Did you know Patagonia has a Brand Ambassador Program? Probably not, but the brand has had an ambassador program since at least 2000. This makes sense when you consider that Patagonia has never made advertising of any kind a priority for the brand. Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard has often proudly proclaimed that the brand only spends one half of one percent of revenue on advertising.
Patagonia’s effort is a bit different from most brand ambassador programs in a few notable ways. Most brand ambassador programs, much to my disappointment, are structured largely to drive sales. Most brands view their ambassadors as potential promotional channels, with little or no thought given to how else these ambassadors could be leveraged to help the brand.
To be fair, Patagonia does use its ambassadors to promote the brand. But that’s not the only or even most important function that Patagonia’s ambassadors serve.
When you view Patagonia’s ambassador page, you’re immediately struck by how the ambassadors are organized based on the outdoor activities they excel at:
These are athletes, and typically athletes that are well-known and respected among their peers. So in that regard, you may consider this as more of an influencer marketing effort than a true brand ambassador program. But Patagonia has an ongoing, working relationship with these ambassadors, and they are paid a salary for their involvement in the program.
So when you consider that Patagonia is working with athletes who are well-known and influential within their respective disciplines, a working relationship based on sales promotion is assumed. Which makes this quote from the brand on the role and responsibilities of its ambassadors very interesting:
"Patagonia's ambassadors are known for not only being athletes, but for being integral to the company's product development and product testing. The company's ambassadors work closely with the design department to test, refine and validate products in the harshest and most remote locations on the planet."
I loved seeing this because as I've often written about here, leveraging brand ambassadors as a product feedback channel is one of the smartest things a brand can do. I'm sure Patagonia's thinking here is to put its products in the hands of elite athletes with the thinking being that they can give better feedback on how the clothing functions in their typical activities. Patagonia then can take this product feedback and leverage it to improve the product's design, durability, and function.
It's really the best of all worlds for Patagonia. They've created a program where the ambassador have real input into the products they use. This means the ambassadors will be far more knowledgeable about the product and how it functions, which also helps them better promote it to other customers. Which is beneficial for Patagonia, since it's ambassadors are elite athletes who are well-respected and who are very influential among their peers.
Now How Do You Apply This to Your Own Brand Ambassador Program?
When it comes to the influencer vs fan debate, I've always said that the best of both worlds is to find an influencer who is also a fan of your brand. In a way, this is what Patagonia has done. They aren't just asking the ambassadors to promote Patagonia's products to their following (as you would with an influencer), they are also stressing that they want the ambassadors to use their products and give them feedback after they have done so. In addition, they've also carefully picked ambassadors who are already engaging in the same type of activities that Patagonia's customers are when those customers buy Patagonia's products. So the products are getting a real-world testing, which results in better feedback.
For your efforts, follow the model that Patagonia uses and focus on ambassadors who either already use your products, or who live a lifestyle similar to that of your current customers. Basically, you want to make sure that the ambassadors you pick are people that will be using your products in the same way that your customers would. This means that your ambassadors can give you better feedback and it means your brand can apply that feedback to improve the product.
Remember, leveraging your ambassadors to promote your brand is fine, but that's hardly the only way you can work with them in order to grow your brand.