It doesn’t matter if your product is the best and your company is awesome (we’re sure it is already). If you’re not good at telling your story and conveying your message, you won’t grow. Or, if you do, it’ll be an uphill battle trying to convince people what you already know.
True, stellar marketing on your part is critical for growth, but don’t forget about your greatest, strongest asset -- your customers. They’re the most trustworthy information source for any prospective customer. Who better to answer questions than similar people, with similar needs who went through a similar process -- and picked you at the end of it?
The trick is finding a way to engage your most loyal customers to promote you in productive ways, incentivizing them to champion your company and products in the broader world. Sure, it’s a little tricky, but it shouldn’t be too hard to put into action.
Channel your community’s power
Your most loyal, active members hold so much power because they’re the bridge between your company and the average members. They hold a unique spot that provides value for everyone, both community members, current or future customers, and your organization. They truly have a pulse on what’s happening in the community and your organization as a whole, understanding the intricacies between the two in a way no one else does.
And you probably already have a good sense for who potential brand ambassadors or volunteers could be -- they’re those people who bubble to the top of the community with their enthusiasm. They’re active in discussions, contribute content on their own and offer valuable insight to your organization and to fellow members. Who knows? Maybe those people already do promote your product or community on their own, even without a formal program in place.
What motivates these community MVPs to promote without you prompting or rewarding them? It’s an intrinsic pride that they’re contributing to something they care about. A sense that they’re helping other people in a meaningful way. Those are the most powerful motivators, and ones you shouldn’t take for granted.
Imagine what you could do with a formal program to support these people and grow their ranks? More and more companies realize this potential, and are finding creative ways of growing their brand and sense of community among customers.
What does an ambassador program look like?
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all ambassador program anyone can roll out. Creating a meaningful ambassador program depends on several things. What are your goals -- for the program and your organization’s growth? And what is your community’s personality like? You need to know how to motivate your particularly loyal customers to participate and know what types of participation would actually be helpful.
Here are two examples of successful brand ambassador programs that had real, tangible impacts for their companies:
You may have heard of theSkimm -- it’s a daily newsletter geared towards fast paced women who needed to stay on top of world events. Each morning, subscribers receive a quick, witty compilation of the most pressing news of the day. Sounds pretty simple, and it is, but the readership is enormous -- millions of women, including Oprah and Michelle Obama, receive theSkimm on a daily basis. Their open rate is astounding -- around 50%, which is jaw-dropping if that’s something you like to geek out over. Their growth and loyalty are particularly impressive feats since the newsletter is only a few years old.
Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg grew the newsletter into a profitable business, complete with investors, by word of mouth. But it wasn’t their own word - it was “Skimm’bassadors’” words and passion. When they started, readers frequently emailed them, telling them how much they loved the newsletter. At first, Carly and Danielle just wrote back a quick thank you note. Then they realized they were missing out on a huge opportunity. Rather than just sending a quick “thanks,” they added, “can you share theSkimm with five of your friends?”
That’s how their Skimm’bassador program began and how theSkimm went from being a news outlet to a community.
theSkimm’s ambassador program is now more formal than just a suggestion. Depending on how many people you refer, Skimm’bassadors win different swag items. When you win swag, you’re encouraged to wear it and post pictures on social media.
But swag can only take your ambassadors so far -- the thrill of a new magnet or t-shirt quickly wears off. A big plus for being a Skimm’bassador are invitations to a secret Facebook group, LinkedIn group, internships and job opportunities. Those are the rewards that are easy and low cost for organizations to set up, but soundly resonate with ambassadors.
Ever heard of an AFOL? Although LEGOs are marketed and made for children, about five to ten percent of their market is actually adults -- Adult Fans of LEGOs (AFOLs). It could be easy to overlook this minority, except for two things: their buying power is enormous compared to a ten year old kid, and AFOLs don’t outgrow or become too cool for LEGOs. This was proven when LEGO came out with a special Star Wars Imperial Star Destroyer kit -- with a $299 price tag and 3,104 pieces, it doesn’t sound very kid-friendly. But it flew off the shelves and became one of their biggest hits ever. That’s because it was made for the AFOLs.
LEGO’s ambassador program is the perfect example of “give your community what they want.” Originally, LEGO never intended to connect to this demographic -- it didn’t realize they existed and were so passionate. So AFOLs themselves created their own community sites and ways of connecting, like the International Group Network (LUGNET).
Rather than risking the relationship with its most dedicated fans, Lego didn’t create its own community site or try to buy LUGNET. Why mess with a system that already works, and come across as too controlling? Instead, it created a formal program, LEGO Ambassadors, to harness this positive energy.
With the LEGO Ambassador program, everyone involved is more connected -- AFOLs build stronger relationships with each other and the company they love, and LEGO learns more about products and fans. It’s a win-win-win for everyone: fans, ambassadors and the company.
Here’s why it works so well. Not just anyone can become a LEGO Ambassador -- the company selects around 25 people to be official ambassadors. Selectivity gives the program a competitive edge, elevating the position in the AFOL community. When selected, ambassadors go out into the LEGO world -- sites like LUGNET and in-person events -- connecting with people, promoting the product and gathering feedback. In turn, LEGO pays them with LEGO bricks (cheap for the company, highly valuable for AFOLs) and gives them previews of what’s to come.
LEGO’s Ambassador program is a move that goes very far with their most dedicated fans, but is pretty cheap and easy to pull off. Even though most AFOLs are not official ambassadors, they enjoy giving feedback, knowing LEGO is listening. And the rewards for LEGO are huge -- not only is this fan base more dedicated than ever, but it gets valuable insight into the product, ensuring each release is well received and profitable.
Embrace what your community wants
Whether you start from scratch or are riding the coat-tails of a customer created program -- don’t create a one-sided program that doesn’t resonate with your customers or community. It needs to benefit your ambassadors and greater community, not just your company.
Sometimes the best ambassador programs just happen -- like Lego and theSkimm. The trick is spotting that energy and finding a way to hold on. When creating your own ambassador program, don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to. Have your customers already created their own subcommunities? How do your biggest MVP’s already spread the word? Listen to them-- they’re your biggest asset.