Ambassador Programs: CGP Brands

Part
01
of four
Part
01

Case Studies - Brand Ambassador Programs: Part One

Two CPG brands, Maker's Mark and Sephora, and one non-D2C brand in Harley Davidson provide examples of great brand ambassador programs. Harley Davidson's and Maker's Mark's programs are decades old, but Sephora's program was started in 2019. Below their respective webpages, their launch strategies, and their launch stories are summarized.

Harley Davidson

Maker's Mark

  • Name of the program: The Embassy
  • How they launched:
    • Maker's Mark was launched when they realized that even though they were a small brand in Kentucky, there were fans of the product in other states.
    • The Maker's Mark Embassy ambassador program was a way to solve the problem of not being able to connect with customers who love their whiskey.
    • In 1995, it was suggested to them by a family friend that they should launch an ambassador program.
  • Beginning stages:
    • It took only a few years from the time a friend advised Bill Samuel's son to launch an ambassador program to the actual launch.
    • To solve their outreach program, they solved it by technological means. makersmark.com was registered on August 13, 1997, which makes 1997 the most likely year of the creation of The Embassy. It took two years from the suggestion to the start of the program.

Sephora

  • Name of the Program: #SephoraSquad
  • How they launched:
    • Sephora launched their program in February 2019 by inviting applications to their new #SephoraSquad ambassador program. Over 15,000 people applied.
    • They looked for those who had an active Instagram account, a passion for beauty, and a passion for Sephora products. The applicant's follower count didn't matter but each applicant had to have good testimonials from other people in their network.
  • Beginning stages:
    • They announced the first 24 people to join the program by the end of March.
    • Finalists are currently working for Sephora until they pick a new set of people in 2020.

Research Strategy

We were confident in answering all facets for each case study, including how the brand ambassador program started and the length of time it took to take off with one exception. That is with Maker's Mark, which we are unsure of the founding date and also were unable to verify the backstory.

Our first strategy in finding this information began by doing a straightforward search for pre-compiled information about the program's start date and its early days. We mainly searched the company's website for this information, but we ventured off to other websites and blogs such as Social Seeder, Duel.tech, and Forbes. We found a backstory on Social Seeder's website that was written in 2015. They had documents in pictures that were found on other websites, but some claims that were made such as how the founders got the inspiration to start the program 15 years after 1980, which is 1995. We searched for this information but came up empty-handed. Because of this, we changed strategy.

Our next strategy was to search through news sites that speak on Maker's Mark and their ambassador program. There were hundreds of results, and after a while we looked through sources such as the Louisville Business First publication, Lexington Herald, BusinessWire, Fox News, Esquire, Fortune, and others. Even though some news stories spoke at length about the company such as the stories from Fox News and Esquire, these stories didn't give enough background into their ambassador program.

Our next strategy was to see if we could deduce it based on the phrase in the Social Seeder article that spoke of them using technological means to connect the brand with potential ambassadors. We looked at the registration of the website and found that it was 1997. This is in step with the phrase from the article that says that they launched the program a few years after 1995. To get some more confirmation, we checked the cache of the website but found the earliest mention of "Ambassador" on the webpage to be in 2005. This in no way meant that there was no program in 1997 on the website as there were some links that we could not follow. However, through other searches, we found mention of the ambassador program as early as 2002, which let us know that the program could have definitely been started in 1997. Based on these findings, we decided to use the information in Social Seeder with the need to verify outside the scope of this research.

We believe more information about the birth of their ambassador program could be found in the book "The Ambassador of Bourbon: Maker's Mark and the Rebirth of America's Native Spirit." We believe so because the picture used in the source mentioning the book shows the sealing process, which is a perk of the ambassador program.
Part
02
of four
Part
02

Case Studies - Brand Ambassador Programs: Part Two

Two non-D2C brands, Blackbaud and GE, along with one CPG brand, Shine Cosmetics, provide great examples of brand ambassador programs. These programs are discussed in more detail below.

Blackbaud

GE

  • Name of the program: Employee Brand Ambassador Program
  • How they launched:
    • They started with a budget of zero dollars.
    • The initiative was launched to combat the negative brand perception at the time, which was preventing them from effectively recruiting for open positions. They wanted to change the view that GE was a monolith corporate entity.
    • Their program started in 2012 with a social media team including Shaunda Zilich, who joined GE in 2012 as Social Media Recruiter and became Global Employment Brand Leader a year later.
  • Beginning stages:
    • Within the first month of using employee ambassadors to tell the GE story, job applications to the brand increased by 800%. This shows that the program immediately got off the ground.
    • The initiative continued to be successful that by Q1 2017, engagement worth $3 million was generated due to their employee brand ambassador program.
    • Also by 2017, GE became number 1 on WilsonHCG's Fortune 500 Top 100 Employment Brands Report.

Shine Cosmetics

  • How they launched:
    • The program was most likely launched at the end of 2017, based on our estimates.
  • Beginning stages:
    • Based on the time it took from the launch of the webpage to the first published article mentioning the program, the program could have taken around 2 months to get off the ground.
    • After that February article, which was written by an ambassador, there were many more articles written by ambassadors that mention details about the program. This shows things started to pick up throughout 2018 as more ambassadors joined the program.

Research Strategy

The beginning stages for GE and Shine Cosmetics weren't readily available, so we had to estimate and deduce what their beginnings were like based on data that was readily available. GE's program was listed as having one of the best programs, but after doing preliminary research searching for pre-compiled information about the start of their program, we didn't find much. We found a source about an award in 2017 that was given to GE for their ambassador work, and we found that one of the persons they interviewed was Shaunda Zilich. We used as much information from the article that we could glean, and we used information from her Linkedin page for some additional context. For example, in the article, it mentioned her entering GE where there was no social media department and she had to start from scratch immediately. On her Linkedin page, she started at GE in 2012 and along with the mention of her starting the program "five years ago" in an article that was written in 2017, we knew that the program started around 2012. From there we deduced as much as we could.

For Shine Cosmetics, we looked at the launch of the company and also other factors. The company itself was launched in 2016. One of the earliest mentions of the program on a third-party site was published February 2018. Based on webcrawler data, the ambassadors webpage was published in December 2017. But there is conflicting data in the source code where the theme of the page and some other elements are from the year 2019. This may be because the shop they were on another system before they moved to the current Shopify system as can be seen in the source code. Since it's a very young company that was founded in 2016, we think it's safe to say the program began in December 2017 based on the webcrawler information from Google and the first published third-party information about the program.
Part
03
of four
Part
03

Case Studies - Brand Ambassador Programs: Part Three

    Two CPG brands, Lululemon and Fiskars, along with one non-D2C brand, Hootsuite provide great examples of brand ambassador programs. These programs are discussed in more detail below.

    Lululemon Ambassador Program.

  • The program was launched when Lululemon decided to take a different approach from its competitors.
  • While brands such as Nike and Puma focused on endorsing world-famous sporting icons, Lululemon's strategy was to invest time and money to create the now-famous ambassador program.
  • The brand's ambassadors consist of a team of elite athletes, local influencers, and expert yoga instructors who work round the clock to build a community of loyal consumers, provide feedback on products and also involve in Lululemon on social impact programs.
  • The idea behind the Lululemon brand ambassadors was conceived during the company's founding in 1998. The initial store concept was more about tie ins with local health and wellness experts in Canada.
  • In 2017 when the company's revenue soared to $2.65 billion, it decided to take a somewhat unconventional approach of going to the grassroots to establish long-lasting relationships with the communities.
  • According to the company's CEO Laurent Potdevin, the goal behind the grass root model "is to foster more flexible and authentic relationships."
  • Two years later, the program is considered successful, with almost 415 stores that are hubs of activity in various communities around the globe that engage customers and drive sales.

Hootsuite Ambassador Program

  • The program was launched "to take Hootsuite's existing passionate users and empower them to promote the service to others better and educate them on how to get started using Hootsuite."
  • According to Stephanie Wiriahardja, Hootsuite's Community Manager, the company's strategy involved identifying and motivating enthusiastic Hootsuite experts and taring them to be certified on the platform. The empowered experts would then evangelize Hootsuite, propose new ideas on how to introduce products in their region,
  • They would also be able to host events known as "HootUps," where users get together to assert their experiences, propose ideas and best practices.
  • In launching the program, Hootsuite was keen to put fans first, choose ambassadors wisely, and balance the quality and quantity of content put out by their ambassadors.
  • Wiriahardja says that the company picked on ambassadors that could engage with each other, and share content and contribute to online discussions.
  • Hootsuite Ambassadors Program was launched in 2012 but took about two years to take off on the right footing. It was then relaunched in 2014.
  • After one year of relaunching, Hootsuite won the Best Social Engagement Award. In 2015, it received achieved 9,000 content shares across social media channels and 81 million social impressions.

Fiskateers Brand Ambassador program

  • In launching the program, Fiskars intended to "build a community of Fiskars supporters who could spread the word that authentic Fiskars products are worth not only their price but also any special effort to obtain them. And target younger consumers, who are more active online".
  • The program was launched as a response to the declining sales in the crafts division of Fiskars Brands (majorly scissors), and significant loss of market share the cheaper knockoff versions of its products. The company aimed to restore customers' emotional connection with its crafting products.
  • According to the company's CEO, "the team's strategy was to find and train four active, influential crafters to be ambassadors or Fiskateers, and then recruit and train 200 volunteer ambassadors. It aimed to increase lead ambassador store sales, online conversations, awareness, and credibility".
  • The company identified and recruited some of the most vocal people ('Fiskateers') to start a group blog, which led to the launching of an ambassador program under taglines such as "Born to scrap!"
  • The program was designed in such a way that allowed "Fiskateer" ambassadors to attend exclusive meetup-style events and invitations to private online communities to be able to interact and share with individuals who with passion for scrap booking and Fiskars shears.
  • The campaign was launched in 2006 and only took two years to start achieving results. By 2008, members of the Fiskateers community had grown from 1200 to over 5000.
  • Barely two years after its launch, the company's website was receiving over 1.5 million visits with escalating unique visits each month.
Part
04
of four
Part
04

Insights - Brand Ambassador Awareness Practices

Some insights good execution practices that brands have used to raise brand ambassador awarenessof are an organic campaign, emotional connection, exclusivity, and the reward system. A company is used as an example for each good execution practice insight to annotate hard facts surrounding good execution practices that brands have used to raise brand ambassador awareness.

Organic Campaign

Emotional Connection

Exclusivity

  • 'No bikey, no likey' is the message of Harley Davidson bikes, which is one of the most costly bikes on the market, but certainly not the fastest or the most fuel-efficient. Yet, many people are desirous of owning one.
  • The company's image logo has been branded to perfection to create "the sense of exclusivity and mythology behind the bikes." This image logo resonates freedom, fun, and belonging, and the manufacturer — Harley Owners Group (HOG), embodies these features and creates a brand ambassador program out of it.
  • HOG's brand ambassador program boasts of 325,000 members. To qualify as a member of this program, either the person or any of his/her nuclear family member must own the brand's bike. In short, no bikey, no likey.
  • The program drives "advocacy organically, allowing owners to exchange Harley Davidson memories and advice on how to maintain their bike. " This group of ambassadors creates a marketing sense for the brand that resonates with its heritage and luxury; hence, they are the vehicle to connect with target consumers.
  • This nature of the exclusive ambassador program is primarily for consumers who share the same views, which allows a sense of belonging. The company enhances the program is enhanced by the company through the hosting of legendary events for members, which creates "a desire for those who are not involved in joining."
  • Through this good execution practice to raise brand ambassador awareness, HOG creates a stronger affinity with her customers. It naturally encourages others who want these exclusive perks to buying the brand's bike. The good thing about it is that it is done organically, and serves as a win-win strategy for the company.

The Reward System

  • The Xbox Insider Program is a brand awareness project launched by the company to compete with PlayStation and Nintendo, its biggest rivals in the gaming industry.
  • The program creates the Xbox community for people passionate about gaming, lures them into it, and encourages participation in 'ambassador actions' to become the company's perfect ambassador.
  • Xbox's mission is "to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more," and this goal aligns with its ambassador program. The program is "an optional space that Xbox users can sign up to." There they engage with Xbox owners and other users towards blossoming an ambassador relationship.
  • In this optional space, users get to answer questions of other users, which helps to build the desired community of the company on the planet. The more actions completed by a user, the more opportunities (rewards) they unlock. The rewards could include "new hidden game levels, entrance into an exclusive competition, involvement in new product development, software upgrades, or new game releases."
  • Through the good execution practice of this ambassador program, users are willingly enamored to become brand ambassadors based on the reward system of the program. Furthermore, the company can use "invaluable opinions of its most loyal users to perfect their products before release."
  • Some 'actions' for ambassadors in the Xbox community to include "friending different gamers worldwide, spreading positivism across Xbox live, making Xbox the best place to play, and making gaming fun for everyone." The ambassadors are "leaders in the community," and they communicate with the target audience through the activities mentioned above.

Personal Representation and Long Loyalty Strategy

  • When Maker’s Mark — the smooth bourbons makers from Kentucky — launched its ambassador program, they wanted customers to "show their commitment to the brand by pledging to share their preference of Maker's with friends and families."
  • The program advocates that the ambassadors represent the brand through every aspect of their lives.
  • For example, members were given branded items such as golf balls, business cards, and other selected picks to spread the goodwill and message of the brand. The rationale behind this strategy was anchored by "92% of consumers trusting recommendations from their peers over advertising."
  • In return, brand ambassadors are rewarded handsomely with incentives such as exclusive invites to events and an ambassador-named bourbon barrel. The latter is done using an engraved placard, and the ambassadors are then "regularly contacted with updates on its maturation progress." After the seven years, "the ambassadors can taste their whiskey" as a reward for their hard work.
  • With the maturation period being seven years, ambassadors of Maker’s Mark are expected to promote and nurture the brand for that long period. This is a good execution practice to raise brand ambassador awareness.

A Strong Social Media Strategy

  • Social media is a good execution practice to raise brand ambassador awareness. A good place to start is by engaging employees as brand ambassadors because they know the product better than others.
  • Employees should be encouraged to post the product on their social media accounts at least once a week. The effect is that this process will strengthen the bond between employees and the product, while "simultaneously introducing it to a broader audience."
  • Social media platforms such as Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat are "great for keeping people connected, but are even better for attracting potential new customers to your brand."
  • After introducing a product to a broader audience through employees on social media, the next thing is to look outside the company's team and capitalize on social media brand ambassadors who have a strong connection with the brand. Also, such brand ambassadors should have a well-established social media presence.
  • The mattress company, Casper, made good use of this good execution practice in March 2015 when it used Kylie Jenner, unwrapping "her new Casper mattress on Instagram." The company's website was overwhelmed with her followers after her Instagram page got over 870,000 likes for the singular post.
  • Casper's association with Kylie as a social media brand ambassador played a "monumental role in harnessing Casper as the millennial mattress, doing wonders for its brand image and visibility."




Sources
Sources

From Part 03
From Part 04
Quotes
  • "world-famous sporting icons to be part of their advertising strategy,"
  • "their famous brand ambassador program."
  • "to elevate the world from mediocrity to greatness"
  • "integrates the stores into the fabric of the community"
  • "hubs of activity in communities around the world that engage customers and drive sales."
  • "connects each brand ambassador with other, like-minded ambassadors "
  • "gentle yet forceful way to drive traffic into the store and online."
  • "the high energy aura of the brand and relay this to their community, acting as a network of marketing bodies."
  • "the emotional connection that The Wings Team makes with their peers"
  • "high quality advertising material by Red Bull on various channels they own."
  • "a highly sought-after program to join, with people often queuing up to join"
  • "the value in terms of exclusivity, but also the secondary rewards of the incredible publicity they receive from being part of the program"
  • "sense of exclusivity and mythology behind the bikes"
  • "advocacy organically, allows owners to exchange Harley Davidson memories and advice on how to maintain their bike."
  • "word-of-mouth and a desire of those who are not involved to join."
  • "to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more"
  • "an optional space that Xbox users can sign up to."
  • "new hidden game levels, entrance into an exclusive competition, involvement in new product development, software upgrades, or new game releases."
  • "invaluable opinions of its most loyal users to perfect their products before release."
  • "show their commitment to the brand by pledging to share their preference of Maker's with friends and families."
  • "92% of consumers trusting recommendations from their peers over advertising. "
  • "then regularly contacted with updates on its maturation progress."
  • "the ambassadors can taste their whiskey"
Quotes
  • "simultaneously introducing it to a broader audience."
  • "great for keeping people connected but are even better for attracting potential new customers to your brand."
Quotes
  • "her new Casper mattress on Instagram"
  • "monumental role in harnessing Casper as the millennial mattress, doing wonders for its brand image and visibility."
Quotes
  • "friending different gamers world-wide, spreading positivity across Xbox live, making Xbox the best place to play, and making gaming fun for everyone."
  • "leaders in the community,"