice but you also don’t want them needlessly trashing competitors.”
Giving ambassadors a suite of promotional assets is essential for brands to succeed, writes Alan VanToai, Founder and CEO at brand ambassador and influencer management platform CrewFire. “These can be indoctrination videos, behind the scenes photos, or other company prepared assets.” These assets can extend to event passes or a landing page on the brand’s online store.
Brands should also be clear about the kind of content they want ambassadors to create and reach out to them when marketing needs change.
When underwear brand Thinx could not arrange their own photoshoots during the pandemic, for instance, they called on their ambassadors to help, writes Katie Richards at Glossy. Using the #ThinxLeaders hashtag, ambassadors were asked to educate their followers on the brand’s products and their mission. Organic mentions increased by 20% and positive sentiment by 55% as a result.
Offer the Right Incentives
Compensation can vary from ambassador to ambassador. Some will prefer financial compensation. Some will prefer free products or access to events.
Either way, be clear about what you expect from ambassadors and the kind of rewards they can expect in return, says Karen Koslow, Founder of marketing communications consultancy Wellness Amplified. “Offering them free products, services or exclusive discounts, asking them to give their input on new product ideas, including periodic gifts in mailings, etc. are all good ways to keep ambassadors engaged.”
Most brands offer some combination of rewards. Sephora, Koslow notes, combines commission payments with networking events, coaching and new product testing.
Tracking Ambassador Success
There is no point launching ambassador programs if brands are not going to track their success. The key is to measure the right metrics.
Too often, brands use superficial metrics to measure the impact of these kinds of campaigns, writes Florine Eppe Beauloye, Founder and CEO at luxury digital marketing agency Moonshot Digital. “Brands can generate engagement and social media views, but tying this to actual sales is mostly based on guesswork at the moment. Measurement will need to move beyond vanity metrics such as follower counts and likes as a benchmark of success.”
An affiliate program can be an effective way of tracking the number of sales each ambassador generates as well as rewarding them proportionately.
Do not focus solely on revenue metrics, writes Lorel Wilhelm-Volpi, Senior Director of Partnership Marketing at marketing solutions provider Acxiom. Other metrics can indicate success, including:
- How many people see ambassador-created content.
- How many users like, comment and share content.
- How many site visits each ambassador generates.
- The lifetime value of each customer acquired through an ambassador.
- The customer acquisition cost of each new customer.
Ambassador programs require significantly more effort than influencer campaigns. Brands must choose their ambassadors carefully, set clear goals, provide ongoing support and continually incentivize them. Given the level of investment, accurately tracking ROI and other metrics is essential.
Long-term partnerships with influencers who align with a brand and genuinely like it can generate significantly higher levels of brand awareness, engagement and sales than a single influencer post ever could.