The New Brand Ambassadors vs. ?

Adweek has a new piece on ‘evangelical citizen marketers’ (didn’t Ben and Jackie coin that term?) and how companies are using these folks in their marketing mixes. Let me say right up front that I think it’s a very informative article with a lot of examples of new techniques that companies are using to engage customers.

Yes, you knew there would be a ‘but’ coming soon in here…

BUT I think that we at Brains on Fire are going to have to find a different term for what we have been calling ‘brand ambassadors‘ if this article is truly reflective of what the rest of the marketing and PR world think the term means.

Let’s break it down, shall we?

  • ‘These programs ‘hire’ consumers, via incentives and rewards, to act as part PR agents, part sales rep and part evangelists.’ Yes, there has to be an incentive to get involved ” but if the only reason people are signing up to become an ‘ambassador’ is to get free stuff, then it’s not genuine. And brand ambassadors should never be your sales rep. That’s what you have sales reps for. They should exist to spread goodwill. That’s the very definition of ‘ambassador.’
  • ‘[Ambassadors] are expected to tap into friends, family, groups and resources through conversations, blogs, live events and online social media.’ Does this sound like manipulation to anyone else? Should you really give you hand-raisers a ‘to-do’ list? If you truly embrace them and give them the tools they need, they will go and use them in the way they see fit. They don’t need you to tell them what to do. And you don’t need to ‘expect’ them to do anything.
  • Unilever used ‘brand ambassadors’ in elementary schools with their ‘Go Green and Small with All’ contest. Schools competed to see who could go the greenest and the schools that wins gets a $50,000 grant, an iPod shuffle for every student, etc, etc. Listen. This IS NOT brand ambassadorship. It’s a freakin’ contest.

The list (and the article) go on and on.

Like I said, I’m not bashing any of these efforts. I applaud them. But they way they use ‘brand ambassador’ and the way we use it are completely different. The main difference? It’s about movements. Truly embracing those hand-raisers that already love you; truly bringing them into the fold and not treating them like an unpaid sales rep; and listening and learning from them ” THAT is the basis for a movement. If it’s treated as a marketing gimmick, that’s what it will be ” a gimmick. NOT a movement. (Just another reason why this ‘word of mouth’ thing belongs in the PR arm of companies.) Embracing kindred spirits (sorry, Olivier, I said it) and Fascinating, Inspiring, Rewarding and Engaging them, well, creates Brains on Fire.

Maybe that’s the term we should use, eh?

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