Four great examples of brand ambassador programs

“Brand ambassador” is one of those fungible terms in marketing – it could mean fans who are just really passionate about a brand or product and share their love on their own accord, or it could mean a branded, deliberate program by a company to find, embrace, and engage their biggest fans.

If your brand already has the former, then take a moment to consider rolling out the latter. Tap into all that enthusiasm and help serious fans of your brand to spread the word. How can you get started? One quick way to is learn from one of these great examples of successful, established brand ambassador programs. Each of them takes a different tact, ranging from cultivating technical expertise to rewarding passion to just spreading around some fun. Some are more complex (and expensive) than others, but all can teach valuable lessons.


Maker’s Mark Ambassadors (Maker’s Mark)

This program is all about the passion. Passion for a legendary brand in the world of bourbon. Passion for the fine art of crafting a classic. Passion for enjoying it all one sip at a time. Maker’s Mark created several years ago what would become the subject of countless word of mouth marketing case studies, and deservedly so (if it isn’t obvious, I’ve been a member for almost 3 years now and am a big fan of the program).

Ambassadors get access to “The Embassy,” a private online community loaded with everything from personalized business cards to hand out in bars to a picture of your name engraved on a actual barrel of the fine product – which you can visit in person if you like. VIP tasting events, special offers, great swag, exclusive gift shop access, direct contact with Bill who runs the program (a real guy by the way)…those guys in Loretto, Kentucky know how to build a brand ambassador program the right way. On the practical side, ambassadors are also armed with fun tools to help move product as well – among other things, the business cards, which help individuals spread the word about the program and brand, and ways to tell the company about bars and restaurants they find who haven’t quite gotten the Maker’s Mark religion.

Fiskateers (Fiskars)

If you’re in to scrapbooking (and really, who isn’t?), you probably know of Fiskars, maker of fine scissors among other things. Here is a great example of a company, armed with a great product and an interesting history, tapping into an incredibly passionate community to build a movement. The company recruited a few of the most vocal to start a group blog, and launched an ambassador program wrapped around it with taglines like “Born to scrap!”

Among other things, the “Fiskateer” ambassadors had opportunities to attend exclusive meetup-style events and got invited into a private online community where they could connect with others who shared their passion for scrapbooking and Fiskars shears. It is also a fantastic way for the company to hear directly from their most committed customers, creating a two way dialogue that is the hallmark of smart ambassador programs.

Credit to the crew at Brains on Fire for making this idea a reality.

Google Campus Ambassadors (Google)

If you read the job description for the Google Ambassador Program (link above), it sounds downright stuffy – building relationships, liase with Google campus team, organize events, and so on. So let’s flash back a few years to when this program was better known as the “Google Pizza Program.”

The sole goal of the pizza ambassadors at the time was to wander study halls of America’s elite engineering universities and order pizza for hard working students (the kind Google wanted to recruit) on the company dime, showing some love from the big G. It was also a nice way to show how much Google was “one of them.” Add some swag – t-shirts and such – and it as a fun, cheap way for Google to stay front and center in the minds of the students it really wanted to connect with.

Most Valuable Professional (Microsoft)

Microsoft MVPs are all about sharing their expertise with others. Given how technical many of Microsoft’s products are, there is a lot to be shared. Originally launched as part of Microsoft support teams, as a way to recognize, reward, and support the users who were most active on Usenet forums (remember those?) in helping others solve their technical problems, Microsoft MVP has evolved over the years into a marquee brand in its own right.

MVPs, who have to earn their award all over again each year, show off the program logo on their blogs, profiles, and even resumes and business cards. Thousands of them make the annual trek to Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, WA for the weeklong MVP Summit, a massive mix of celebration, recognition, connection making, education, and feedback directly with the company’s executives and product teams. Probably the most structured program on this list, Microsoft MVP is also likely the oldest.

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10 Comments
  • Analisa
    Posted at 19:25h, 03 March

    These are interesting examples of companies that put a lot of time and money into creating brand ambassadors. What about companies that have organic brand ambassadors? I’m inspired to look for businesses using social media to foster fans that exist simply because they love a quality product or service!
    Would these ambassador programs be as successful if they were not rewarding their fans in some way?

  • Kevin Briody
    Posted at 21:58h, 03 March

    Hi Analisa,
    Thanks for the comment! Actually in 3 of the 4 examples above (excepting Google, which is more of a campus internship-style program), the brands are finding and embracing fans who already truly love the product (and probably even in Google’s case to a degree). For example, with Fiskateers, these are individuals who love scrapbooking, love Fiskars scissors enough to want to share their passion for the product with the world. That’s completely organic.

    The great thing Fiskars (and Makers Mark, etc) is doing is creating a way to find, recognize, reward, encourage and enable those fans. They aren’t so much creating brand ambassadors – as you said, the brand has a bunch of organic brand ambassadors already. They are just being smart enough to embrace them and give them the tools to have a bigger voice.

  • Jose Perez
    Posted at 20:29h, 11 April

    Awesome stuff. We are in the process of creating a program for a client of ours called Pedal To Properties (www.pedaltoproperties.com) that has a really unique value proposition geared around biking and real estate. The passion behind this is AMAZING and the reason we decided to do the program is that we are bing approached by tons of people who want to be involved but may not have the money to buy their franchise.

    You have confirmed what we already thought and giving us more inspiration!!

  • Anom99
    Posted at 03:14h, 22 July

    The Google Ambassador program this year will be started out with a two day event at Google headquarters.

  • cindy parker
    Posted at 02:39h, 16 September

    How are companies that are developing “brand ambassadors” and “street teams” dealing with the FTC regulations on disclosure? If you are encouraging your team members to participate in or post on their own blogs and tweets, does the brand have a responsibility to their ambassadors to keep them out of legal trouble?

    cindy parker, flowergrower30@yahoo.com

  • Kevin Briody
    Posted at 14:57h, 23 September

    Hi Cindy,
    Thanks for the comment and for raising an important point – I’m not clear how most companies are handling FTC compliance for these programs, though the smart ones already required a suitable level of disclosure for online activities.

    With the usual “not a lawyer” caveat, my take is that the brand has a responsibility to train up, provide resources to, and ultimately hold accountable their ambassadors for compliance with the FTC guidelines. However the onus remains on the individual to make sure they actually comply. If they don’t, the brand has to take action. I’d love to see any examples of this, or brand guidelines being used for ambassador programs that reference the FTC. I’ll keep an eye out.

    Thanks again for stopping by!

  • barb
    Posted at 22:56h, 03 December

    I’d love to join in on some Brand Ambassador programs! How do you get involved with them on your blog? I follow many companies on facebook,twitter but I would enjoy writing for some of them too either as more reviews or in their programs.

  • Mona
    Posted at 09:30h, 14 August

    Interesting, but what about small businesses?

  • Mona
    Posted at 09:30h, 14 August

    Interesting, but what about small businesses?

  • Andy Karuza
    Posted at 16:32h, 03 March

    We created a tool called brandbuddee.com, for brand ambassador programs for small businesses. It’s easy to set the tasks you want your super fans to complete, then track and reward their participation.

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