Companies with brand ambassador programs seem to be winning. Across the board, this list of companies with brand ambassador programs seem to crush it when it comes to growth.
I wanted to take a deep dive into these brand ambassador programs myself, in an attempt to understand how the structure of these programs work at these very successful brands.
A couple of disclaimers about these brands and their programs:
One: Brand ambassador programs take all shapes and sizes. I’m going to focus on the ones that involve influencers outside of the company. For example, I likely won’t recap an employee advocacy effort, or customer engagement campaigns.
Two: Many of these brands have several brand ambassador strategies, I will highlight one or two per brand. If you want to know the best way to structure your brand ambassador program for ROI, read this.
So, let's look at our 7 companies with brand ambassador programs we can learn from.
The North Face refers to their ambassadors as athletes, and rightly so. The program is jam-packed with 75 of the worlds outdoor-sport super heroes.
These include Ashima Shiriashi, widely regarded as one of the top bouldering and lead climbers in the world, having set multiple records before being old enough to drink a beer. Another, Rory Bosio, an ultra-marathon runner who no-one had heard of until she broke records at the toughest race in the world. A 104-mile loop that circumnavigates 15,771-foot Mont Blanc, passing through France, Italy, and Switzerland.
Another, Juan Martinez’s (who also named by National Geographic as one of their emerging explorers) story can be found here:
The North Face values and mission are to:
The North Face’s ambassador program and the content created around them by their ambassadors supports these missions extremely well. Everyone on their athletes page is a weather-hardened outdoor-living veteran of the wild. They care about the places they explore and push to encourage others to explore too.
The content that these athletes take part in and create is astonishing. Full length documentaries, supported by The North Face. Being announced regularly on their podcasts, interviews and public appearances as members of The North Face brand ambassador program. Constantly wearing gear from the brand on social media and in competition.
The North Face’s current CMO Steve Lesnard once wrote an article about influencer marketing strategy. In the article, he mentions 2 key points:
I think the brand practices this point thoroughly and repeatedly. Brand Managers have Linkedin experience that include things showing their passion for and interactions with their athletes.
Here’s the experience of one Brand manager at the company:
The North Face’s parent company VF corporation reported 13 Billion in revenue last year. They could afford to work with the Rhianna’s and Tom Cruise’s of the world.
But they choose to work instead with, grimey, sweaty athletes who have been carved by rocks climbing mountains and bitten by their adventures bunkered into frozen wastelands. Not because those people are popular celebrities, but because they are the heroes of their target audience.
In the article, he also begs the reader the following questions:
Have we established a clear digital and social strategy for our super users & strongest brand advocates?
Who would be the most influential personalities to energize and grow our social footprint and community?
Do we have a clear plan to position and leverage our celebrity to maximize the partnership over time?
Nike has worked with a range of celebrities, social media creators, athletes, coaches and just about everything in between. In those many endeavours, Nike has never shied away from risk.
If it suits a belief system they subscribe to, will stir the hearts of many and can solidify Nike’s intergenerational place as a household name, there is a strong likelihood they will do it. No matter the potential for backlash.
Most recently, their partnership with Colin Capernick. The 49ers quarterback who knelt during the US National anthem of several American football to raise awareness around racial inequality, especially police brutality.
For most brands, this is a zone of conversation they might not want to be involved in. But Nike knows how to take a stand.
According to Senior NFL reporter for Yahoo Charles Robinson, Nike had signed Capernick as an ambassador years before. But while they previously hadn’t found a strong moment to really leverage the partnership, they struck while the iron was hot.
Critics, including the president himself were outraged by the act they seen as disrespectful to American values. Twitter wars were waged, fans were divided. Nike took this as the perfect storm of opportunity to explode into the world with the amazing copywriting seen above:
"Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything."
Coupled with the iconic Nike logo and Just do it slogan, this hard hitting campaign rocked the country. The criticism of Nike seemed overwhelming. #Boycott Nike blew up, photos of people burning their Nike gear went viral.
Most notably perhaps, Nike stock ended the day 7% higher.
A poll later showed that for every 100 people who felt positive sentiment for Nike after the campaign, only 1 had negative feelings.
The true lesson to learn from Nike here is to step out of the box, experiment with crazy ideas and support your ambassadors when they need support the most.
Another example of Nike enabling creators to get out of the box and take a risk is the world famous Casey Niestat ad shown below. This was a part of their #makeitcount campaign and currently has nearly 30,000,000 views on Youtube.
Adweek (one of the many publishers who covered the campaign) notes that it also didn’t make everyone a fan.
"Instagram is a huge part of our story because of the communities we create, but the challenge is always how to stand out among so many online businesses vying for consumers’ attention." - Noel Mack Gymshark Chief Creative Officer.
In case you didn’t guess it yet, a huge part of Gymshark’s instagram strategy is their brand ambassador program. They, like The North Face, have a roster of “Athletes” that represent their brand in a similar manner.
Although, because their audience has a different mentality, a more urban affinity and is perhaps a bit younger; having “the look” is a big part of the criteria.
Further backing that up is Elliot Burton, a member of Gymsharks brand ambassador program:
"It doesn't matter how many followers someone's got, or how many likes they get. At the end of the day, that's all irrelevant, it's who you are as a person." - Elliot Burton, Gymshark brand ambassador
While they tout these simple criteria, I think there is a more complicated story behind what it takes to be a Gymshark representative.
While this sounds a bit shallow or simple from the top, what they really mean is you represent what Gymshark wearers want to be. Chiseled by the gods under the weight of a barbell. What they really mean is: You have to be winning the battle of greatness in physique. A true body-builder type.
In practicality, this means you have a respected reputation in sport and performance. Here are a few examples.
Ambassador Steven Cao is an American fitness model, personal trainer, and professional Men's Physique bodybuilder. He entered the Pro circuit in 2017, only one year after making his debut on the bodybuilding stage. He also has 700,000 followers on instagram. (data from bestphysiques)
Gymshark Ambassador Ryan Terry’s friend entered a photo of him in a modeling contest and he won. In 2010, a he won the Mister Great Britain modeling competition and went on to win the world title of Mister International. The win landed him commercial modeling work for magazines and for leading brands. He also competes (and often wins) in international body-building competitions. On top of all of that, 1.5 million instagram followers. (Data from Arnoldsportsfestival)
Be famous. Draw attention. In the article links above, Gymshark mentions that social media is arguably the biggest driver in the sport and fitness industry today.
So if you’re going to be a Gymshark brand ambassador, a lot of eyeballs better be on you already.
What I gather from the public information around Gymshark, they are very very very brand focused. As a clothing and fashion company competing successfully in a very competitive niche, I recognize that brand is working for them.
I would however, be very interested to see how they measure the success of these partnerships.
If it is working, why haven’t they scaled more heavily into micro-influencers with a proper brand ambassador program (Disclaimer, maybe they have)?
4 years ago, Starbucks built an army. Not just any army, but one forged of late nights library and hardened by fierce adventures through mountains of debt.
That’s right, students.
On 38 different university campuses across the United States, Starbucks hired hundreds of ambassadors. They were employed for nearly 3 months and the job description goes as follows:
Our Starbucks Brand Ambassadors will be responsible for the following:
– Identify, schedule and facilitate opportunities for sharing the Starbucks Bottled Iced Coffee love with your peers (with support from our Management team)
– Promote scheduled events via social media, signage and other promotional elements
– Create one-of-a-kind experiences to create buzz, boost brand awareness and build brand loyalty
– Provide local intelligence and insight for program planning and execution
– Gather and present consumer feedback
– Comply with program, campus (if applicable) and legal guidelines
The campaign, which was organized by Fuse, seems to have also involved a Starbucks food truck that drove from campus to campus giving out samples. During the three-month activation, the mobile cafés delivered more than 350,000 samples and resulted in 677,000 direct social engagements, according to Fuse.
This reminds me the of the campaign Coca-Cola embarked on (albeit at a much larger scale) a few years ago. I feel like Starbucks and Fuse had a great concept for a campaign, but could have better leveraged social media micro influencers on campus to drive results.
Without tools, it’s hard to find influencers that speak to a specific audience, but I think in this case it would have been relatively easy using a tool like Modash.
Starbucks raked in 677,000 direct social engagements. I feel this could have easily been in the millions if they simply identified the minorly popular students. However, the criteria they listed doesn’t include a social media following at all according to an archived job posting I found:
– If attending college: you are a graduate student (or higher) and are active in student groups on your campus
– If a working professional: you have a wide social and professional circle
– You’re a loyal and enthusiastic Starbucks drinker who enjoys coffee in all its forms
– You’re well-connected with a wide range of people
– You like to see…and be seen. Wallflowers need not apply.
– You’re a highly motivated and skilled communicator
– You’re familiar with and active across multiple social media platforms
– You know where the action is
– You are confident, productive and professional (even if you are still a student)
– You are reliable and able to manage and execute multiple items without direct supervision
– An interest in sales or marketing is a plus
– Access to a computer and smartphone is a must
– Prior marketing, promotion, and/or brand ambassador experience is a plus
– Access to a vehicle will make your life easier but is not mandatory
While I suppose the combination of active in student groups and familiar with multiple social media platforms kind of implies “popular kid”, I think they might have been better off to scout and approach social media micro influencers who were also on their desired campus directly.
This would have saved them time processing applications and driven higher social media reach and engagement. The strategy also could have been more long term, using the mini-cafe’s as a launch bad for their ongoing ambassador program with several on-campus influencers. Rather, the hype lasted a few weeks and died off, more like an influencer marketing campaign, but minus the influencers.
However, the Fuse team did a great job of generating additional content out of the event, including the video above, but also a lot of great photography that comes a crossed as candid.
Oakly denies 93% of potential ambassadors that apply to their affiliate program.
Nervous. That’s how Ryan Erwin felt while implementing Oakly’s affiliate program. Why? Oakly fans, are a bit…. Cult-like.
Ryan, Oakly’s General Manager of “Direct Division”, recognized the passion of his customer base and also the wild-west nature of E-commerce affiliates.
"It was really important that we not denigrate or negatively impact the brand."
They likely have thousands of people eager to push their product every month. According to AHrefs, their affiliate application page is linked to over 23,000 times by external sites.
How do they maintain the quality of content generated by affiliates?
They deny nearly everyone who wants to be an affiliate. If they don’t fit the very specific brand Oakly is building,
Right from the get-go on their application page it’s clear not everyone is going to make it into the program:
Oakley is a premium brand and only publishers who will treat it as such will be accepted into the affiliate program. Oakley does not typically offer discounts on their products and misleading customers to think that by following your links, they will receive a deal is inappropriate. Please be clear on your site that you are not selling our products and that users are purchasing from Oakley.com. All Oakley Affiliates are required to use up-to-date links with our analytics tracking string attached at all times. Please be sure to read all email from Oakley. Any important changes to the affiliate marketing program will be communicated to you via email.
This, combined with strict guidelines, being closely in touch (multiple times per month) with affiliates and the right tools to make their program operate as it should lead to a highly lucrative growth engine for Oakly that maintains the brand quality they value so highly.
Noteworthy, the parent company of Oakly did nearly 2 billion in sales in Q3 this year alone, according to official reports. In case you were wondering if these guys know what their doing.
For many companies, IPOs are a dream. A distant, impossible effort they work hard everyday in hopes to one day make possible.
Revolve made it happen, with the help of a whole lot of influencers in a well oiled brand ambassador program.
In fact, Forbes reported that revolve has grown a network of close to 4000 social media influencers targeting young, female audiences. The result: $31,000,000 on nearly 400,000,000 in revenue last year.
What exactly are they giving these ultra-famous young people in order to power such crazy revenue and profit numbers?
According to their affiliate site, Revolve offers:
But that’s not all. The biggest of their ambassadors get more than just the cold hard cash. It’s coupled with Lavish parties at premium locations, access to top festivals and run-ins with real deal celebrities. They don’t just offer (a lot of) cash, being a Revolve ambassador sounds like a complete lifestyle in itself.
There is one way it seems Revolve can improve their campaign, according to this article
"The same can be said for Revolve, which hosted upwards of 70 different sponsored influencer trips in 2017, with very – if any – including that such trips were, in fact, paid for by the retailer or that some posts, in particular, were contractually-mandated. - The Fashion law on Revolve’s lack of FTC regulated ad-disclosure."
In case you didn’t catch it, the Federal Trade commission expects influencers to disclose all ads. Paid, traded, bartered or accidental, influencers and brands are legally obligated to disclose every individual sponsored piece of content.
The article concludes with the note on revolve specifically and their brand ambassador programs.
"Very few of those 700 individual influencers clearly disclosed that they were dressed by Revolve or connected with the e-commerce giant in a material capacity as required by the FTC. It is also noteworthy that Revolve’s Coachella event was just one of more than 70 different activations in over 10 different countries in 2017."
While I admire the work of Revolve in leveraging massive numbers of influencers to power average order size of nearly $300 and millions of purchases, this saddens me. Brands, especially those targeting young audiences should be very transparent about their ad-placements.
Part of the beauty of many brand ambassador programs is that transparency. The audience recognizes a collaboration between their favourite influencer and a brand, and respects that brand as a supporter. Always, use the proper transparency.
24 years ago, Canon started partnering with professional photographers called “Explorers of light”.
Now, they throw Youtubers out of airplanes.
Not only that, of course, but it is a part of the program. Canon partnered with Devinsupertramp, a creator with millions of Youtube subscribers on the video below.
This, as you might have guessed is not the day to day for Canon ambassadors, but rather an ad-hoc campaign. But they are pushing more towards amateur photographers on sites like Youtube and instagram to power a new marketing channel.
I think Influencers for Canon, are an absolutely genius idea. Influencers, content creators are the media worlds key opinion leaders.
If you consider some of the top creators today like Peter Mckinnon, Casey Niestat and beyond, their all using a camera. These are people who spend their lives using the product and have an authority voice on this topic.
I’m not sure the exact strategy pursued in 2018 for finding influencers and managing ambassadors, but it doesn’t sound like it’s a good one.
"The amount of man-hours to take on the research required is intense to say the least,” said Michelle Bradley, founder and managing director of consultancy MBc. “Many factors need to be considered, from contract and legal issues, to reputation, to ensuring an amazing brand identity.”
While it is certainly time consuming, Modash has customers working with hundreds of influencers per face. A structured, simple, well thought through plan can scale extremely well.
I see now that they are using a similar model to Oakly and revolve, alongside more traditional influencer partnerships.
According to their website, Canon Affiliates are given:
Canon seems to have executed extremely well on Youtube especially. Their product also carries great word of mouth through the technology scene on social.
One way perhaps Canon could improve is to take the route of The North Face a bit and partner with more extreme examples of their brand. Filming documentaries, behind the scenes and highlighting Canon’s core mission:
"Our corporate philosophy, Kyosei, is a Japanese concept that means living and working together for the common good. It brings to life our commitment to sustainability, how we work together, and our desire to create an environment for everyone to thrive and grow."
There are 7 examples of brand ambassador programs from top companies.
Brand ambassador programs can bring serious ROI for brands who get them right. We'll update this list regularly, and if you want to get your ambassador program featured on this list write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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