As if you didn’t know it already, your loyal customers who keep coming back are like gold to you. With e-mail, blogs, and social media such as Facebook and Twitter, you can put positive word-of-mouth from these regulars into warp drive, transforming them into brand ambassadors.
Brand ambassadors are your loyal customers to whom you offer incentives and rewards to encourage them to act as part public relations agent and part evangelist. All it takes is a small investment, a light touch, and consistent effort. The result is more sales volume and less customer turnover. In other words, effective marketing on the cheap.
How does it work? One city increased tourism by using the brand ambassador program. Ocean City, Md., began its pilot brand ambassador program in early 2007. More than 15 ambassadors from around the touristy town serve as PR representatives to local media, pass out promotional materials to visitors, and talk up the town in blogs, e-mail, and social media. As a thank-you, they get previews of town events and gift packs with items such as golf discounts and free local goodies. Since the program started, visits to the city have increased and attendance is higher at events the ambassadors have promoted, says Donna Abbott, Ocean City’s public relations director.
Maker’s Mark bourbon offers another good example of an ambassador program that smaller companies can easily copy. To be a Maker’s Mark ambassador, anyone can register on the company’s Web site. In exchange, they get their names on a barrel of bourbon and a chance to buy two bottles from that barrel after it has aged six to seven years. Upon registration, a welcome kit is mailed to them with promotional information and 20 business cards. They also receive a monthly e-mail and a quarterly snail-mail packet with branded trinkets and gifts designed for sharing. Everything has the brand’s distinctive design so other ambassadors who see it will instantly recognize each other. The 2009 holiday mail packet, for instance, included branded gift bags, tissue paper, and gift tags for “viral” distribution via gift giving.
Such inexpensive, brand-friendly gifts sent out at random surprise ambassadors and keep buzz going. Everything is supported by updates on the company Web site and blog and on Facebook. Facebook fans, which include many ambassadors, often alert each other about the latest free gifts and swap recipes for seasonal cocktails. When ambassadors call or e-mail the company, they are quickly patched through to a staff member.
If you would like to start your own ambassador’s program, here are some tips to get you started:
- Incentives for ambassadors don’t have to be expensive. Include small, unexpected gifts with your brand on it, discounts, previews of new merchandise, or invitations to local events.
- Choose ambassadors who are motivated. Ask them to register and share information about how they use your offering. Keep track of regular customers, thank them, and ask them to be ambassadors.
- Make it easy for ambassadors to talk to others via online social sites. Create a Facebook page for your ambassadors that gives recipes, tips, quips, or other information related to your offerings. Keep it short, sweet, personal, and easy to share.
- Keep it consistent. Reach out to your ambassadors regularly, whether it is weekly, monthly, or quarterly, just as you would keep in touch with valued friends.