From employee to brand ambassador
by Nadine Bütow
How to create stars in your organizations
Are you spending an incredible amount on influencer marketing or on the involvement of alleged credible testimonials to boost your brand perception or even sales targets? You might want to reconsider this strategy and give it a flavor of diversification. Not only face influencers an increasing loss of credibility according to recent research, you are also neglecting one of the greatest treasures from within – your employees. Companies would do well to turn their own employee force into brand ambassadors. What it takes and why you should also contemplate this even if money was no object, you may read here.
First things first: Your brand strategy eats brand ambassadors for breakfast
Now, before you start commissioning your HR department with looking for some employees to become potential brand ambassadors (yes, this does happen), there are some very fundamental elements to look at first. The most important one is a brand health check. Without a clear and credible brand strategy dedicated to transparent, genuine values that are deeply implemented in the corporate culture and truly lived up to from the inside, every brand ambassador program or strategy is deemed to fail. Reviewing your brand perception and assessing the strength of your brand essence starts with questions revolving around what values the company stands for as an employer and how employees perceive these values. Does the picture presented reflect the true self or is there a significant perception gap? Do employees perceive their work as meaningful, motivating, encouraging? Do the current leadership pattern allow for a liberal communication approach or is your overall leadership style rather restrictive, controlling, authoritarian and non-cooperative?
Companies must know their genuine nature and an audit to capture the current status quo is helpful to do so. Start with: “Who Am I?”, “How Am I?”, “What do I offer?” and “How is this value proposition discerned?”. The results of this analysis are essential to build a credible brand ambassador program internally and externally and provide it with a coherent content strategy and interesting storytelling. It will also be absolutely critical to win over people as your supporters and fans. Every brand ambassador program and strategy therefore require strong brand roots to allow for individuals to relate to, support and advocate for it. The bad news for brand gap ignorer is: your secret will not long remain one but will be disclosed and punished. The digital era does not provide any room for faked, spun brand values – and that is good news if you ask me.
The time for brand ambassadors is right!
No faces, less business
Do you prefer talking to institutions or to people? You should stop reading if you do not wish to go with the latter. Corporates can no longer do without faces. People are looking for identity intersections, for like-mindedness. There is no better way to fail in addressing this demand than in offering an anonymous person or company as a point of contact. The personal networking for brands has become a crucial success driver and, in many cases an important differentiator marketing departments have long been looking for. Because companies and products are substitutable.
“People” support your “why”
They increasingly lack uniqueness, in particular if the “What” and the “How” are standing in the focus of communications and sales measures. The people behind a product can pose an important element in the “Why” you consume a particular product (we looked at this in an earlier blog article). Unlike products, people are not substitutable. We are all unique. Involving people can hence mean communicating from inside - through a purpose. Strong ambassadors therefore have the potential to talk directly to the part of the customers` brain that controls the decision-making.
Orientation in complex times
Each individual is unparalleled as a matter of fact and it’s not even hard to discover. It is people that give orientation and guidance to customers, clients or fans in a world that becomes more complex every day. The demand in guidance has even increased in times where we are flooded with information, content and endless choices. Our information take up is limited.
Algorithms changed in the favor of personal networks
In January 2018, the online world witnessed an immense corporate outcry following Facebook`s announcement to overhaul the network`s newsfeed in favor of meaningful conversations. As a result, contents by media and business will be de-prioritized over those produced by friends and family. In consequence, getting corporate messages across will either increase your marketing budgets for creating more social media ads or it may be supported by faces from within the company - your employees - that are willing to convey and authentically stand in for what the company does, thinks and backs.
Every employee is a potential brand ambassador
In the uniqueness of people in companies lies the fact that indeed every employee is a potential brand ambassador or corporate influencer. They can come from the sales departments, the back offices, from manufacturing or research. They can be blue-collar workers, internal or external advisors, trainees or apprentices. Each of them has a story to tell, expert knowledge to share, insights to impress with. These stories are the gold nuggets of your communication and reputation building. Every employee in the company has, in one way or the other, a connection and relation to people associated with it – internally or externally. The human aspect in relationship building is yet unrivaled and strong. Additionally, imagine if each of them activated their own personal network in speaking about the company. This already happens, you simply don`t know or make use of it in a strategic way.
Corporate brand ambassadors are a reflection of society: divers, colorful, demanding, social. Don`t expect everybody to start dances of joy on ambassador programs. Not every employee has the courage, the means and the level of corporate identify to join the game. Let them be observers first. They may become followers.
Each one of us should be thinking about the potential of your own personal branding. It is a choice between consciously creating and designing a brand or leave this up to chances, coincident and fortune.
An ambassador program needs a solid strategy
What sounds like a program to implement on the fly in truth is a fundamental change in the overall communications approach and cultural identity. As such, it must be treated like a fully viable strategic project that requires clear objectives, a related content strategy, a project plan allocating remits, responsibilities, recourses and timing as well as an approach to measure and optimize the activities following the initial roll-out. Don`t start half-hearted. You will not only lose the attention and interest of your employees, it may also negatively impact your reputation.
5 key traits of brand ambassadors for the starting phase
Fans cannot be created, they create themselves and are the result of authenticity, values and appreciation. But they must be discovered. In every company, you`ll find people who identify themselves 150 percent with the heart and soul of it.
However, not all of them bring in a skill and competency set you need in order to roll out an ambassador program. It might need trainings and coaching to get them involved and make them feel comfortable and secure. For a start, you may want to think small and grow bigger as you learn. Employees with the following characteristics may be helpful for the initial phase:
Naturally engaged and driven
Look out for those that are driven by passion and enthusiasm. These employees understand that leading themselves is a chance for development and needed to take things to the next level. Look for doers, not followers at the beginning. In any case, never push people into (naturally voluntary) roles they do not feel 100 percent comfortable with. It may end in a massive backfire.
Authentic and genuine
In an ideal world, this is the natural consequence of the first point and totally unrelated to communication skills or competencies. An authentically-acting person knows and acknowledges one’s strengths and weaknesses and this way may convey an aura of self-confidence. The person speaks in his own words and language, not PR jargon or anything the communications department has prepared. He or she is not acting as part of a function or official role. These people are speaking for themselves – not because they need to, but because they want to.
Open-minded and communicative
At the beginning you may look for employees who have a natural talent for communication and who are keen to present themselves to a larger audience.
The competent expert
Ideally, the respective employee is an expert in his or her field and draws from a wealth of knowledge worth sharing.
Influential, digital and social
The employee is well connected, in the analogue as well as digital world, in communities and other partial publics. He or she is familiar with social networks and already engaged in debates and conversations related to his or her personal topics.
Involving these character traits is in particular recommendable when you are in the establishing phase of an ambassador program. Other genuine “internal fans” might require more training or other resources to help them turn their knowledge into contents and stories. That`s ok and part of the process. However, starting with a strong fundament is helpful in the course of the implementation of the brand ambassador strategy. It will also help to create internal role models others can look up to.
Winning over employees as brand ambassadors
You will most likely encounter at least three types of employees when reaching out to them: 1. The Enthusiastic 2. The Interested 3. The Doubters and Deniers
Deal with 1 and 2 first and make sure to consider the following:
Involve them in the developing process of the content strategy. You are doing yourself and your employees no favor if you develop a content plan behind closed doors and come up with a ready strategy that is engraved in stone. The power of participation and involvement is game-changing as it’s, again, linked to purpose and appreciation.
In the same way, you should be giving them leeway to their very own decisions, ideas and need for discussion and exchange. This creates trust which is, in turn, the fundament for your ambassador program to work.
Don’t overstrain employees. The level of expectation must be aligned to their needs and competencies. Listen carefully and adapt where adaption is required.
Of course, intrinsically motivated employees would be part of an ideal scenario. But it will most likely be the minority, at least at the beginning. Find out what motivates employees most and let them know what’s in it for them if they joined the game. Rewards or financial compensation should not be on the list, however.
Ambassador programs or strategies usually go hand in hand with trainings and coaching. Why not linking this to your internal development or education program!
Ambassador programs can develop into real corporate grassroot-movements. A key driver are role models. These can (and should) be members of the management as well as further corporate brand ambassadors telling their impactful stories and outcomes. Single flagship content pieces have the potential to motivate others to join the campaign. Find these driving forces!
Create and convey the purpose of their engagement. Everybody is looking to make an impact and follow a meaningful task.
Lead with empathy and expert knowledge in digital communications and the related radically changing environment. Employees must be given the feeling to have a competent partner on their side who knows what they are doing and who understands the mechanisms. Their expert counsel is critical.
Don‘t convince them. Win them over instead. Those who are not fully prepared to be part of the program should to be forcefully dragged into it. Reluctance is a normal reaction to new projects or strategic changes. Give them time to contemplate, observe and finally decide. But accept decisions you are not in line with.
There is no such thing like high gloss ambassador programs. They need time to flourish. They need the leeway for failure, adaption, positivity and courage. These are strong cultural drivers that ensure the long-term success of your brand ambassador strategy.
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