The Secret of Successful Brand Ambassador Programs

 Image by Phil Coffman

Image by Phil Coffman

You get an email or voicemail message from someone you don’t know. If you’re like me, you likely delete the email without reading it. The voicemail suffers the same fate — immediate deletion. Yet your reaction changes dramatically when it’s from someone you know. This, in a nutshell, explains the power of brand ambassadors. Launch your own brand ambassador program today with these 6 tips.

Only 33% of buyers trust the brand but 90% of customers trust product or service recommendations from people they know
— Nielsen Global Online Consumer Survey

#1 Determine your goals

Brand ambassadors are everyday customers who love your product or service. Ultimately, though, they are only truly useful if they know and understand your goals. You might even identify particular groups for different purposes: some might be better influencers of brand awareness, while others could provide more leverage for long-term promotion of a new product launch or more detail about a specific service or solution they’ve used.

#2 Get to know your ambassadors

Simply selecting the people on social media with lots of followers who like your brand isn’t going to drive the most effective brand ambassador program. You need to find the top customers or clients, consultants, and business partners who will be proud of their affiliation with your brand.

Have an application that questions how the potential ambassador wants to get involved, why they are applying, and why they love your brand. You want to understand their reasons for being ambassadors. They might be building their resume, looking for free stuff or the inside scoop, or trying to get hired as consultants.

#3 Develop a program structure

You’ve done the legwork to find the right influencers to invite into your brand ambassador program. Yet you still want to offer some parameters. In launching your program consider developing a code of conduct, instituting milestones, and clear expectations.

For instance, Hootsuite, which has grown exponentially due to its ambassadors, expects advocacy, content sharing, creating a stronger regional presence and even hosting events.

#4 Identify incentives

Loyal customers may be driven to share their enthusiasm for your product or service for their own personal or professional reasons. At the same time, offering free access to new feature or product testing or VIP events can provide an incentive to ambassadors.

It’s unlikely you want to get involved with financially rewarding your brand ambassadors — potential clients might doubt the credibility of a paid ambassador. Yet, you may be able to offer compensation in the form of professional affiliation with your brand, partnerships at conferences, or sharing guest posts on each other’s blogs.

 #5 Cultivate communication

The brand ambassador program depends on mutual trust. Keep your advocates in the know. They should not find out about an important new product feature or solution launch from external sources. They want to be in the inner circle — treat them as the partners you want them to be.

Identify their best channels of communication to offer feedback and criticism. Make sure that your ambassadors know that their opinions matter — positive and negative — and encourage them to offer suggested improvements.

#6 Quantify success

The brand ambassador program demands consistent monitoring and measuring. You want your launch to be deliberate . Determine in advance what metrics you might use to gauge success. Set up the means to track that data.

It can also go a long way to recognize ambassadors’ successes and offer praise. Identify standout performance on a page of your site devoted to the program or in a weekly communication to your ambassadors. Personal recognition can help deepen an individual’s relationship with your brand, which can only further amplify enthusiasm as an advocate.

B2B Event Marketing Decoded

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There are only so many branded lanyards, T-shirts, or travel mugs a business contact needs. [insert hypeman yelling “Facts”]. Event marketing instead builds awareness, promotes sales, and fosters loyalty in a more personal, immediate context — through intentionally designed experiences. [again with the hypeman saying “Facts”]. The only way that paragraph works is if you can imagine me saying that on stage with my hypeman yelling “facts” after each sentence. Moving on.

59% of B2B marketers never charge for their events — Hubspot

What is Event Marketing?

Event marketing sees the business coming up with creative ways to engage its audience in an immersive experience. Methods can vary, but marketers start out by designing a concept driven by strategic analysis of data about what the customer needs and a clear vision of the brand value message.

Measurements of success vary. For instance, event marketing automation company Certain found many businesses declared success when registrations increased (32.6%) while 27.62% measured event success by new leads. Improved satisfaction scores and boosted brand awareness could see event marketing deemed successful.

65% of people think live events help them understand a product — Event Marketing Institute

What B2B Event Marketing Looks Like

Effective event marketing is relevant to the target audience and the event’s context. Some examples I’ve activated for clients:

  • Setting up a run clinic on a college campus to encourage students to try new athletic footwear and enroll in an activity tracking program
  • Hosting a sales tour offering hands-on training sessions for electronic devices in various customer contexts, followed by a sales rep-sponsored cocktail hour
  • Making a game of product training participation by tracking points in competitions between sales regions and individuals attending an industry conference
  • Promoting an energy drink by offering refreshment at an expert-led stretching session post-race
  • Reinforcing a brand’s security focus by hosting device training within a bank vault
  • Organizing a conference with clients sharing success stories alongside new product release events to provide relevant content to the audience while letting a sales team make in-person contact with attendees.

Using creative, relevant experiences, B2B event marketing is face-to-face marketing at its best. Instead of trying to write content that stands out in a crowded inbox or stuffed social media stream, B2B event marketing meets the customer and client where they already are.

Effective event marketing can also have a snowball effect as:

  • Businesses post anticipatory messages on social media, followed by invitations, and then images, videos and participant quotes from the events.
  • Customers share their experience on social media using the branded hashtag. In fact, an estimated 49% of attendees at branded events make their own videos of the experience to share on social media, according to the Event Marketing Institute.

Why do B2B Event Marketing?

The same reason you do any marketing — to connect with leads and strengthen your relationship with existing customers. Engaging with your audience through event marketing can help a business bring in buyers, educate the audience and demonstrate thought leadership while also enhancing customer retention, encouraging upsells, and boosting brand advocacy.

Your goal should be to immerse clients and customers in a real-world experience — make it an event.

7 Steps to B2B Instagram Success

 Source: Pixabay

Source: Pixabay

B2B marketers have been slow to join Instagram. Yet the businesses that have embraced this social platform see gains in brand awareness and engagement as well as enhanced relationship building. Use these seven steps as a cheat sheet to get your B2B IG off the ground. 

#1 Understand the potential

Instagram is projected to hit 1 billion users by October of this year. In fact, the social platform is growing faster than ever. The channel gained its last 100 million users even faster than its first 100 million.

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#2 Recognize the audience

You may think Instagram is only for young people’s selfies and pictures of food, but in fact the fastest growing user segment in 2017 is females 40 – 50. Bet one of your B2B buyer personas is a woman in the business within that age range.

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#3 Know your target audience

If you don’t have the buyer personas just mentioned, get them. OK, now that you know your target audience and their pain points and passions, you can effectively leverage Instagram. Understanding your business customer base, you can focus on stories that speak to their interests and needs. Be engaged with them, too: Like their posts. Ask questions. Offer thanks for their engagement. Remember this is a social media — so, be social!

#4 Decide on an IG voice

Just as your other content marketing strategies have a brand voice, you’ll need to decide on your Instagram voice. Make it consistent. Your customers should be able to identify how the images you are curating reflect your brand’s image. Consider your values and mission and make content choices accordingly. You don’t need to re-gram every reference to your business; focus on those that help communicate the story you want to tell.  

#5 Always be #branding

Use branded hashtags on posts promoting new products or services and promotional opportunities. Offer attractive limited time deals, again with branded hashtags. These boost your discoverability and encourage engagement.

Another way to gain traction for a brand hashtag is to encourage employee engagement with the business IG account using the tag. Follow your employees on Instagram and encourage them to tag posts related to your company’s culture that help provide a well-rounded view of your brand.

#6 Curate user-generated content

You know your target audience and have followed them on Instagram to gain insight into their behaviors. Be on the lookout for user-generated content (UCG) that you can repost to further establish credibility. Repackage customer content to demonstrate your understanding of what they care about and how your product or service suits their needs. Again, use that #branding we already discussed.

#7 Don't be dull

It’s true of any B2B marketing. Regardless of your industry, you want to post content that is visually stimulating and creative while still relevant to what you do. Tara Wilson Agency (client plug) does a great job creating visually stimulating and educational content for Samsung’s B2B Instagram account. I’ll close out with some great examples of B2B brands finding fun and unique ways to stand out in their audience’s feed.

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Bonus Tip: Get to know the lingo. Can your brand plan to leverage #WednesdayWisdom or #FOMO “fear of missing out” when planning the content calendar? Employing IG slang can help your business join a larger, social conversation.

What Matters Now in Event Marketing

Event marketing seeks to turn the volume of targeted messaging up to 11 (and yes that is a Spinal Tap reference). As this type of face-to-face marketing grows more prevalent, businesses must differentiate themselves by designing and delivering relevant and remarkable experiences. There is a lot of noise in this space, but here are 4 trends that should guide your event marketing plans.

Make it Lit

There are many definitions for lit, but let’s stick with this one: make it amazing. The increasing influence of millennials is one factor driving a demand for remarkable experiences. They are not impressed easily. Plus, they are constantly looking to share their experience via social media and connect with others in real-time having the same experience.

Active participation increases customer engagement and learning and can boost overall connections with your brand. Yet keep in mind that experiential campaigns don’t need to be event-centric. Think Virtual Reality. Whether the experience is tied to a conference, concert, festival, etc., it should focus on creating brand interaction opportunities first and foremost.

Make it Meaningful

Google, for instance, decided to publicize its charitable giving by letting the public decide where the money should go. They installed interactive stations at bus shelters, food trucks, and restaurants to give the local community the chance to vote for a cause. The #GoogleImpactChallenge earned 400,000 votes in less than a month. One of my personal favorites was hack the hood.

Or, consider the Lean Cuisine #WeighThis campaign in New York’s Grand Central Station. Women were invited to share what they would want to be weighed for — rather than pounds — on small boards that looked like scales. Examples included being back in college at 55 or caring for 200 homeless children each day. The experience sent a supportive message about appreciating what matters and it was still clearly associated with Lean Cuisine and healthy eating.

Make it Social

Companies and brand marketers recognize the importance of social marketing related to event marketing. Some 70% identify social as “extremely” or “very important,” yet creating memorable content worth social sharing is challenging.

In examining The Viral Impact of Events, the Event Marketing Institute found certain channels fare better at different points in the process:

 Event Marketer

Event Marketer

Make it Personal

Take GE’s set up at a conference representing actual healthcare settings — a rural African clinic, an urban clinic, and an emergency room — at which the brand had actual doctors sharing real stories about how the company’s healthcare technology made a difference to their work. This wasn’t sales people, but personal stories making a real connection with the potential customer.

Or how about Facebook IQ Live? It’s experience-based event series sought to create positive brand awareness and give marketers concrete ideas of how they might better interact with the Facebook and Instagram brand.

Making your event marketing strategy and execution more lit, meaningful, social, and personal will require innovative thinking. Don’t do what you’ve done before. Don’t do what someone else has done before. Align an idea with your brand values and business objective and take the leap into immersive face-to-face marketing.

Essential Guide to Launching Influencer Marketing Campaigns

 Photo by  Samantha Sophia  on  Unsplash

I focused on grassroots or guerilla marketing when I first cut my teeth in the marketing space. My competitive advantage, the one I told clients, was my ability to target and work with influential people to spread a message in a targeted community. It seemed like every other marketing agency wanted to talk about creating ads so I zigged instead of zagging and focused on what I called grassroots marketing. This targeted approach to marketing is all the rage now. It even has a cool name - Influencer Marketing.

So what is Influencer Marketing. In its simplest form, Influencer Marketing is a form of marketing where you leverage influential people to distribute and share your message with their followers. This goes without saying, but I'll write it anyway - their followers should be the same people you want to reach. 

Forbes predicted influencer marketing would explode in 2017, so you probably already have a program in place. After all, 84% of marketers were planning on executing at least one influencer marketing campaign this year. Let's consider some essentials you should think about in making the most out of your influencer initiative.

Influencer Marketing Basics

You likely already know that influencers are the people who are active on social media and blogs who can advocate for your brand and promote you with a niche, targeted audience.

Smart marketers research people online who have credibility with an audience they covet. This isn’t about just finding people with tons of followers. It’s about seeking out the people who have the right followers, and credibility with those followers.  

In the best case, an influencer can increase your social media exposure, drive traffic to your site, and increase your sell through rate. For instance, by providing reputable fashion bloggers with clothing and accessory samples, a fashion company could bolster sales to relevant products. Or, a VOIP telecommunications provider could see an uptick in installs after one of its small business clients endorses its phone system setup and customer service online.

Even Nielsen acknowledges the power of the social influencer trend noting that 92% of global consumers trust “earned media” above all other forms of advertising.

16X higher average engagement rate with social endorsement than paid media and owned alternatives.
— Nielsen

What to Include in Your Program

With influencer marketing on trend right now, you have to work harder to make your program work well. What can you do?

Know your influencers. Research ideal influencers who not only fit your niche, but also have a personality type that suits your brand values. Know the topics that make them a good fit and have a clear idea of what your goals are for their potential reach. Spend a lot of time here. You don't want to end up like Reebok when they signed Rick Ross. No shade but did anyone really see this working. The brand values were misaligned. 

Ongoing research. Finding a few influencers and calling it a day won’t work. Social media marketing moves fast. You need to use social media monitoring, hashtag research, Google alerts and other tools to find the right influencers to interact with on an ongoing basis.

Happy customers. The best influencer is someone who truly knows and loves your brand. So leverage relevant content from happy users and clients. When I was the Director of Marketing at VILLA, our approach was to work with customers to share our collective story. See what I did there. The story we shared wasn't just about VILLA. It was about VILLA and its customers on a quest to achieve a goal. Ok, I got sidetracked there for a bit. You can do something similar by encouraging user generated content by asking customers to upload photos and videos, offering product discounts or other incentives, sending out trial products, and participating in communities related to your product or service to find comments and quotes you might use in testimonials or to inspire blog posts.

Compensation. Sometimes giving influencers a social shout out can help them feel important. Giving away free stuff can work too. Some companies even offer commissions or financial rewards. But, these latter two can muddy the organic nature of the influence and could backfire for both you and the influencer.  

Clear goals. It is difficult to quantify the ROI from influencer marketing. In fact, 38% of marketers say they are unable to tell whether influencer activity actually drives sales, according to a Rakuten Marketing survey. But, at the very least, if you have established clear objectives (Improve brand reach? Drive site traffic? Increase sales?), you can better identify the appropriate influencers and gauge your program’s effectiveness.

Ultimately, as is true for all digital marketing efforts, influencer marketing requires you to know your audience, brand voice, and do due diligence to find the right contextual fit for your business message.

Now, go ahead and influence others by sharing this blog post!

Is Your Company Ready for Artificial Intelligence?

 ColdFusion

ColdFusion

Artificial intelligence (AI) is no longer the stuff of science fiction alone. It’s widespread in business and in our homes — many people have smart phone conversations with Siri or rely on the assistance of Amazon’s Alexa. But, does AI make sense for your business? Consider these prompts when deciding.

Artificial intelligence has many applications and as many descriptors. Some will refer to machine learning or machine intelligence, others to cognitive computing or deep learning. Ultimately Big Blue, I’m referring to IBM not Famous Dex, estimates it’s a $2 trillion market in which computing power is used to understand data, reason, talk, make decisions and learn.

The Harvard Business Review charted the most popular uses of AI today:

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Companies such as Samsung, Google, Facebook, Uber, and Amazon are all investing heavily in AI technology. But should you? Here are some questions to consider:

How efficiently are you able to maximize data analytics today?

We become increasingly connected digitally on a daily basis. This means a deluge of data available to business. This data can help:

  • Predict customer service issues
  • Identify prospective leads
  • Personalize marketing
  • Drive product development
  • Anticipate sales opportunities

And, that’s just the beginning. Of course, you could spend hours poring over spreadsheets with hella data points. Or, explore solutions harnessing AI’s power to enable your business to improve its processes and learn more from its data.

Could your customer service improve?

Many businesses turn to AI chatbots to improve customer experience. Intelligent digital agents can be accessible 24–7, where and when the customer needs help. Via instant messaging, the business can provide quick and easy answers to many of the familiar questions customers have. Incorporating AI assistance into website design can also help users navigate the business site more effectively, driving sales and gathering prospect data to support personalized data.

AI bots will power 85% of customer service interactions by 2020 — Gartner
— https://www.fool.com/investing/2016/12/10/9-artificial-intelligence-stats-that-will-blow-you.aspx

Do you want to improve productivity?

There are many AI solutions to address back office functions of IT, HR, and finance/accounting. Consider the time saved just by automating technology to deal with password resets rather than having your tech talent wasting their time on this mundane task. Or, AI might be used to perform more menial tasks in HR by asking the standardized series of questions required of all applicants or new employees.

Could your employees benefit from more time to be creative/innovative?

Morale can also improve in a business when AI solutions take rote tasks off the plate of the people working for you. Applications can take over every day functions such as order tracking, fraud notifications, answering employee FAQs, staff communication, and even staff training. This can free up the people who know your company and its customers best to spend their time developing new product ideas, customer-centric marketing approaches, or more revenue generating innovations.

20% of business content will come from AI by 2018. — Gartner
— https://www.fool.com/investing/2016/12/10/9-artificial-intelligence-stats-that-will-blow-you.aspx

Parting — human — thought

AI is one of the essential eight emerging technologies disrupting business and industry today, per PWC. Some 54% of its survey respondents were planning to make “substantial investments” in AI (second only to 73% investing in Internet of Things). Yet only 20% indicated they had the skills to address the technology. Thus, in considering your readiness for AI, examine your internal tech skills foundation and find out what support you can expect from any solution partners.

The Ultimate Cheatsheet on Marketing Chatbots

  FEATURED IMAGE: BRYCE DURBIN

FEATURED IMAGE: BRYCE DURBIN

Personalization is a marketing buzzword today. Ironically, that personalized touch doesn’t have to come from a human. More businesses today are turning to marketing chatbots to engage with customers and prospects in a brand-specific way.

57% of firms are already using chatbots or planned to begin doing so this year — Forrester

Chatbots use artificial intelligence to mimic actual human conversation, via text messaging. Customer-service robots aren’t necessarily new, but the technology has advanced to such a point that the computer programs interacting with human clients are becoming indistinguishable from the real thing.

Understanding the Popularity of Chatbots

We’ve witnessed the evolution of chatbots without realizing it because it didn’t have a name back then. When I first signed up for AOL back in college, all those fake account spamming me were an early form of chatbots. Phone trees that tell you to press different numbers to reach the right department are another form of chatbots. Today’s chatbots leverage artificial intelligence a bit more and can help your business in many ways:

Providing customer service. Instead of waiting to speak to a human representative with an easy-to-resolve question, users can message a chatbot to get the needed answer more efficiently. Better customer service = better customer satisfaction and improved brand loyalty.

Targeting marketing. A customer reaching out to a chatbot provides personal information to begin a service inquiry. Personalized marketing (based on the information provided) shows during the interval while the customer holds. This same premise applies to lead nurturing on the site, with the chatbot messaging guiding prospects in the desired funnel direction.

Reaching out proactively. Relying only on human customer service representatives is a passive approach. The user has to reach out to you first. But, chatbots can offer assistance at any time, and be ready to reach out proactively to offer customer support. This can foster brand affinity as customers see the company as being always there for their needs.

Gaining data. Looking to optimize your website? (Your answer should always be yes, as it’s an ongoing process). Chatbots can be programmed to reach out to site visitors with simple questions soliciting site feedback. This can help marketers determine what is resonating with prospects, where the funnel might be leaking, and help explain cart abandonment issues.

“The open rate for mobile messages is 98 percent, compared to the 22 percent open rate for email.” — Pypestream

Tailor to Brand Voice

Chatbots reflect a mobile-first approach to digital marketing. Plus, chatbots are programmed to remain in brand voice. Instead of training human employees endlessly about business values and brand goals, a chatbot integrated across digital platforms can improve brand consistency.

Examples of chatbot marketing abound. Beauty and cosmetics retailer Sephora, for instance, created a chatbot to ask users who messaged it to take a quiz. Using the data gained from the quiz responses, the chatbot provided customized beauty tips. Team project management app Slack has its own chatbot allowing users to ask for tips to enhance their efficiency within Slack channels (plus, they’ve integrated with Taco Bell’s chatbot to allow Slack clients to order and pay for tacos directly from Slack).

Keep in mind, though, that chatbot success takes effort. According to Forrester, marketers should limit the scope of the chatbot, set realistic goals, and not launch the chatbot until it is ready. The more information you feed into the marketing bot, the more data you’ll get back. So create a smart, human-like bot that can provide quality content and excellent support.

Why would someone hire you?

That question makes most people recline in their seat. Most people start off with "well, ah ... you see" But, that's not the real question I want to ask. More specifically, why would someone hire your brand? Brands are hired guns. We hire brands for their utility. And, there are only two ways we choose between your brand and the competition -- price and story. 

Price. If I deem your product/service to be similar to the competition then I'll just buy the cheapest one. This is common sense. And, it's the reason we all have more private label brands in our house. 

Story. If your brand doesn't have a story, then your brand gets lumped in with the others without a story (see definition of commodity). The questions you must answer as a storyteller:

  1. What does your brand say about me or who I want to be?
  2. How does your brand connect me to others similar to me i.e. my clique?

 

Are you Better or Different?

The question many of us ask ourselves as we begin a New Year is this -- How will I be better or different?  The same thinking applies for the brands we manage.

Brands are driven by the pursuit of doing better each year. Better sales, better stock price, better market share (please don’t say more market share… focus on profitability), better sentiment on social media, etc. Being better is the province of established competitors. It's a game of incremental gains. It is the way we are taught to build sustainable brands. That is until the new guy wants in on the game. The new guy realizes he can't beat you at your own game, so he changes the game. Instead of trying to position himself as better, he positions himself as different to your audience. 

We’ve seen this happen with GORUCK, Nest Thermostats, and Uber. 

I have three questions for you.

1. What job is your brand being hired to do?

2. How can you do a better job for your customer?

3. What is the biggest threat to your brand? (hint: the threat is the new guy)