Last week in Austin as the #DellCAP reunion wrapped up, Dell asked attendees what the ‘next steps’ should be. The majority of the feedback the attendees gave was that they wanted Dell to ‘help us help you‘. Which presents Dell with an interesting dilemma: How does a company of 103,000 employees connect with and empower its brand advocates?
And its a question that many companies are facing right now. One of the main reasons why I wanted to go to SXSW this year was to meet with a few certain ‘big brand’ companies to discuss with them how they connect with their brand advocates, and if they have a formal process or program in place to embrace and empower their advocates.
The answer I heard every time was ‘No we don’t have such a program, but we need one!’
So if your company is considering launching a program to connect with your brand advocates and ambassadors, here’s 10 things to remember:
1 – Spread the word internally as well as externally. Getting internal buy-in is just as important, if not moreso, than getting customers excited about your efforts. If your brand advocacy program doesn’t have INTERNAL advocates pushing it along, its chances of success are going to be greatly reduced. Launching a brand ambassador program takes time and energy. Immediate ROI will be very hard to prove, it’s a long-term process. Which is why it pays to have a team of people that are pushing for patience.
2 – Research, research, research. You’ll have to invest a lot of time in discovering WHO your brand advocates are. You might think you know who they are, but there’s rarely a ‘one-size-fits-all’ view. You’ll also have to monitor ALL conversations with your customers. Not just online conversations, not just offline ones either. Look at both. Also, make special note of the customers that go the extra mile to connect with you, the ones that write you letters, even if they sound negative. Companies often confuse passion for the brand with negativity aimed at the brand.
3 – Start small, grow big. You don’t have to have a million members in your brand ambassador program. In fact, I’d rather have 10 truly passionate brand advocates than 10,000 members that are merely ‘meh’ toward the brand. If you start small and select those that are truly passionate about your brand and its vision, the growth will come organically as these passionate people will help you identify others just like them.
4 – Make membership exclusive. This ties into the previous point, but you don’t want ALL your customers to be members of your brand ambassador program. You want to give them hurdles to jump, obstacles to overcome. In other words, you want to weed out the customers that aren’t committed to the brand, or the program. The true advocates for your brand will already be doing much if not all of what you would require of them as members of the program. It also pays to cap membership, and to give the existing members a huge say in who the future members are.
5 – Connect with your advocates and create ways for them to connect with each other. Your advocates are special people, you don’t want them on an island, you want them connected. Create a central ‘homebase’ for the current members of your program, but also stay connected to other advocates that aren’t yet members. And make your existing ambassadors aware of these advocates, and have them ‘vet’ them for possible membership in your formal ambassador program.
6 – Pay your ambassadors. This is one of the biggest misconceptions about brand ambassadors. They DO want to be compensated but most do NOT want to be given money. Sure, we all love money, but for a true brand advocate they usually want other things. Like access, empowerment, and acknowledgement. Look at last week’s #DellCAP, the attendees weren’t paid to come (travel was covered), but they were given access. For example, they got to tour Dell’s Social Media Listening Center, then they got to spend 30 minutes talking to CEO Michael Dell. That’s pretty heady stuff for a Dell advocate. When they go back home, their friend might brag about having the latest and greatest Dell laptop, while they can respond with ‘Oh yeah, we’ll last week I got to chat with Michael Dell himself!’ That’s a great example of rewarding your advocates.
7 – Give your advocates direct access to the brand. The members of your brand ambassador program should be given direct contact with multiple key executives within the brand. In fact, I would suggest making 1 or more of the ‘top’ members of your brand ambassador program part of the team that’s responsible for reporting on the progress of the program to the C-Suite. The idea here is to make sure that the voice of your brand’s biggest defenders and advocates is always heard at the company, from the top down.
8 – Create a feedback loop between the brand ambassadors, and the brand. I outlined the process for this loop in this post. You need to have a way to let your ambassadors have direct access to the brand, as mentioned above. But at the same time, the brand needs to respond to the brand ambassadors and give them feedback on their feedback. Additionally, the brand needs to take the feedback from its ambassadors and distribute that feedback internally and not just silo it among the employees that are working directly on the brand ambassador program.
9 – Give your ambassadors the tools to create something amazing. Again, you want to start small and grow organically. And you want that growth to be fueled by your existing advocates. You want to embrace and empower your existing advocates, thus the creation of the brand ambassador program. But you also want your existing ambassadors to have the tools to embrace and empower other advocates that aren’t yet members. And tying back to the earlier points about giving ambassadors direct access to the brand, when your existing ambassadors find other advocates, they can immediately bring them to the brand’s attention.
10 – Transfer ownership of the program from the brand, to its ambassadors. When you create a brand ambassador program, you need to realize that long-term, this will belong to your advocates. You’ll always be there, and you’ll always have a voice, but the idea is that you want your most passionate customers to eventually take over this program. Maybe you’ll start out with a ‘board’ over the program made up of 5 key brand executives, and 5 brand ambassadors. But over time, as your ambassadors become familiar with the program and its function and goals, you need to let them have control. Again, you don’t want the voice of your company to dominate this effort, you want the voice of your most passionate customers to have control, because those customers are going to be connecting with other customers.
So there’s some ideas to consider when you get ready to create and launch an official brand ambassador program. This won’t be easy, and it will take a lot of time, but if you are committed to connecting with your most passionate customers and willing to empower them, the results will make program a huge success.
BTW, as a bonus, check out this fantastic podcast from Ben and Jackie, as they talk to Maker’s Mark CEO Bill Samuels Jr on how the brand created and launched its wildly successful brand ambassador program.