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Ambassador Program Turns Customers Into Salespeople

Few companies realize the value of their most passionate customers. They occasionally acknowledge them with frequent buyer programs or other discounts, but it’s rare for a company to really empower their customers to share their passion for the company and its products or services with others.

Most companies rely on salespeople to position the benefits of their products or services to potential customers. Good salespeople do this in a way that excites customers about the possibilities and potential of using what they’re selling, but their ‘passion’ for the product is motivated by the paycheck they get for selling it, not by the product itself.

However, if you give your passionate customers the tools they need to share their passion for your product or service with others, and reward them for doing so, you can create an army of great ‘salespeople’ who will do more for your company than any high paid salesperson ever could.

That’s the beauty of a well executed ambassador program. With a small investment in materials, it becomes a formalized, simplified, and easy to maintain word of mouth marketing campaign that the company itself can participate in.

Bose Curtosey Card

The Bose Courtesy Card set the standard for a well executed ambassador program. Customers who were using (and loving) their Quiet Comfort headphones while flying would get asked about them by other passengers, and instead of disrupting the quiet zone that the headphones created, the customer could simply hand the person a Courtesy Card and let them check out Bose on their own time.

It was simple and easy for the customer to do (not to mention unique and ‘cool’) and it also gave Bose control over the message that potential customers received.

Fishing

If you think of sales as fishing for customers, then Bose provided the bait, and just asked that current customers set the hook. After the initial interaction, potential customers would come to Bose, and all Bose had to do was reel them in.

iPod Silhouette

The hype that Apple generated with their white headphones is well known, and an Ambassador Program is like a whole army of white headphone wearers, but ones who have been given the tools necessary to help convert that initial interest and opportunity into additional sales.

Surprisingly, I haven’t seen many companies follow in the footsteps of Bose, which is why I was intrigued by Foursquare’s announcement of their Ambassador Program.

Foursquare Ambassador Card

Foursquare users love the deals they get from participating venues, but venues can’t provide deals if they don’t know about the service, so Foursquare created the Ambassador Program to help users spread the word. As long as you’re a “creative and excited evangelist”, Foursquare will send you a pack of Foursquare Ambassador Cards that are custom-printed with your name on them for you to hand out to the businesses that you frequent. Assuming that the businesses use the cards to sign up, Foursquare says that “the businesses get details about their foot traffic and loyal customers, and you and your fellow foursquare users will see more Specials at your favorite places.”

With the Ambassador Cards, Foursquare rewards users by crediting them with the creation of the location, and users get additional rewards when their favorite locations sign up and start offering deals and discounts. It’s a win-win, and Foursquare is simply enabling and encouraging their most passionate users do the selling for them.

One of the main reasons businesses get involved in social media is that they want to support the word of mouth marketing that customers are doing online. With a well planned ambassador program, you can get those same benefits offline as well with a small investment in materials and a way to thank those customers who are out there doing your work for you.

Foursquare Ambassador Program

Samsung Sponsors NOTCOT With More Than Just A Banner

NOTCOT Netbook Resource Center

Samsung’s NOTCOT sponsorship is a great example of how a company can go beyond the banner to integrate itself into the uniqueness of a blog and speak directly to that blog’s audience through custom content. It also shows how the continued transition of ad dollars from traditional media into online media will fund new opportunities for advertisers to reach their online audience in new ways as blogs capitalize on the customizability of their medium.

NOTCOT Theme Integration

The Samsung Go sponsorship includes a special section in NOTCOT called the Netbook Resource Center, which covers netbook news and accessories (they call it ‘fresh mobile lifestyle content’) and lives inside of a branded wrapper featuring images of the Samsung netbook done in the traditional NOTCOT style. There’s also a traditional banner that leads each post, and a rich media banner at the end of each post that’s co-sponsored by CNET, and lets readers see reviews, change color options, view the netbook from different angles, and compare prices.

Samsung Rich Media Banner

(Tip for Samsung: If you’re going to feature the CNET Editor Rating in your banner, make sure you actually give CNET a netbook to rate.) Lastly, posts written ‘out in the wild’ on the Samsung netbook receive a special banner style tag that’s appended to the lead image.

Samsung Wild Banner Tag

The result is an integration that lets the blogger keep control over the content, allowing her to continue to make the content that created her audience in the first place, while Samsung can wrap it in advertising that goes well beyond the traditional banner and works to become a part of the overall experience.

While the POPURLS sponsorship allowed UPS to brand business news without paying any writers for the privilege, the NOTCOT sponsorship is on the opposite end of the spectrum, and allows Samsung to speak directly to their target audience by paying a writer to create an entire section of specialized content dedicated to related news. The end result is that Samsung has more control over the message, though that control must be balanced with the idea that blog writers know what will resonate with their readers, and should usually just be left alone with a minimal amount of guidance.

Uncrate TrendHunter Sponsorship

In addition to NOTCOT, Samsung also sponsored Uncrate and TrendHunter, which highlights another interesting aspect of this campaign: The difference in integration between the three. While NOTCOT created an entire section dedicated to netbook posts, and redesigned the blog’s theme to includes the Samsung Go, Uncrate and TrendHunter have just appended the leading and trailing banners to their netbook posts and placed the content aggregating banner into the sidebar, giving their sponsorships a much more traditional feel. As blogs continue to evolve and take over the role that traditional media used to serve in the consumer’s consumption of media however, I expect more sites to go the route that NOTCOT has pioneered, offering advertisers a much more customizable and comprehensive option for integrating a brand and its products into the overall experience.

While this was obviously a one-off campaign that required a lot of planning and integration, it’s not hard to imagine how blogs and advertisers can use this as an example of how to think outside the banner and reach their intended audience without feeling like the brand is being forced upon them. However, the key will be to avoid sponsorships that feel like the blogger was bought and paid for, and work to create sponsorships that feel like a natural extension of the content that the sponsored blog would cover anyways.

The Good:

  • Sponsorship highlights the brand in a natural, non-intrusive way that’s specific to the blog being sponsored.
  • Innovative placements cut through a viewer’s ad blindness.
  • Content doesn’t feel forced, and integration is a natural extension of the blog’s typical subject matter.

The Bad:

  • Expensive one-off requires a lot of planning and setup, and would be difficult to roll out on a large scale.
  • Consumers are wary of sponsored content, which can affect their opinion of any review.

The Future:

  • Brands work closely with blogs to integrate themselves into the experience, going beyond just a banner ad or sponsored post, and becoming a much larger part of the new digital media.

NOTCOT Netbook Resource Center