The value of the Brand Ambassador

What is a poor marketer to do in these turbulent times? Every headline brings fresh challenges. The economy is cringing under the constant whipping of the corona virus and the complex and often contradictory advice of government and CEOs worldwide are turning a chopping gaze to the marketing budget. Socially, we can’t predict what is coming next. Will behaviours change? Will people buy less, stop travelling, cut down on nights out or will there be a big boomerang effect? How deeply will attitudes be affected by the waves of outrage that have swept society #blacklivesmatter #metoo #climatecatastrophe. And where is now the best place to get exposure. Social media has become a toxic place, the influencer has been declared dead, out of home advertising is a no go area.

Fatal Facts

  • UK adspend projected to fall 16.7% in 2020. After UK adspend increased by 6.9% year-on-year during 2019, in a ten-year consecutive growth trend, it is now projected to fall by 16.7% in 2020 to £21.13bn. This is according to The Advertising Association and WARC’s latest quarterly Expenditure Report.
  • Nearly two-thirds of US publishers are experiencing a decrease in CPMs since the coronavirus outbreak. A survey conducted by IAB questioned US advertising sellers, including traditional publishers and programmatic specialists such as SSPs, Ad Exchanges and Ad Networks, to understand how and where US advertising is being most affected by the virus. It revealed that 63% percent of publishers in the region are experiencing a decrease in CPMs (cost per thousand impressions) since the coronavirus outbreak began..
  • 74% of Brands Surveyed Are Posting Less on Their Company Social Accounts at Present  (237 brands surveyed) influencermarketinghub.com/

·       55% of British consumers think brands are taking advantage of the pandemic Research from Dynata indicates that 55% of British consumers think that brands are taking advantage of the pandemic in order to sell more products.

It is a predictably grim picture. PWC has strong advice for brands, “Seek opportunities to emerge as a positive difference-maker with fans and in communities by forging connections and underscoring your values and purpose to build your brand.” 

This is where your Brand Ambassador comes in. There are five key things that a good Ambassador will give you.

  • Value
  • Values
  • Connection
  • Agility
  • Feedback

Value

Ambassadors are relatively cheap. An Ambassador typically will be someone who has a strong profile in the community of consumers you are trying to reach, but would not necessarily be a big and concomitantly expensive celebrity. They should naturally wear, use or do what you are selling and be relatable.  What you will see back from them is results.

Charlie Shepherd from Epic Travel: “We are a small to medium travel company who specialise in corporate events and bespoke travel – our motto is Be More. We do not spend on advertising on or offline as the results are just too nebulous for us. What we did do, was invest a small amount on a Brand Ambassador who was living the Be More ideal. We couldn’t initially afford a year’s sponsorship, so we did three months. As a direct result of an article they wrote, we got a £25k booking. We are now going for a longer connection.”

Values

What your Ambassador will give you is a set of values that they embody as an individual. They are a key way that you can show your brand is ethically focussed.

Sam Legget, Marketing Associate: ‘You need to find someone who is living and breathing your brand values and brings them to life in an authentic way. This is especially relevant if you are trying to reach an audience where you have limited presence, or if you are trying to cement your standing within a community. The subsequent halo affect has a powerful impact and builds a genuine connection with your brand.’

Connection

Community is key to all this. Brands have always been aspirational often by using aspirational figures in their marketing but now that is not enough, consumers want a closer connection.

Rachel Bonkink of Revealing Vajra yoga is her own Brand Ambassador. This is how she dealt with her entire business (holding yoga retreats abroad) being wiped out. ‘I went back to basics. First of all I surrendered to the situation and fully accepted it – which is what I teach in yoga – and then I took action. I wanted to give back but also feed myself so I started online retreats. It has been almost all people that I know and who have been on a ‘real’ retreat with me. I contacted them all personally by email.  I have a following overall of about 20,000 people on social media but people are only just starting to come through from there. The gold is in the lists!’

You may not have the ability to connect with your consumers personally in the same way, but your Ambassador should have. They can bring you that one to one communication.

Agility

Any campaign requires forethought and planning, probably writing, photography and design. These take time. If Corona has taught us anything it is that we may not have that time. Ground that seemed firm just six short months ago, six weeks ago, yesterday…  is now a marshland of uncertainty. Print was already struggling, suddenly it might even be a way to physically transmit a virus. Billboards on the Tube? Ahh no-one is going out any more and the Tube is a death trap. And spare a thought for Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook makes about 98% of its $70bn in annual revenue from advertising, and Unilever’s announcement that it would pull advertising following the platform’s signal failure to prevent hate speech and voter manipulation, sent stocks tumbling 7% and wiped a few billion of his personal fortune. Twitter was nimbler, marking certain Trump tweets with a ‘public interest’ label but there is no doubt that all platforms where users generate content and which are the most powerful marketing routes have a very difficult line to tread between freedom and safety. But shoppable social remains a vital tool, in a Forbes survey 72% of Instagram users said they had bought something through the platform, so brands have to stay engaged.

An Ambassador is mobile. They are consistent in their message and values but they are able to move quickly between platforms and media. They are also resilient because essentially they are doers in their field and actors in micro-communities. Using them and listening to them will help you tweak your offering.

Sunny Bird, Founder of the Perfect Dress Company, which creates dresses to make you look up to a dress size slimmer: ‘ We  worked with 3 Ambassadors – two curve influencers Maria (size 16-18) and Bethany (size 22) and one size 10 Slimming World/diet role mode, Chloe. We thought women would be encouraged to see Maria and Bethany looking great in normal and bigger sizes and would aspire to Chloe. We could literally see the number of our followers go up each time an influencer posted about being on the shoot that day. It has helped us evaluate which audience is more interested in us.

What has been eye opening is that our best-selling sizes are  actually the 10-12. We expected them to be 14-16, the current average woman’s size. To summarise I do believe in Ambassadors’ ability to bring an ‘agility’ to a brand and from my experience they certainly do sell well.’  

Feedback and inhouse

Your Ambassador is your eyes and ears on the ground. In this sensitive landscape, they can help you avoid major pitfalls. You don’t want to be the brand that leaps unconvincingly on the band wagon but the brand that has a solid track record. They can also road test your products and give you invaluable real world (private) feedback as to strengths and weaknesses. A friendly critic is a marvellous thing. Having someone far from the commercial sharp end which you will already have well covered is a useful tool in both your product development but also its placement.

Your Ambassador can also help you inhouse. ‘During the Corona crisis, we have been using our Ambassador to do online talks to our team about resilience. We also set up lunchtime stories so that everyone working at home could get a virtual break and hear about something different – the stories were child friendly so it gave parents a breather. We got high attendance and amazing feedback.’ Kim Gray, Head of Insurance and Head of Diversity and Inclusion, NTT DATA UK.

Pitfalls

Those are all the positives but there are pitfalls too. There will always be major falls from grace

like Lance Armstrong and those who, although staying true to their own values, make serious errors. Ant Middleton has always sold himself on his strength, discipline, military background and patriotism – his ability to push through to the end. Was it really a surprise that his initial response to corona was to fight it on the beaches? But he was wrong and could have caused grave harm if people followed his advice. Then, came his categorisation of those pulling down statues as ‘scum’. 

One of the biggest risks you face, though, is that you are not actually ready to use a Brand Ambassador. There is no point in them generating rich content for you if you or your social media team don’t have a real place for it or a plan of what you want to get back from it. The halo effect and shoppable social have to be integrated into your marketing plan and the team has to be on board.

Finally, the timing has to be right and that is something that is crucial during this crisis. If you have a Brand Ambassador, or are getting them on board, be clear about what amount of their effort you want to dedicate to supporting your company in the present and what the plan is for when you emerge – butterfly-like – from the Covid cocoon.

Any marketing effort has to have various touch points but with budgets slashed and times uncertain, an agile, good-value Ambassador is worth serious consideration.  Sunny Bird again for the last word: ‘Working with Ambassadors with a following that is your target audience is the new advertising.’

Alice Morrison is an Adventurer, Author and TV Presenter and a Brand Ambassador for Craghoppers