You will probably never meet anyone who has spent more time thinking about this than me. So I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on this topic. If any of you reading this happen to have been part of any of the brand-ambassador programs I’ve managed, I’d love for you to leave your thoughts as well. Fundamentally, I hope the message here is that in order to create an army of people who are passionate about your brand and will spread it for you, you need to be authentic with them, give them genuine reasons to want to engage with you that go beyond money, and find things that you can offer them that cost you very-little but give them great-satisfaction.
The absolute best way to motivate a brand ambassador is through insider-access.
One of the most-famous examples of this is Makers Mark. Certain bartenders around the country were given a special bottle of Makers 46, Mark’s special-blend, which was reserved for members of the brand-ambassador program. You had to be “in-the-know” and of-course as soon as you asked for it, everyone around you wanted to know why you were special-enough to get a drink from the special bottle. The second-coolest benefit of the Makers Mark program – you got your name engraved on an actual barrel at their distillery, and you can go visit your barrel anytime you want.
From yesterday on their FB page:
After many years of enjoying Maker’s Mark, I finally became an Ambassador last year. I got my Barrel Dedication Certificate in the mail today. I am so pleased to have my name on Maker’s Mark Barrel No. 803211 and the business cards are a nice touch too.
Another way that Microsoft motivated its Microsoft Most Valuable Professions (MVPs) was through insider-access. The MVP Program became an official-Microsoft-program, but originally started out as an informal recognition of the usergroup communities that grew organically around a passion for Microsoft software, back in the late 80s/early 90s. MVPs were the first to get into Betas and get training on new products. They were invited to meet execs at the annual MVP Summit. And it’s something that actually required constant-engagement with the company, or you would lose your MVP status. It got to the point where MVP-status not just a badge-of-honor among geeks, but like a professional certification within the enormous Microsoft partner and customer ecosystem, where MVP status made you an asset at your company.
Now, that’s great if you’re Microsoft, in the 80s & 90s, when it was still cool to work for Microsoft (yes there was a time like that), but that doesn’t help if you’re not a behemoth today. But the velvet rope of being “inside” can be used to make almost-anything seem valuable. For example, here’s an interesting article about “throttling” access to Google+ invites. Essentially, they artificially turned on-and-off the ability for their current Beta users could share invites, to maximize the perception that invites were hard to get, but ultimately maximize the amount of press-coverage and total-users the service amassed. The fact that invites remained hard-to-get increased the “specialness” felt by those people who were already inside.
Jobs @ Your company
One of the best motivators is the promise that being an ambassador is a way to gain insider-access to jobs @ your company. We hired a ton of my Microsoft Student Partners as interns and full-time-employees, and, in-fact, one of our former MSPs went-on to manage the MSP Program after I left. If this isn’t possible, a letter of reference is a good (if old-fashioned) alternative – to help them get jobs elsewhere. A better, more modern approach, might be a promise to give all top-performers a good LinkedIn recommendation, and a personal commitment, as I’ve made to many ambassadors I’ve worked with, to open my network to them.
I’ve always been a big believer with the Microsoft and Kno ambassador programs I built, that we wanted people who would have done this job, even if we werent paying them, because they believed in the career exposure. They wanted to get the Microsoft name on their resume, or in the case of Kno, they wanted to be affiliated with an Andreessen-Horowitz-backed Silicon Valley startup. You cultivate this further by doing free resume screenings, or by giving them mentors, or by hosting “fireside chats” with leaders at the organization, so that ambassadors feel like their learning about different disciplines, about the company, and about how to get-ahead in their own careers. Take this even a step further, and find ways for them to get more resume-building-activities – give them opportunities to guest-post on your corporate blog, star in commercials, be featured in newspaper articles, or be on special task-forces or advisory-councils.
Research what others are paying. In the case of Microsoft, Google, and Apple, they’re all paying about $10/hr.
In the case of companies that aren’t planning to pay their ambassadors, find a way to give them some kind of commission or prizes based on results.
People like seeing their name on a leaderboard. And people like it when they’re name moves up to the top of the leaderboard. Interestingly, a lot of mobile-apps will deliberately give you a partial-view of the leaderboard, eliminating people above & below you, to make it look like the top-spot is within-reach, but not too-close, so that you’ll be motivated to keep-at-it. So create a metric, a points system, something, that you can use to objectively measure your ambassadors, and then show them the rankings, be open about how everyone is doing. There’s also a component of public humiliation and public acknowledgement at work here – it makes the people at the top of the leaderboard feel good, and the people at the bottom feel-bad, to see their names up there on a powerpoint slide, while in a meeting with everyone else.
Accountability, Consequences, and Early-Action
The last way that you motivate ambassadors, but generally anyone, is through accountability – which means that you make it clear how results are being tracked, you actually do the work of tracking the results, you set consequences for not meeting goals, and you actually enforce those consequences. If you make empty-threats repeatedly, everyone eventually figures out that there will be no consequences for low-performance.
The more-nuanced idea, however, is to prevent low-performance by catching it early. Like with all-employees, it’s more-expensive to replace someone than it is to identify those who are at-risk of low-performance, reach out to them with a warning, and have a conversation about it. The warning and the conversation are usually enough of a reprimand that they instantly get more-engaged. And instead of passively-ignoring your emails, they get over the hump and start to actively-manage their relationship with you again. It essentially creates an opportunity for a catharsis – so that rather than their poor-performance piling-up, and making them feel “behind” and frustrated with their own performance, the conversation becomes an opportunity to start-fresh and do-better.