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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

Carl’s Jr. Uses YouTube Stars For Online Video Success

Carl's Jr. Portobello Mushroom Six Dollar Burger

One of my advertising rules of thumb is this: Content that works well online is not the same as content that works well on television.

To see why, let’s look at Carl’s Jr.’s latest ad campaign for their Portobello Mushroom Six Dollar Burger.

First, their television commercial:

Next, one of the videos created for their online campaign:

See the difference?

While their heavily produced, perfectly scripted, hero-shot filled 30-second commercial managed to acquire more than a quarter million views in under a week, less than 200 people rated the video during that time, and less than 500 commented on it, indicating that a very low percentage of those quarter million viewers were actually engaged by the video. (Plus, their previous videos have around a thousand views or less, so I’m guessing most of the Portobello Mushroom Six Dollar Burger’s quarter million views were bought and paid for though an ad buy.) By contrast, the second video, created by one of YouTube’s top users named NigaHiga, acquired more than a million views in under a week, nearly 20,000 ratings, and more than 16,000 commentst, indicating a HUGE amount of engagement.

So what did Carl’s Jr. do right?

  1. Create original content – Instead of trying to push existing assets online with banner ads and video buys, a smart company will reach out to prominent users and elicit their help with creating original content that will appeal to that user’s existing fanbase. The resulting videos might not have the highest production quality, or may stray from the strict brand guidelines from time to time, but they will be done in a style that the online community has come to expect, and will be an open and honest interpretation of the product by the creator, rather than the company speaking through a hired personality.
  2. Involve the viewer – If online content is good, viewers will often want to emulate the campaign with creative of their own, so smart companies will encourage that response and find ways of compensating users that go above and beyond to engage with the brand by creating videos of their own. In this case, each sponsored video ended with a call out by the star to the viewers to encourage them to make their own ‘How do you eat yours?’ video. As a result, while most pure UGC campaigns require a huge prize or some other promise of fame and fortune to get a response, this campaign is fueled by viewers’ desire to relate to the personality behind the video, and the compensation is the fact that the star might actually see the video response. A UGC video response campaign also doesn’t have to cost a lot when using YouTube, since the site’s built-in video response feature and viral sharing tools mean the backend is already in place for a campaign with little to no effort required from the sponsor company.
  3. Use the toolsYouTube provides built-in tools for creating and spreading a message, and smart companies will make sure any online video campaign uses them to the fullest. For one, each video should be embeddable. It sounds obvious, but there is still the occasional video that gets put online by a company that can’t be embedded into other sites, and it’s just a waste of potential free media. Second, smart companies will establish a way for viewers to integrate their own content quickly and easily into the overall campaign. Whether it’s posting video responses to campaign videos or tagging their own videos with a specific keyword, giving users the ability to contribute will do a lot to increase the viral spread of a campaign idea. Lastly, tools like the ‘Favorites’ area of a brand’s channel and Flash video viewers allow a company to separate videos into unique campaigns and make it easy to do a lot with a little.
  4. Start from the top – If the budget is big enough, there’s a lot of value in going after the biggest online stars you can find and afford. In this case, Carl’s Jr. got a few of the top 10 most subscribed to YouTube stars to create a video, and the results speak for themselves: After less than a week, each video had an average of 250,000 views, with some receiving more than a million. It might be tempting to save a few bucks by going after the up and coming stars, but there’s a reason certain content producers have so many subscribers, and that’s usually because they consistently make quality videos that others want to watch.
  5. Give creative freedomToo often, companies get online stars involved in their campaigns and then limit what they can say and do, or try too hard to keep them on brand. The main problem with this is that viewers can usually tell when a message is heavily controlled, and views, pass-along and overall engagement will decrease dramatically as a result. Second, the popular YouTube users are popular for a reason, and they will know what their fans want and what works best, so why try to reinvent the wheel? By giving the content creators more creative control, the videos will be more original and more unique, the views will be higher, and the costs associated with trying to control the message will be much, much lower.

As far as online video campaigns go, the Carl’s Jr. Portobello Mushroom Six Dollar Burger campaign was a complete success. They got a number of top users to create content, that content has generated a high amount of engagement, and viewer response has been very positive overall. Sure, it’s not the flashiest campaign, and it’s definitely not the most expensive, but when the results can speak for themselves, who can doubt the power of a well-run online video campaign?

The Good:

  • Uses existing cewebrities to tap into existing communities and create content that is specifically targeted to the online audience.
  • Engages the viewer and encourages participation.
  • Uses existing YouTube tools to their fullest, which extends the campaign while keeping costs down.
  • Offers an online only coupon to try out the product, giving viewers an exclusive offer and connecting the campaign to actual sales.

The Bad:

  • Some of the videos are a bit on the quirky side, and may catch unaware viewers and those that aren’t used to web content by surprise.

The Future:

  • Brands use existing online personalities to give their campaigns life and guarantee initial success.

YouTube – Carl’s Jr.