What is a Brand Ambassador and Do I Need One?

Today more outdoor companies and lifestyle brands are spending their marketing budgets on digital marketing, and you can bet they also have some type of program for ambassadors and influencers.

At Top Rope Media, we support clients on both sides- finding the right brand ambassadors, and often building out a program to manage them, as well as helping athletes find the right brands to connect with. Feeling stuck with your program or not sure where to begin? Check out more of our projects, or drop us an email and let’s chat!

Let’s step back for a moment and define exactly what a brand ambassador is, and how good influencer marketing works.

Kim Kardashian Fendi


What is a Brand Ambassador?

According to Wikipedia: a brand ambassador is a person who is hired by an organization or company to represent a brand in a positive light and by doing so help to increase brand awareness and sales. The brand ambassador is meant to embody the corporate identity in appearance, demeanor, values and ethics. 


Investing in Brand Ambassadors

If you are reading this article from a link you found on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, then you have definitely seen paid brand ambassadors at work. Beautifully photographed athletes like Cristiano Ronaldo out for a morning run in his Nikes, Kim Kardashian rocking her latest Fendi bag, or Alex Honnold hanging off the side of a mountain in his Black Diamond harness, when he actually wears a harness!

These posts didn’t just come from a loyal brand fan, they were financial transactions meant to generate brand affinity and ultimately product sales. As an example, Ronaldo, at the top of the pack, makes around $400,000 for a single branded Instagram post. So what is a small to medium-sized business, in an industry with non-Nike sized marketing budgets, to do?

 Cristiano Ronaldo and Nike.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Nike.

Do I Really Need A Brand Ambassador or Influencer Program?

Maybe you’re thinking your brand does not need ambassadors, or you don’t have the budget for an influencer program. Well, if any of the following statements apply to your business, then you should have an ambassador program in place, and more importantly, someone to manage that program for you:

  • I need more content! I need content constantly, like images, videos and thoughtful writing.

  • I want more influence! I want to share stories people are interested in.

  • I want more brand recognition! I want to embed my brand into a sport or subculture, like boardsports- surfing, skating, wake boarding or snowboarding.

  • I need more sales! Yes, definitely more sales please!

 These climbers not only kick ass, they’re also helping their favorite brands, like Petzl, 5.10, Sterling Rope, Mammut and Mesa Rim Climbing and Fitness create brand awareness.

These climbers not only kick ass, they’re also helping their favorite brands, like Petzl, 5.10, Sterling Rope, Mammut and Mesa Rim Climbing and Fitness create brand awareness.

Can I Afford a Brand Ambassador?

One of the biggest mental hurdles to get over when launching an ambassador program is the perceived cost. We are definitely familiar with celebrity brand ambassadors, like Tiger Woods for Nike (yes, they were one of the few that stood by him after the scandal). Now you may think, “wait a second, I don’t have the budget for a Tiger Woods, or a Ronaldo!” Enter the concept of micro-influencers; someone with less than 10K followers.

Although it may seem out of reach, there are hundreds of thousands of people in your niche who are excellent micro-influencers, who will be stoked to work with you, and at a price that fits your budget! Finding the right brand ambassadors and influencers are key, and over the next few weeks we’ll be sharing some tips to help you get there.

 Hanging with a few of TASCO MTB’s brand ambassadors at the Sedona MTB Festival.

Hanging with a few of TASCO MTB’s brand ambassadors at the Sedona MTB Festival.

how Do I Get My Ambassadors to Send Me those ‘InstaGood’ and Facebook Ad Fabulous Photos?

Here’s the secret - good ambassadors generate a TON of great content for your brand, not just sales. The photo above was taken with a few brand ambassadors I work with at TASCO MTB. It’s not a professional photo, it’s not of these riders crushing the trails, it’s just good fun, and it might make you want to learn what TASCO MTB is all about. Not all photos need to have that polished look, and capturing the behind-the-scenes action is sometimes more effective in sharing your brand’s story.

If you happen to be a bit more curious about this image, I attended the Sedona Mountain Bike Festival earlier this year with TASCO MTB. Besides posting pics and videos of riders tackling trails like the White Line, we hung out in the TASCO tent and bonded over our shared love of the outdoors. And food. And beer. Gathering your ambassadors together is also a fun way to help you with event activations. Want to learn even more? Read about my work with TASCO, or why you should be at these events and festivals with us!

  BLNDN Haircare  brand ambassador post on Facebook.

BLNDN Haircare brand ambassador post on Facebook.

My brand doesn’t Resonate with athletes, now what?

Have no fear, there are ambassadors and influencers out there that can help you by providing product images, blog posts, testimonials, how-to videos and all with the goal to drive more traffic to your website. Think about it. When I am searching for a new desk, a better conditioner, or I need someone to fix the giant gusher I just created in my front yard by digging into the main water valve (so sorry neighbors)! Well, if I just saw a friend’s recommendation on Facebook for a local plumber..I’m calling him first. And fast.


What are the Risks?

There are pitfalls to ambassador and influencer programs. Without clear expectations on both sides, ambassadors can slide into expectations of free products and discounts, with no need to give back to the brand. So if you are not communicating well with your ambassadors, you run the risk of those influencers actually hurting the brand. Its one of the reasons we recommend having a contract in place for even the smallest ambassador programs.

 Displaying brand logos on apparel and using a brand’s gear- saddle, shoes, water bottles and socks are all classic ways for cyclists to showcase their sponsors and be a good ambassador.

Displaying brand logos on apparel and using a brand’s gear- saddle, shoes, water bottles and socks are all classic ways for cyclists to showcase their sponsors and be a good ambassador.

Reporting and Data Tracking

Tracking is also a key but often an overlooked aspect of these efforts. No matter if you’re a heavily private equity funded software startup, or a sole proprietor making the most kick-ass piece of gear on the market, you’ll want to know what kind of benefit your ambassadors are generating for you. While branding and reach are a little bit harder to track, sales by ambassador is easier.

Whatever you do, set up the kind of systems that are going to allow you to track and improve your program over time. ‘Skills with Phil’ may have thousands of YouTube subscribers, but if he’s not generating sales for your brand, his value is limited. Thankfully, as a TASCO MTB athlete, Phil is able to help us push product out to his viewers, and we see an increase in sales each time.

Knowing this information will allow you to create quality relationships with your influencers and ambassadors, in addition to focusing on individuals who are bringing the highest value for your business.

  Janel Holcomb , Mavic brand ambassador, hanging at the Sea Otter Classic with WD-40 Bike and some fellow mountain biking pros.

Janel Holcomb, Mavic brand ambassador, hanging at the Sea Otter Classic with WD-40 Bike and some fellow mountain biking pros.


Summary

We’ve seen a ton of success on both sides of this equation - launching ambassador programs for our clients, and helping athletes find the right brands to align with. These ambassadors will generate sales, content, reach, and brand awareness when managed correctly. This makes them an affordable marketing and sales tool, and over time, you will see the impact of your investment in them.

Stayed tuned in the next few weeks for more tips:

  • How to find the right brand ambassadors and influencers for your product or service

  • Where to find a job as a brand ambassador and get more than just free stuff!

  • Tips to being a great ambassador and having companies come to you

We also invite you to share your stories with us of how you became a brand ambassador or how you find brand ambassadors for your company.

To learn more about what we at Top Rope Media do on the regular, follow our adventures on InstagramFacebook or Twitter.

Until next time, happy branding! 

- Meredith McConvill