Episode 4 of our free audio program is up. If you subscribe to the podcast, your copy should download automatically. Otherwise, you can listen to the program directly from the Experiential Marketing Today main page.
This episode is on the concept of Brand Ambassadors. A critical, but oft-overlooked, element of any experiential marketing program is the influence people have on other people. All of the carefully crafted marketing work that we do can be undone in a flash by a poorly trained representative of our brand.
This episode provides a framework for building your brand ambassador-focused training program. We hope you find it useful. As always, we welcome your comments.
Linda Benthall: Welcome to this episode of Experiential Marketing Today. Today, we'll talk about the theory and practice of using experiences to engage audiences with the authentic nature of a brand or company. We believe that it may be the most powerful tool marketers have, but it's also something of a mystery. My name is Linda Benthall, and I'll be your host for this episode.
Linda: Episode 4: Brand Ambassadors. A new way of looking at which roles are important in an organization. Just about every experiential marketing event involves people meeting people, usually, it's our target audience interacting with our paid representatives. Often, the people that staff these events and the training they receive are a last-minute consideration. However, they become the face and voice of the organization once a customer comes in. Let's join John Roberson and Todd Austin as they discuss the concept of brand ambassadors.
Todd Austin: All right, John, so we're going to talk about this concept of brand ambassador.
John Roberson: I think, we should start by defining it.
Todd: That's a good idea.
John: What do we know about the definitions that are out there?
Todd: Well, from what I've seen, there are lots of definitions of what a brand ambassador is, and they don't all seem to go together. So, maybe, we should talk about those first, because our audience may have seen some of those already. One of the first ones that you'll see is some people define a brand ambassador as an unpaid volunteer fan or a citizen marketer. They almost exclude someone that you're paying. They say they are not qualified to be a brand ambassador.
John: I don't like that definition, because I feel like those folks might not fit our brand model. They may not be immersed in the messaging or in the style guide of the brand.
Todd: And we sure don't have much control over what they're saying.
Todd: Another definition that we'll see out there sometimes is they'll use a celebrity, an endorsement and define that person as a brand ambassador. So, Michael Jordan might be considered a brand ambassador for Hanes.
John: Again, forgive me. I don't like that one, because it's almost as though Michael Jordan's brand is competing with the brand that he's represented. He's not Hanes. He brings his own equity and awareness and values and definition to the equation with Hanes, but he's not Hanes. So, again, I don't like that one either.
Todd: Yeah. There's value in "Be like Mike, and wear Hanes," but you're right, they're not the same. Another one that you see, almost as much as the other two, is this trend of folks like Microsoft hiring college students to be a "brand ambassador" on campus and basically go around knocking doors and spreading the word about Microsoft products.
John: I think, we're getting closer, but I still don't think we're there.
Todd: Another one that you'll see is, sometimes an organization will define every employee worldwide as a brand ambassador. There may be some truth in that, but when you see that online, when I've seen it online, it's usually just the word "brand ambassador" and it doesn't carry with it any kind of mission or directive for what that means.
John: Right. There's no intention to it. There's no deliberateness to it.
Todd: How would you define a brand ambassador?
John: Well, as we talked about preparing for this episode, I think that it is someone who has to appointed. The reason that we like the word "appointment" is because they don't have to be paid, they can be a volunteer, but the company, the firm, the brand has to appoint them to represent the brand to the potential audience. And they have to be an ambassador that understands that this is like an official role that they take on. And I think, in doing so, what they do is, they bring the brand to life. They animate the brand.
Todd: I don't think there's any other example of an ambassador, in any other use of the word "ambassador," where that person hasn't been appointed by a king or a president or some official representative of government. So, it doesn't make sense for a brand ambassador not to be appointed, either.
John: So, in summary, it's an appointed representative of your brand to your potential audience, that animates or brings the life to the brand.
Todd: OK. So, here's another question for you. Why should I care? What does it matter what I call someone? I mean, we used to call people "employees," and then we got all touchy-feely and called them "associates." We've got other names for them, too. Is this just another new name for employees?
John: Well, it's not, because it is personalizing and animating and bringing the brand to life. This is a major touchpoint. You referenced an experience that you had had with your grocery store. Talk about that for a moment.
Todd: Sure. This happened about a week ago. Let's just think about grocery stores for a second before I get into it, though. I mean, these guys spend, I don't know how many thousands of dollars every week in marketing, in trying to get people into the stores. Just think about how much is spent on the Sunday circular that goes out with the newspaper.
So, they're very active marketers, and yet my experience was, I get there, I get my groceries, I get ready to pay, and the lowest rung on the food chain in the grocery store, the person who's bagging my groceries, completely controls the experience I have with that store. If they do a lousy job - this happened to me a week ago; they did a horrible job - that has more influence over my perception of that grocery store than all the money that was spent on getting me in through the doors. And it has more to do with whether I come back than any money they'll spend next week.
That bagging clerk, you know, is an entry level position for them, and it may be easy for them to ignore the training, but it's the last interaction I have with an employee of that firm before I leave, and it's critical.
John: It's so interesting, because some grocery stores, like Publix, have scripted their brand ambassadors - the folks who are ringing up and helping you to process your groceries at checkout. And what's interesting is those employees ask the question, "Did you find everything OK?"
Todd: That's right.
John: And it is an open-ended question that's allowing you a chance for expressing either positively, "Yes, I found everything OK," or a concern that you may have that otherwise they may not have provoked and asked for. But, that's a scripted thing. It suggests that, at that moment, that employee, that cashier, is much more important to the brand encounter than the manager is, than the buyer is, who buys the groceries. They're really important. They're at the vortex of that touchpoint. The way that they become an ambassador for your brand at that point is so critical.
Todd: And they have the power to completely undo everything you've spent money on in your marketing plan for the last year.
John: That's right. Also, I'm so impressed with the fast food restaurant Chick-Fil-A. Whenever you say "Thank you" to their employees, they say, "It's my pleasure." Again, that's a scripted response. It's almost out of fashion. It almost sounds old-fashioned and out of date, but it's such a warm expression. It's as though they're sincere, that it really was their pleasure to serve you. Again, it speaks to their culture and their brand and their core values.
Todd: So, if we're translating this to why it should matter it to me or to our audience, we'd say, when was the last time that you thought about the entry level positions in your organization, and how much contact they have with your customers? What kind of training have you done for them? What is the interaction your customer has with your company like when they interface with these people? They can become very important when you think about it in those terms.
John: I agree. I also think, we've got to encourage our audience to think about who are those people that are coming in contact with their audience on behalf of their firm. In an event situation, it could be the trade show booth staff. It could be the hired folks who are there handing out water or distributing coffee, as we've seen so many times. It could be someone who's in charge of an in-booth event, like the massage guy. But, often these are the forgotten people, Todd. They draw a distinctive contrast to me, we often - and we mean this with no disrespect - it's a term of endearment and a little bit of a jargon for our industry.
But, this is not the booth babes or the booth hunks that are hired to just be there and to look pretty, even though they may have on a branded T-shirt. These are people who have a knowledge of what the brand represents, and how we would like people to move through our event. They have a level of empowerment, and they may ask questions, like the cashier does at Publix, "Did you find everything OK?" Or they may close with some sort of very warm script like they do at Chick-Fil-A, "It's my pleasure."
But, there's something much more knowledgeable. Somehow, the concept of just this kind of 'hired' help. This paid gun, this booth babe, or booth hunk really doesn't execute the brand. They're really not an ambassador. They're almost plastique. They're almost a figurine, if you will, that really doesn't know how to represent the brand. Do you have any other thoughts about that?
Todd: Only that it's interesting to me, also, that even if you know the Chick-Fil-A person's "It's my pleasure" is scripted, it still makes an impact.
John: Sure, it does.
Todd: Even if you can see right through it, it still makes an impact. It's so much better than the unscripted, untrained response.
John: And part of the reason why it makes an impact is because it's differentiated, which is part of what we have alluded to early on as a key attribute of good brand marketing. The reason we make a big deal out of it is, the other fast food restaurants don't say "It's my pleasure."
John: Your grocery store did not say "Did you find everything OK?" The fact that it's differentiated makes it all the more clear. Well, if you were giving our audience some guidance strategically as to how they could implement a brand ambassador program and train their people to be more reflective of the brand, what would your advice be for them?
Todd: I think, my first piece of advice would be look around and see who is doing this well now. We can learn from Chick-Fil-A. We can learn from Publix. But, Disney, an example we've used on this program several times, Disney does a great job of this. Their approach teaches us to switch our middle gears from business to theater. And that has a lot of implications.
So, when you go from looking at this as business to looking at it as theater, then you go from interviews to auditions. Your job is not to hire; it's to cast. It's to find people to play the role. It's a different mindset. It's a different way of approaching people than the way we've done it before. Now, anyone who comes in contact with our customer is on stage, and therefore, the role becomes very important. So, entry level takes on a new meaning this way.
John: So, the marketing executive suddenly is placing themselves in the role of being the director, where they're taking the time to really do this exercise well. I love your thought of the audition. Our society's much more socialized and aware of auditions, because of all the reality shows that are on television that revolve around entertainment. But, the reality, what you're pointing out, is, this is an expectation of how I want you to perform when you don the shirt of, when you become the cast member of our brand. I love that.
And what I sense there as the wrong way is just to throw them the shirt and say to put on this shirt, and your job is to hand out water, and only one water bottle per person, and if you leave before seven you don't get paid. That seems so mechanical to me, that seems so overbearing to me.
Whereas, the brand ambassador approach, the director approach of switching from business to theater says, "Hey, look. We're trying to make X, Y, and Z happen. And when someone comes to you, they'll be feeling this. We need you to get them on track. What you do is critical, because it sets up for A, B, and C. Your job is not handing out water. Your job is to make them fall in love with us by the way in which you satisfy their need of the moment. I think, that's really important."
I'm reminded, Todd, of an example, one of those rare occasions, because of a special deal, we got to stay at the Four Seasons in Las Vegas. I'm too cheap to stay there as a rule of thumb although I would love to be able to afford their lavish level of service on a continual basis.
But, we were there in Las Vegas, and being such a prolific event city, no cab drivers were available. They were all taking people leaving their hotels at the same time. There was a long line. It was hot, in the middle of the summer in Las Vegas. We were getting frustrated because obviously, we had flights to catch and there was quite a lengthy line of guests who had checked out of the Four Seasons Hotel but had not made it from their doorstep into the cab.
And so, I was so impressed that their employees not only came out and apologized and clearly said, "We've made calls. All of the cabs all over the city are out. We've even called limos. We'll get people here as quickly as we can." And then, all of a sudden, they disappeared. The next sight we saw was people from all across the organization, from the office, from the catering department, all across the organization, holding silver platters that had ice-cold bottles of water on them.
John: That wasn't somebody who had been tagged with, "Your job is to hand out water." That was somebody who said, "Your job is the hospitality and the comfort of these guests, and that they leave the Four Seasons with a level of delight in their mind that they'd been hosted like they never have before. They're standing out in the heat. They're uncomfortable. It's not our problem that the cabs are late, but it is our desire to set a standard of comfort and hospitality on behalf of the Four Seasons brand." It blew me away.
Todd: Yeah. That's awesome. That's not something that I've seen in other hotels that I've stayed in.
John: That's right. And sadly, because I'm too cheap, I might not ever experience it again. But for that moment... We talk about effective experiential marketing, Todd, being memorable. I will never forget the image of those team members, some of whom I had related to already at the front desk, holding a silver tray with ice water on it. They weren't a server. They weren't a waiter. They were team members holding a silver tray, pitching in for what needed to be done right at that moment.
So, I may never stay there again, because I'm too cheap to be able to afford that level of service, but I'll always remember that staff, that team with those silver trays and that ice-cold water there. My question for you is, how do we get people to be our brand ambassadors and to act this way?
Todd: Well, I think, we continue the theme that we started with. If you are redefining what's important based on who comes in contact with your customer and saying, "Hey, they're on stage," well, the next step is "Anyone it's on stage, let's treat like a star." It's hard to get a mental image of treating the bagging person, the person who bags my groceries, as a star, but that's really what we need to do here. So, that carries with it a certain level of respect and this expectation of "Hey, we're going to work hard, but we're going to play hard together too."
The concept of a lot of rehearsals, which is a new way of thinking about training. If that grocery store had done a much better job of training those people, like Publix does, my experience would have been a much better experience. It brings to mind other concepts related to theater, like staging and costume, and then also planning and budgeting. But I think, a big part of it is treating them with respect, and then finding a way to make them fans of the brand themselves.
John: So, let's summarize. These are not just organic fans or groupies of the brand. These are people that we've appointed, and we've appointed them with a very prestigious responsibility of being a personalized touchpoint for our brand with our audience. We've asked them to animate our brand. And we've not left what that experience is going to be to chance. We've scripted them. We've talked about expectations, as it relates not so much to behavior, but more as it relates to outcomes.
John: How we want that audience to feel. How we want the person who's coming in contact with our brand to feel. In doing so, we rehearse, we practice, but we show that brand ambassador that we really value them. And we expose them to our product and service such that they become a fan on their own within the process. And that leads to a very positive encounter with the audience and the brand.
Todd: And the one thing that we left out was, if you treat people on stage as if they're stars, then you also have to be firm about getting them off the stage if the outcome is not what you want.
John: A big, giant hook.
Todd: Right. [laughs]
John: Hook and remove them. I'm thinking about the old Gong Show. Let's get them off the stage if they're bombing, right?
John: But, the point is, act swiftly, because we have a standard for our brand. We would pull a marketing piece, in print or in video, if it didn't match the brand standard. What you're suggesting is similarly, we make adjustments if our people don't match the brand standard.
Todd: That's exactly right.
John: I like that.
Linda: That concludes this episode. We hope you pulled a nugget or two from today's discussion that you can use in your own experiential marketing program. You can find links to any of the resources mentioned in this episode in the show notes on our websites. You'll also find a link to the full transcript of this program. These can be found at our website: www.experientialmarketingtoday.com.
If you have questions or comments regarding something we've discussed, you can send those to us using the email address firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can post comments on the website. We hope you'll join us for the next episode.
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Brand Ambassadors. What are they? Why should I care? Employee, associate, ambassador, evangelist– does it really matter what we call people? The short answer is yes, but not for the reasons you might think.
Brand Ambassadors. What are they? Why should I care? Employee, associate, ambassador, evangelist– does it really matter what we call people? The short answer is yes, but not for the reasons you might think.
One of our most valuable clients recently asked us to help set up a stunning 10x20 display for a show in San Diego, and I was assigned to the task. My mission seemed simple: “Go to San Diego and put up the booth.” But during my pre-mission briefing, I found that “put up the booth” meant much more than just making sure the thing is standing upright and double checking to see if lights are plugged in. Our client had a sharp sense of the aesthetic and a keen eye for detail. We felt confident we had provided an engaging and visually tantalizing booth that reflected her demanding tastes, but we still needed to meet her expectations for the show.
I hadn’t served this client before, but my esteemed predecessor curried favor with her by swiffering the entire booth after setup. He polished the base plates, cleaned the inside of the poles, and shined every screw until they gleamed like the surface of a thousand suns. The client loved him for it.
Exhibitors often get nervous before shows. Your show service manager should break out a metaphorical swiffer so that everything surrounding set-up sparkles with professionalism and attentiveness. You are then free from this pressure and have the confident assurance that your on the road to trade show success. For a clean, smooth, and seamless experience, look for a show service provider with this “swiffer list”:
Lipscomb University’s Lighting of the Green is an annual campus event to kick-off the holiday season. Hundreds of families came to enjoy the event held in the Allen Bell Tower Mall. Lit with colorful Christmas images, it was a beautiful backdrop as the groups performed. Amy Grant, Buddy Greene, and Pat Flynn performed along with several Lipscomb students, and Lelan Statom from WTVF served as master of ceremonies. To complement the “Christmas Jam”, the event also included a collection of peanut butter for the Second Harvest Food Bank. The evening ended with everyone singing Silent Night. Advent, involved since its inception 3 years ago, provides art direction, set design and various other creative concepts for the event.
While most of us like to think that with several months to plan before a tradeshow we won′t rush packages at the last minute, it always seems to happen. Here are a few tips when planning your shipments:
The most important thing to remember is plan ahead and save, save, save!
With a century of experience crafting high-quality, affordable bedding, Comfort Solutions approached Advent to create a design for their new worldwide headquarters that would fully communicate the definition and strength of their brands. King Koil, specifically, has served customers since 1898. Their goal was to present their brand’s message to current and potential licensees in their new facility.
With an international licensee meeting only a few weeks after their scheduled move-in date, Advent had a demanding timeline to implement all the elements. As usual, our 3-step process served as a great guide to meet the requested deadline. Our team of designers and account managers worked to bring the approved designs and concepts to life in their new environment.
The result was a branded lobby and conference room showing the international strength of the King Koil brand and the specific locations of its current licensees. Advent also helped Comfort Solutions define a guided and branded walk path through their new environment. This “tour” allows visitors and employees to see their values and vision. The branded elements were spread throughout their space so employees and visitors alike can appreciate the quality and longevity of the King Koil brand.
In By Advent
It’s painful but true that only 20% of companies who exhibit at tradeshows actually follow up with the leads they gathered. Why do we work so hard and invest so much time, energy and resources and then not follow up with leads after the show? Let’s identify reasons why companies may not follow up before we talk about follow-up strategies.
1. No plan. There will be leads after a trade show. Without a method in place to deal with the leads and without good organization, it’s difficult to execute the proper follow up. Companies need to develop a strategy for following up with these leads before the show begins but at least as soon as tear down is finished.
2. Fatigue. We invest so much energy at the trade show and then have lots to attend to when we get back to the office. A well-developed strategy for follow up will make it much easier and less demanding to effectively follow up.
3. Sales person interference. It’s hard to admit, but salespeople are not perfect. Say it slowly to yourself... Salespeople often pocket leads, figuratively and literally, by putting the business cards of booth visitors in their pockets. Then, they get busy or distracted, do not recall the needs or concerns of the prospect and just don’t follow up.
Since that is cleared up, let′s focus on some specific strategies for excellent follow up. Exhibitors typically invest in tradeshows to acquire, obtain, or grow customers. If this is your objective, then you must establish a relationship by following up with your leads.
The first step is to develop a plan. A plan is critical to managing our time and resources for effective follow up.
The next step is to promptly follow up after a show. Why? Because the prospective customer often remembers follow-up promises. By fulfilling those promises, exhibitors are able to build on the foundation laid during the trade show to establish a relationship with prospective customers.
Thirdly, anticipate lead distribution. If leads will be distributed to salespeople, establish a method for allocating those leads. Whether it is by geographic territory, industry sector, product line or customer need, it is good to have a plan in place, so that you can reference a salesperson when speaking with a prospect at the show.
Next, the plan should include a lead capture strategy in the booth. A questionnaire or careful note taking allows exhibitors to understand what a prospect or customer needs. It also conveys a concern about the relationship and that you have carefully listened to their needs. Exhibitors may also ask what method of follow up they prefer and determine next steps based on their level of need.
Finally, effective follow up should not be a one-step process. Simply mailing the proverbial information packet is not enough. That is only the first step of many that should occur. You’ll have to determine if the next step is a personal phone call, an in-person visit, or an email.
All of these steps are important to achieving the highest level of success from a trade show: Have a plan in place before the show. Follow up promptly after the show. Anticipate lead distribution. Capture important information from booth visitors.
Remember that follow up can take many forms. It is a shame to invest time, energy, and resources in a trade show and then lose sight of why you went. To acquire, retain and grow customers effectively, we must have a comprehensive and well-executed strategy for following up with leads generated at a trade show. This will really add to your ROI!
I recently examined a case study of a map-producing company that thought it was in the map business. Sounds reasonable, right? Reasonable, yes, but in reality it was a case of mistaken identity. Let′s try to figure out what business they were actually in.
Artistotle, the rock star of the philosophical ancient world, can help shed some light on this modern problem. Let me paraphrase a passage from the dusty pages of his Nicomachean Ethics:
Every action or art is aimed at some good. Most actions achieve an end which is subordinate to a higher end. It is only the highest ends that are ends in themselves. For example, the art of bridle-making falls under the art of riding; the art of riding as a military action under that of strategy. Strategy, in turn would be pursued for the sake of victory and the process continues. In this, and in all cases the higher good is preferred to the subordinate end.
Erroneously, the mapmakers toiled under the assumption that their maps were the end goal when, in fact, nobody buys a map to have a map. People buy maps because they want to get somewhere. Helping people get places; that was their real business. With the advent of GPS navigation technology and internet sites such as Mapquest, sales plummeted and the company floundered. By not understanding the nature of their business, it was the map company that ended up lost and searching for direction.
Whether you are selling maps, bridles, or widgets, it is vital to remember that unless you are selling individually packaged boxes of pure happiness, then your product is not an end in itself but rather a means to something else. Just think how helpful Aristotle′s insights must have been to classical bridle makers as they sought to map out engaging marketing strategies directed at ancient equestrians! In all seriousness, forget the subordinate ends and try to determine the higher good that you are helping your customers to achieve. That is the business you are in.