Brands & Brand Ambassadors

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We all know that branding a product or business or a startup involves a number of strategies to create “brand recall“. Besides the quality of the product or service, which the customers realise only when they have used them at least once, there are some steps to be taken to attract the customers to a business.

There are numerous ways to make the customers hook to a business, and engaging a Brand Ambassador is one such strategy.

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Technically, a brand ambassador is a person, usually a popular person, who has already got a considerable fan following, such as actors, pop stars, sports persons, social activists and even politicians who can be used as ‘crowd-pullers’. And those with such reputation don’t come cheap.

A brand ambassador is also called a “brand’s spokesperson”, and there are several types of brand ambassadors: celebrities and employees whom a business can engage or retain, and friends, family and loyal customers themselves who are unpaid but are very trust-worthy. While the celebrities are the most expensive and not for the budget strained businesses and start-ups, the other types come in handy for any business.

Does a business need a brand ambassador?

There are some critics who actually question the ‘need’ for any brand ambassador at all. They can quote a number of businesses without any celebrity brand ambassadors which are highly successful and profitable. Well, you can’t argue with them; they may have a point there.

Abhishek Sanwal, opined on Quora that there wasn’t any hard and fast rule that only human celebrities could popularise a brand. In support of his argument, he mentioned ‘Chintamani’ of ICICI India insurance; 7up’s Fido and ZooZoo of Vodafone to illustrate how just a cartoon character, given the right treatment, can do more for a brand than a living person can.

The beginning of the culture of engaging a brand ambassador

However, when the Swiss watchmaker Omega, the first to put a watch on the Moon, appointed Cindy Crawford, the highest paid super model at that time, as its brand ambassador in 1995 to get out of the slump, saw its sales soar beyond expectations. The rest of the international businesses worldwide followed not only Omega’s time but also its business tact.

Almost every international brand has a ‘global brand ambassador’ promoting its product(s). The craze has gone to such heights that there is a stiff competition among the businesses in retaining the most popular celebrities as their brand ambassadors. It’s more like a status symbol to have ‘so and so’ as your brand ambassador.

A causal glance at the money involved in this publicity strategy makes our heads reel in wonder. For example, Pepsi paid $ 50 million to Beyonce, the pop star; Channel, the perfume fashion brand, is known to have paid $7 million to Brad Pitt, the Hollywood star, for a one year campaign; Adidas has David Beckham, the professional footballer, for life at a staggering $ 150 million; Nike retained Tiger Woods, even with all that negative publicity, on a five-year contract for endorsing its sportswear with a handsome $100 million; LeBron Raymone James, the professional basketball player, had his pockets full with $90 million for a 7-year deal with Nike and much more from partnership with Coca-Cola and McDonalds; Rapper 50 Cents grossed a $100 million by striking a deal with Glacau, a company that produced vitamin water; and the celebrity couple, Supermodel Gisele Bundchen and NFL superstar Tom Brady are believed to amass a cool $283 million on endorsements! The list goes on. Does anyone still dare think all this Brand Ambassador ‘rush’ is useless? I don’t.

New title to the good old brand ambassador

In recent times, a ‘Brand Ambassador’ is given a new title called ‘creative director’. What the ‘creative director’ does to the brand depends entirely on the product they endorse or the company they represent.

A few examples here show us that this new phenomenon of brand ambassadors donning more than one responsibility and title is going to stay for some time to come: in 2010, Lady Gaga, while promoting her new album, The Fame Monster, was appointed as the ‘Creative Director’ for Polaroid’s Imaging products; in 2012, Budweiser Beer’s Bud Light Premium felt lucky to have musician Justin Timberlake to be its Creative Director and proudly announced that the beer became Number One new beer brand that year; and in 2013, Diet Coke was proud to announce the agreement with fashion designer Marc Jacobs to be its Creative Director.

What about those small businesses and start-ups?

Can startups and small businesses afford such high-paid celebs?

No!

So what’s to be done? How could they fill in that slot?

They can take the help of the other types of ‘brand ambassadors’: employees and the good old customers. Two birds at a shot!

A business which can’t afford a celebrity can certainly manage to have that gap filled with its own staff. Starting from a salesperson to the CEO, everyone can be a ‘brand ambassador’, provided they are trained or treated with compassion and encouragement with proper incentives.

[In my previous articles I went as far as to suggest that the ‘logo’, the ‘brochure’, the company’s ‘website’ and loyal ‘staff members and customers’ of a business can be brand ambassadors only when they rightly communicate the company’s message.]

Here is a solid proof in support of my opinion: Hua Jian, Ph.D., an assistant professor of public relations at Syracuse University, New York, wrote in one of her papers that “by having passionate employees who adore their brand, organizations not only benefit from their external ambassadors’ word-of-mouth marketing but also generate increased revenues…” She also quoted Chris Boudreaux and Susan Emerick stating in their book The Most Powerful Brand on Earth, that in social media, “people — not brands — are the channel”; in addition, she mentioned Rebecca Feldman’s LinkedIn talent blog in which Rebecca discussed how organisations can benefit from their employees’ social media presence to turn them into brand ambassadors through clear, actionable communications and training programs.

Cricky Cicchetti went even further by suggesting that in-house brand ambassadors (employees) could be thought of as hybrid between Public Relations officers and Human Resources officers, doing both the tasks of educating consumers about a brand and also trying to help them in any way that they could.

In between, there is also another kind of Brand Ambassador called ‘Brand Influencer’ or “Brand Evangelist” who makes a brand more popular in the true sense. Anybody who talks positively about a particular brand can be that brand’s brand influencer.

Each of us has at least one experience in which we talk of a particular product being the best or the most useful without any personal benefit in return. A co-passenger sitting next on a train or on a flight, your colleague or even a stranger at the garage where you regularly have your car serviced may have asked you for your opinion on some product, and you, from the first-hand experience you have had with that product or service, voluntarily support the brand (or oppose), and then you become the brand’s brand influencer.

This type of brand influencers is found in great numbers on the Internet. I often write reviews on the places I visit, the hotel and restaurants I stay and eat at on my vacations, and post them on my personal as well as other commercial websites, such as tripadvisor. Nobody pays anybody for these reviews, but we just write them to express our experiences… satisfaction or dissatisfaction openly.

According to an expert in these marketing strategies, 92 percent of consumers are known to trust the recommendations from friends and family more than what they see and hear from the commercials. 70% of the Online consumers are known to confess that they trust messages and reviews of others on social media, and the percentage number shows an increase every year.
A small business which can harness these inexpensive but loyal and trusted Brand Ambassadors – employees and brand influencers – can definitely make a big name for the brand within no time.