The following guest post was written by Jonny Steel, VP Marketing at Payoneer.
Over 80% of buyers, according to Nielsen, say they trust earned media, such as word-of-mouth and recommendations, above all other forms of advertising. In other words, you can yell and scream as much as you like, have a media buying budget in the millions, and even blow your entire budget on a Superbowl ad, but a reference from family, friends or professional network trumps the lot.
Word-of-mouth happens organically when you have a great product that brings genuine value to your customers coupled with top-notch service. But there’s plenty you can do to develop communities of advocates that can really move the needle for you. One such strategy is to build a brand ambassador program – finding leaders in various communities and helping to promote them as independent evangelists of your company.
Payoneer’s Ambassador Program – now live in 12 countries including Argentina, Egypt, India, South Korea and Serbia – has become a driving force in growing the company reach in markets that are not that easily penetrated. Whether your company is global or just focused on one country such as the US, the same lessons can be applied.
Here are 10 tips that will help you be seen and heard in a totally different (and more powerful) way:
1. Set clear goals.
Never lose track of your ultimate goal, which is accelerating growth. While a brand ambassador program won’t necessarily provide as clear-cut ROI as PPC (for example), it has enormous potential to grow your brand in key markets worldwide. Long term, it has the power to be a key driver of word-of-mouth growth, reducing customer churn and turning your customers into evangelists. You might not see results overnight but after a few months of measuring the growth of your brand awareness in your ambassadors market, you should start to really see the results of your effort.
2. Don’t view it as a referral program.
Don’t confuse an ambassador program with a referral or affiliate program. Your ambassadors should never be incentivized by driving registrations or lead generation orelse they will totally lose the independence that gives them the credibility you need. Their every action should be based around how best to grow your brand and local image, rather than delivering one or two more direct sign ups. The new customers will flood in as long as they trust the ambassador.
3. Open or targeted ambassador selection?
Who should your ambassadors be, how many should you have and how should you appoint them? There are different approaches to this question with some companies opting for the ‘open route’ whereby anyone can visit their website and complete a form to nominate themselves as an ambassador. In such a case you may have dozens if not hundreds of brand ambassadors. You have less control over them but their reach can be massive. Alternatively, you can hand-pick your ambassadors, selecting your most loyal customers who have proven over time how much they love you. It’s actually far more important that they get loads of value out of you, than how much revenue you’re currently making from them. It’s a real bonus if they are already locally respected as influencers through high social media activity, writing on popular blogs or well known in the local event circuit.
4. To pay or not to pay?
This really depends on how much you want from them. The secret however is to never make payment the only (or main) incentive for them to become your ambassador in the first place. You want them to do it primarily because they genuinely love your brand and believe it brings value to their peers. If you have a budget to invest in the program through helping them to organize local meetups or by sponsoring other events, you are providing them with an amazing opportunity to grow their professional profile. Finally, they should be busy people, but you want to make sure they have enough time to be able to invest into meeting your goals.
5. Timing is everything
When do you launch your brand ambassador program? The key here is to use other traditional marketing methods to create initial momentum in the market. You want to have a critical mass of existing customers who will rally around the new ambassador and launch only then, but you don’t have to wait until you’ve “made it big” first in the ambassador’s market.
6. Bring people together.
One of the most important ways that your ambassadors offer value is by bringing people together. Online activities like webinars or forums are good but nothing can replace the power of human interaction. You can find ambassadors in cities or countries where you and your team rarely visit and have them host meetups, roundtables and other exclusive networking events.
7. Brand the hell out of it.
Send your ambassadors a crate full of swag and make sure they take it everywhere they go. Apparel is always a good one. If it’s decent quality, they’ll wear it over and over. Laptop bags, amusing stickers, notebooks etc. also do the trick. If you host meetups make sure that the venue is really well branded. Like your ambassador, the content of your events should remain as independent as possible by inviting industry experts and other solution providers to share insights, but make sure that however independent they are, they’re standing in front of a company branded backdrop and behind a branded podium.
8. One size doesn’t fit all.
As you scale your brand ambassador program you will start to discover which activities work best. While it’s good to replicate this to additional locations, always try to build individual ambassador plans around their personal strengths. If they’re an inspirational speaker, try to get them speaking about your company at as many events as possible. If they’re strong on social, focus them there. If they’re not particularly confident speakers, let them organize meetups and invite others to be the main speakers. If they’re well connected, use them as a way to get introduced to potential business partners.
9. Keep your ambassadors independent.
They should be proud to be your ambassador and it’s great if they update their LinkedIn, business cards and the way they introduce themselves. However, it’s crucial that you maintain a clear line separating them from being a member of the team. They are not your employee and it needs to stay that way. They should be viewed by the locals as a respected peer and not as your local sales rep.
10. Celebrate Your Ambassadors.
Like all relationships, this one also needs to be bilateral. If you want them to stand proud in advocating for your company, you need to show them some love too. Add them to your website, invite them to guest blog for you and give them access to your executives. You’ll be amazed how special you can make them feel by having members of your senior management call or meet them every so often.
So how does one actually launch a Brand Ambassador Program?
Firstly, start by preparing yourself for the fact that it’s a long process that will require investment and take time to build up, so you won’t necessarily see results instantly, but all you need to get started is one person – your first ambassador in your first location. Other supporting marketing elements like landing pages, social campaigns and emails can come later. The most important thing is to select a customer whom you already know is enthusiastic about your product to become an evangelist for your brand and invite them to join you on this journey. You won’t look back!