By perksconsulting |
In his classic self-help book n his classic self-help book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie lays out his multi-part system for getting people to like you, getting people to agree with your ideas, and getting people to follow your leadership. Surprisingly, it’s not that complicated. The entire 300-page book can be boiled down, roughly, to three simple (and, honestly, kind of obvious) guidelines.
You could apply this wisdom to almost any social or professional exchange. Most people do it without even realizing they do it. But when it comes to their customers, some brands forget to follow these rules. Granted, some brands don’t need to. In fact, some brands would consider it bad for business. Comcast, for example, is totally fine with being decidedly uncool and treating its customers poorly, all while making it entirely about Comcast. They are repeatedly voted to the top of Worst Company lists, they do nothing to change public opinion, and yet they continue to prosper. But that’s the exception to the rule.
Your brand isn’t Comcast (thank goodness). Your brand understands that its customers can be its greatest asset. Your brand knows that — if you apply some of the TLC that Mr. Carnegie highlighted when his book was published way back in 1937 — regular customers can be converted into mighty brand ambassadors.
A Brand Huh?
A brand ambassador is a customer or user from your community that has agreed to take action in order to contribute to your brand’s prosperity. They do this partly because of the brand love you’ve helped stir within them, but also because you have agreed to reward them in some way. The specifics vary from brand to brand, but many huge companies have activated brand ambassadors with great success.
Hootsuite launched its “Hootup” program, encouraging users to organize free events for fellow social media enthusiasts, where they’d learn about best practices for Hootsuite and the various social media channels that plug into it. The reward? More visibility and leadership opportunities in members’ local communities, and a chance to do some networking with folks in your field. It’s not the most enticing benefit, but it worked because Hootsuite got out of the way, and made the event about its users. They also made users feel important, by handing them the reins in planning the Hootups.
Whiskey label Maker’s Mark recruited its ambassadors to spread the word about its product to bar owners and patrons, as well as friends, family, and coworkers. How did they turn Maker’s Mark fans into walking advertisements? They offered entry into an exclusive online fan club called The Embassy, where members received their own business cards along with a variety of great perks; their names engraved on a whiskey barrel, invites to VIP tastings, free swag, and tons more. Again, the brand strengthened the trust and loyalty of scores of customers by making them feel like equal partners. They also offered some generous rewards to make their ambassadors’ work feel worthwhile.
Winning Over the Skeptics
Once your ambassador program is in full swing, you’ll likely have a large group of customers that are on the fence about getting involved. This group could be all yours — all you need to do is get out of the way, and let your ambassadors do the talking.
Give existing ambassadors a forum to share their stories. Let them explain why the ambassador program is a win for fans of the brand. Let them point out reasons why it’s worth their valuable time. And let them give a glimpse at the cool perks they’ll have access to. Remember: 43% of consumers are more likely to try a new product when learning about it on social media, and 77% are more likely to try a new product when learning about it from friends or family. Thanks to that nifty evolutionary skill known as “mirroring,” we humans feel much more at ease with a choice when we see our peers making that choice too. When they see their fellow fans acting as ambassadors and endorsing your program, they’ll hop off the fence and join the party.
Converting the Naysayers
Under every bridge there inevitably lurks a few trolls. No matter how much good you think your brand is doing through your community outreach and ambassador program, there will always be naysayers — people who seem dead set on dissing your brand. How do you get rid of them? You don’t. You convert them.
The key to changing the hearts and minds of the haters is to get to know them. Reach out to these malcontents on Twitter, Facebook, or even over the phone (if they’re amenable to it). Break the ice by showing them the actual humans behind the brand. Find common ground between you and them. Listen to their complaints — really listen, and refrain from arguing when they voice their grievances. That display of respect and understanding can go a long way in turning detractors into evangelists. It may not always work how you want it to, but it’s nearly guaranteed to extinguish some of their ill feelings toward your brand.
Making It WORK
Even though your brand ambassador initiatives are not about you, realistically the program must offer some measurable business benefits in order to get your stakeholders to sign off. Luckily, there are lots of pluses to highlight. Hootsuite, for example, gained entry into new markets and spread its product far beyond is original North American base thanks to its Hootups, according to its CEO Ryan Holmes. He also points out that the company’s user base grew from zero to 5 million people in its first three years without a marketing budget — thanks in large part to its brand ambassadors. And it isn’t an isolated case; a recent study concluded that live branded experiences drive 65% of people to recommend a brand to others, and 59% to shop a brand in the future. The takeaway is that brand ambassadors can help you do a whole lot with very little resources (which is music to stakeholders’ ears).
Above All, Be Cool
Your brand ambassador initiative could be a meet-up program, an exclusive club, or something completely unique — the specifics depend on your brand identity, your business needs, and the desires of your community. But as long as you begin with a desire to recognize your most passionate advocates and make them feel like equal partners, you’re already on your way to success.
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