Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Short Circuiting Decisions with Brand Ambassadors

What does an ambassadors do?

Buying an ambassadorship in politics is a common theme, albeit illegal, with presidents awarding up to a third of the posts to substantive contributors.  This pattern reflects the absolutely innate rule of reciprocity - we try to pay people back for what they've given us:  Cushy post for cash. 

In sales and marketing there is a lot of talk about 'brand ambassadors'.   Why are they important?    The book Influence: Science and Practice provides a clue:
You and I exist in an extraordinarily complicated environment, easily the most rapidly moving and complex that has ever existed on the planet. To deal with it, we need shortcuts.

So, by leveraging people's beliefs about and passion for a product or company it seems that 'brand ambassadors' play an important role in our ability to make a choice.   They simply short circuit the logical or rational process of search, comparison, and decision.   When faced the dilemma of choice, people ask "What do you wear/ride/use?" of the others.  Influence makes it easy. 

For any company, there are different constituents that could play the role of ambassador:  employees, retail sales, industry 'experts' and consumers.  I'm guessing the motivations for promoting or recommending a brand are very different, but the reward structures may be the same: 
  • Employees:   JouleX uses a 'frequent post' strategy to reward employees for communicating the company's stories.   Generally, the guidelines suggest hand picking the ambassadors and give them adequate training.  
  • Retail Sales: this is sometimes a contradiction; sales people are commissioned to sell - often items from different brands; so how can they be a brand ambassador?  To help sales people sell  3point5 is a platform that mixes sales training with rewards in terms of product discounts.  (The company name comes from the ideal distance for in-person sales.)   
  • Industry Experts:  Between sales and the consumer is the group that people turn to for recommendations, including writers, agencies, sponsorships or celebrities. Often people turn to those with some knowledge of the product and thus are willing to trust their opinion.  
  • Consumers:  the route to support of customers is often thru customer service, not sales or advertising. The goal is to give credibility to the 'story being told by corporate'. 
For brands based on passion, this suggests that all sources of ambassadorship should be brought to bear in a seamless way - they all share the same desire to tell their story.  Integrating such diverse groups requires a good understanding of their individual reward structures and WIIFM; not to mention a new organization structure for marketing.

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