Influence is bliss: The reality of becoming a brand ambassador

Influencers, ambassadors, whatever you want to call them, are a big deal for brands. But getting the gig is more than offering a handful of posts on your Instagram. Richie Tyler takes a closer look at the realities of influencers, and how to make your pitch to a brand.

I work for for a start up sporting apparel brand. We have a very distinct brand image, and owe a lot to the rise of Instagram for the spread of that image across the globe.

I’ve witnessed a huge number of individuals, young and old, coming forward seeking to come on board as brand ambassadors.

In recent years, brand ambassadors and influencers have become a legitimate form of marketing. The relationship is straightforward. A brand supports an individual, usually through supply of product, in return for posts on personal websites or social media.

Credit: Drew Graham

The right ambassador can have a phenomenal impact. Part of the appeal of this sort of relationship is the network effect of social media. Early on, this was bolstered by the sense of authenticity ambassadors would provide. Talk is cheap. Done well, brands and individuals aligned to present a lifestyle image that supports the brand, and reflects the aspirations of their market.

With the rise of brands as the product themselves, tapping into the lifestyle your product inhabits has become critical to success.

The problem that has emerged is those who aspire to these lifestyles has an inflated sense of their value. They feel they can enhance a brand’s image by they offering their services as an ambassador. The truth is, most can’t. To do it well is a skill that relatively few possess.

With authenticity increasingly manufacturable, truly effective influencers construct an artifice that draws people in, and, critically, maintains their interest. I’ve spoken to influencers, and the truth is for a lot of them, passion isn’t enough to maintain their interest. They keep it up because it has become their job. That’s not the case for all, but many.

Incredibly, it seems brands have created an environment where the perception is, at least for some, that the reward for being a loyal customer is that you should no longer be a paying customer.

I have received I would say close to 100 emails in the past year alone. And without going back to look at them, this is almost the structure of each verbatim:

Hi/Dear/To whom it may concern, (N.B. the latter a typically British salutation)

I am an X from X. Over the past few years I’ve become very serious about X.

I hope to improve my success/results in X, and I love your brand.

I’m wondering if you have any positions for brand ambassadors. I would share pictures of myself in your product with all my social media followers.

Yours sincerely,

Your future brand ambassador

While I appreciate the effort made by these individuals, I’m left scratching my head how almost all of their emails reads exactly the same.

What’s our ROI?

There’s one immediate thing that leaps out of all these emails. The people writing them are self serving. This is not in and of itself a problem; you want ambassadors to have a strong sense of self. But you also want them to have a sense of the economic reality of their role.

It’s clear that the potential ambassadors have an understanding of what they’ll get out of ambassadorship. What they’re demonstrating, however, is that they have no understanding of how the brand can benefit from their representation.

Job interviews always include questions designed to examine your understanding of the company and its operations. Even if you get these wrong, demonstrating that you have exerted some level of effort to understand the company is enough to get you to the next round.

It’s exactly the same with applying for an ambassadorship. Put yourself forward, but not ahead of the brand your approaching.

What’s your niche?

As an extension of the previous point, what can you offer that no one else can?

“I would share pictures of myself in your product with all my social media followers.”

So what? Who cares?

More important is how. What can you do differently, and how can it benefit the brand. Do you live in a unique market for the brand? Do you have a better understanding of what it takes to influence people there?

If so, you’re starting to ask the right questions. Pose them, and answer them. This will put you streets ahead of the dozens of other people asking exactly the same thing as you. Cast off the apathy demonstrated by so many others by treating the role of ambassador with respect.

Demonstrate you understand the opportunity a brand might have (or, even better, may not have even identified), and how you can help.

Are brands to blame?

Perhaps it’s the brands who are to blame. There’s myriad example of brands that have build their little empires on a social marketing platform. Good on them, it’s brilliant to see brands hacking the marketing budgets weilded by bigger brands.

The ultimate compliment is that big brands are turning to the techniques smaller brands have used for success. But perhaps we’re reaching the point where it jumps the shark.

Authenticity and trust go hand in hand. Consumers are smart. They know that increasingly cash is replacing the truly authentic ambassadors.

It’s creating a strange paradox, because while it’s changing the shape of the brand experience, the value is being eroded by its ubiquity. There’s no doubt these relationships will bear fruit for some time, but brands will become increasingly selective when it comes to ambassadors.

In the same way that actors have snatched endorsement roles previously occupied by models in cosmetic and fashion campaigns, the lay people who’ve been ambassadors will be replaced with those with an ‘X’ factor. Bland, obvious grabs for free product does not an X factor make.

It’s actually not that tricky. If you wish to promote what you see as an outstanding brand, be outstanding.

Richie Tyler is an e-commerce and customer experience specialist.


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