‘You think a marketing director could hand out a product if they’re not part of that community? They can, but will it be well received? Now, put that product in the hands of someone with clout and your margin for success increases dramatically,’ - Nicholas Norfolk, running ambassador Re-imagining the brand ambassador Brand ambassadors – people who are the living, breathing embodiment of a brand and its culture – have been around for years. Sometimes they’re celebrities, (think Georgia May Jagger and Rimmel London), and sometimes they’re people employed for their networking skills and personality (think Red Bull’s student ambassadors). Whoever they are, they’re effective because word-of-mouth, above all else, has the greatest influence on a person’s purchasing decision. When people hear something positive about a brand, 66 percent of them assign a high credibility rating to it, rating it 9 or 10 on a scale of 0-10. It’s who you know Research by Duncan Watts has shown, however, that the average-Joe is actually just as important as any ‘professional’ influencer when it comes to spreading ideas and trends. So, considering your customers are already part of a community that contains other ideal customers for your brand and they have hands-on experience with your product or service, it would seem they are ideally placed to spread the word about what you do. And so, a new trend is emerging in the marketing world: the customer as brand ambassador. Customers who give as good as they get Here are ten ways to make the most of committed customers and create new, brilliant brand ambassadors: 1. Be a brand, not a product. If you want a customer to promote and embody your brand, make sure you have one. Your product is not your brand. Your brand is why you do what you do. . Give your brand ambassadors on the inside track. Help them get to know your marketing and product teams, the culture of your company and how you work. 2. Give a little to get a little. Consider paying for your best customers to complete training that will help them in what they do or get them in at an industry event. Not only will it help them do their job, it’ll also make them more knowledgeable about what you do and get them connected to the people you want them to tell. 3. Find your tribe. Monitor social media for mentions of your products see who is already naturally promoting your product. This will help you figure out where your natural customer brand ambassadors hang out online meaning you can develop promotions and collateral best suited to those communities and environments. 4. Make the most of what you already have. Some customers are already working as brand ambassadors, tweeting and spreading the word about your brand simply because they love it. Don’t ignore such valuable collateral. Retweet, engage and get creative like Bean and Ground does with its top tweeters. The coffee-by-post brand includes the best tweets from its customers on the regular insert with its monthly coffee beans delivery, which not only delights existing ambassadors but also encourages others to tweet too. 5. Freebies for top bloggers. Reviewers and bloggers don’t have to be professional writers or famous names to still reach tens of thousands of readers. Conduct keyword searches across news and blog sites using a tool like Microsoft Social Listening, and find influencers and community leaders. Get in touch, send them products or free trials of your services and create customers out of them. 6. Become a matchmaker. Brand ambassadors don’t have to be solely about promotion. Your best customers will be heavy users of your product or service and therefore ideal coaches for new customers. Create networking events, Q&A sessions or even something as simple as a Twitter chat to get your customers working with you to delight new converts. 7. Listen to what they say. Not only do your customer brand ambassadors use your product themselves, they also talk to other potential and existing customers. So, if they have a suggestion for a feature, a promotion or even a new product line: listen to them. They know what they’re talking about. 8. Make them feel special. Sometime customers will need a little incentive to give you their valuable recommendation. This can be as simple as early bird access, discounts or limited edition products. This can even cross over with your customer loyalty program. Starbucks, for example, runs bring-a-friend promotions for Starbucks card holders, providing perks and an opportunity for ambassadorship, all in one. 9. Give them what they need. While brand ambassadors will appreciate freebies and special treatment, it’s also worth giving them information and marketing collateral they can sensibly use in their peer networks. And keep them updated with any new products or brand developments. 10. Keep track of your brand ambassadors. Finally, be sure to keep in regular contact with your customer brand ambassadors, and make sure everyone from sales to support is keeping them committed to your brand. Using a cloud-hosted CRM system like Microsoft Dynamics, lets you keep a full history of interactions, social media activity and contact details for your ambassadors in one, easy to access place.