What is a Brand Ambassador?
Not everybody can be called the greatest tennis player of all time. However, with 17 Grand Slam trophies in a professional career beginning in the last century, Roger Federer has the most impressive endorsement portfolio in sports.
Image via www.moet.com
His grace under pressure and winning smile positions him well for a brand ambassador role adding exponentially to his USD 93 million in prize money for hitting the ball. Luxury names like Moët & Chandon, Nike, Rolex, Wilson, Credit Suisse and others align their brands to Roger Federer’s brand for a win-win providing USD 40 million annually to the tennis star.
Brand Champions in the Workplace
The beauty of this strategy is its scaleability for small and medium-sized businesses. You don’t need a big budget to gain endorsements. As evidence, look around in any downtown — people are wearing T-shirts, caps and carrying totes emblazoned with corporate brands and college names.
Image via Stanford University Catalogue
The best and proudest brand ambassadors don’t cost millions; they’re on your staff. Frankly, no one is more invested in seeing the company successful and the brand well-liked than the people who work in its name.
Managing Brand Risk
The flip side, of course, is managing risk. Businesses of all sizes know that the impact of social media on a brand’s reputation is an everyday reality. As employees are sharing more and more online, the divide between our personal and working lives becomes ever more narrow. That’s all the more reason to nurture and protect your brand from the inside out.
You can probably name a handful of ways that you already strive to ensure that your employees are fully engaged as champions of your brand. It’s not too difficult to think of new ways all the time…in fact, your employees can probably make great suggestions, too.
Sharing is the Key – 5 Tops Tips to Developing Your Brand Ambassadors
Here are five no-cost and low-cost ideas borrowed from big brands for developing your employees as brand ambassadors. We think they go a long way for small- and medium-sized businesses. Training and sharing is integral to every brand strategy for developing and supporting your employees as the stellar brand ambassadors they should be — and would like to be.
1. Sharing Your Brand Story
Follow the example of Nokia in ensuring that new employees are onboarded with a welcome to the company that presents its proud history. Every brand has an inside story, even if it’s a newly founded enterprise and staff want to know about that history, rather than find it out at a trivia quiz night.
Nokia employees can answers questions like these:
Q: What is the first thing that Nokia manufactured? A: Rubber boots.
Q: When did Nokia sell their billionth mobile phone? A: In 2005 in Kenya.
Image via www.twitter.com
We realize that no customer will ask a Nokia employee for these random historical facts. Yet, they’re representative of the mindset at Nokia. Management educates employees about customer service policies, provides notifications about product rollouts and then shares the logon to Nokia’s customer-facing Twitter accounts as part of the company brand culture.
2. Management Shares Internal Communications
Engaged employees build strong brands. An employer who does a good job of keeping employees informed is one which deepens employee activism in a positive way, say 81 percent of employees surveyed by a leading global public relations agency, Weber Shandwick.
Image via www.webershandwick.com
Employee brand activists defend their employers against criticism, they visibly engage, they lean in both online and off. This is nothing new; it’s human nature. In a 2006 whitepaper produced for the Society for Human Resource Management, Robert J. Vance, Ph.D., states, “The greater an employee’s engagement, the more likely he or she is to ‘go the extra mile’ and deliver excellent on-the-job performance.”
3. Employees Share External Communications
Ivory towers are so yesterday. The Weber Shandwick survey indicates that 21 percent of employees in companies of 500+ employees are brand activists. We can imagine how much higher that percentage may be in smaller companies. And importantly, customers like it that way.
As Eric Nystrom, director of social media and community at Dell points out, “customers are really interested in connecting with empowered employees who are the subject matter experts, not brand spokespeople or brand marketeers.”
Image via www.dell.com
Even big brands with thousands of employees like Dell and Adobe are providing employees with a voluntary certification program to recognize them as qualified to engage in social media and community activites on behalf of the brand. The Dell Social Media and Community University creates brand ambassadors out of staff through value-added training courses leading to enhanced confidence and a consistent voice for the brand. What happened at Dell?
• More than 16,500 Dell employees enrolled in 28 unique courses
• Since 2010, 8,800 employees in 55 countries have become certified
• Online negative comments about the brand dropped 30 percent
• Every day, 25,000 conversations about Dell take place
4. Sharing Between Personal and Corporate
Buy into the principle of personal plus corporate, not personal versus corporate. Your employees may wear a uniform like those working at the Apple Genius Bar and at Ritz-Carlton Hotels — but the individual must not be stripped of their own personality. “Think consistency, not conformity,” suggests a Forbes contributor to the leadership series.
When it comes to making exceptions for outstanding employees, make them. And share that decision.
When Rocky Mountaineer head office found out that 19-year veteran train manager Janice Bondi was about to depart on a cross-Canada rail journey which meant missing a Mother’s Day tea at school with her 4-year-old, this is what they did about it.
5. Share the Two-Way Street
It’s great when you have incorporated these tips into your company brand culture. Remember, it’a a two-way street. What do your employees think? You’ll want to gather their suggestions — keeping in mind that a company-wide meeting in a formal setting isn’t necessarily the best way to do that. Consider a suggestion box, develop other channels, create an open door policy, recognize employees of the month, have a company day out and look into other ways that positively reinforce. There are lots of ways to develop and reward your brand ambassadors, beginning with asking what will resonate for them.
Image via Lindsay Bremner, flickr CC 2.0
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So, what do you think?
• Have you developed a first-day brand welcome and induction programme for your new staff?
• If so, is it one that employees are happy with or does it need brand revitalisation or tweaking?
• Are your employees empowered to use social media on behalf of your brand? Have you given them the requisite training and developed your brand policy and risk management strategy?
• Do you offer employees and family members cool looking branded T-shirts or other appropriate brand collateral they’re proud to use or wear?
• Do you have a suggestion box for employees and is their input actively encouraged?
 Employees Rising: Seizing the Opportunity in Employee Activism, Weber Shandwick, 2014.
 Employee Engagement and Commitment, Society for Human Resource Management, 2006.
 Three Steps for Transforming Employees Into Brand Ambassadors, William Arruda, Forbes