You Don’t Need Michael Jordan. 5 Ways to Turn Employees Into Brand Ambassadors
Microsoft and Salesforce have tapped into the power of turning employees into brand ambassadors. Here’s how you can, too.
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Trust is a rare commodity in business. Consider that 42% of respondents in Edelman's 2018 Trust Barometer Global Report declared, "I don't know which companies or brands to trust." With so much ineffective marketing in today's world, you might consider using brand ambassadors to boost your brand.
The phrase "brand ambassador" can often be used to refer to an external person who influences your audience -- typically, a celebrity. Basketball legend Michael Jordan, for instance, has served as an external brand ambassador for Nike since 1984. He made just over $94 million from contracts in his NBA career, but in 2014, his partnership with Jordan Brand netted him $100 million.
In contrast, the internal brand ambassador is an employee who shares the company message through speaking, writing, media, and other channels to increase brand awareness. This person can personally connect with others to share the company message in a completely different way than the external type. Also, the market is likely to trust an internal employee more than someone outside the company.
"Customers have learned to tune out or apply a skeptical lens to paid advertising," says Dorie Clark, adjunct professor at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business and author of Stand Out. "But when grassroots employees throughout an organization speak knowledgeably and passionately about the company's offerings and what it's like to work there, that makes an impression."
Many times, companies will rely on the founders to be the brand ambassadors. This is a powerful play in marketing when the executive develops a personal brand within the marketplace. Think of Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, and Steve Jobs. This may be what you are looking to create for yourself.
However, as companies grow, the opportunity to share the message at conferences and with the media just does not allow for the founders to scale this level of impact. For this reason, Microsoft has many brand ambassadors, such as Christi Olson. She represents Microsoft at top conferences and with the media when it comes to Bing and Artificial Intelligence. Olson said, "Internal brand ambassadors can research the market and engage with the market to create messaging that puts the customer first."
Ludo Ulrich is a brand ambassador for Salesforce, one of the strongest brands in software in the world. In my interview on my leadership podcast, Ulrich says that the job "is about being a storyteller." Imagine that you have someone within your company that is better than you and focused on telling the story of your brand. Employees who are brand ambassadors often become hyper-engaged with their work -- a win-win situation.
Here are five steps your company can use to cultivate internal brand ambassadors.
1. Identify the right candidates.
Employees who will have the highest impact will usually be those who have the desire to share their opinion with confidence and clarity. They speak up when given the chance and have influence already within the company. The right employees are going to be highly engaged to learn new strategies and push beyond the challenges of this role. This person must be a believer in the company deep into his or her core.
2. Provide training on finding voice.
Training will be required to guide your internal brand ambassadors on how to make an impact. Each person will likely have some talent for this role, but you will still need to develop those skills, such as writing with influence, organizing thoughts, and presenting with persuasion.
3. Develop a plan for distribution.
Getting the message out into the world is essential. You may need to get additional training to book sought-after stages in your market and how to engage with media. Distribution of the message amplifies the impact.
4. Empower them.
Let them do their thing. You have to resist holding them back. Empowering your employees to speak to the media and share a message at a conference will allow them to understand what works and what doesn't. Even let them fail so they can pick themselves back up and find the right way.
5. Measure ROI.
All strategies require measurement on effectiveness. Understand where your brand ambassadors are moving the needle. Refine the approaches, and keep going.
"The public has heard typical PR pitches a million times," says Clark. "What they're looking for is real people, communicating in a genuine way about the work they do and why they believe their company is a force for good. That breaks through the noise."