For most businesses, especially startups, getting the word out about you and your product is essential. And there are many ways to do it but in the most general terms, everything you do to raise your profile and sell your products will fall into one of three categories: advertising, marketing or public relations.
As you get your outreach going, you’ll quickly realize that many of the things you and your company do can be applied across all three categories. Early success may be a good example. If your company is off to a great start, being number one in something or the fastest growing is something you can put in your ads, on your website and include in media outreach. Positive reviews, especially from credible sources such as news outlets, are good for that too. Movies rely heavily on these two cross-platform message types – "The Times Says Four Stars!," "The Number One Comedy of 2016!," or whatever.
But how, you’d be right to ask, can I get to be the “number one anything” or pile up great reviews if no one knows I’m here? To get those things, I need to raise awareness and do marketing. And if I need that to do the marketing, I’m stuck.
But good reviews and early successes aren’t the only things that have appeal in all three public outreach categories. Another, brand ambassadors, can be just as potent but is often overlooked by business owners and entrepreneurs.
If you’re not familiar with the idea, a brand ambassador is person who’s tried your product or service and loves it – loves it enough to say amazing things about it. He is not a paid endorser. While those can be helpful as well, they usually lack the authenticity of a brand ambassador, who is not paid and has either expertise in your marketplace or an "every person" appeal. Or both.
If you think about the ads you’ve seen, it’s certain that you’ve seen the “brand ambassador move.” It goes like this: “I’m on my feet all day and I thought I’d never find a shoe that really eased my foot pain until I tried…” Or, “I’m a dentist and my patients always ask me what toothpaste to use and I tell them, I use…”
A great brand ambassador can cut through the clutter and say things about your company and brand with more credibility than you can because they won’t make money as a result. That credibility is important for both direct outreach such as advertising, and indirect such as pitching stories to reporters. Having a good band ambassador, or several of them, is a powerful and versatile tool to raise your company or product awareness.
It’s important to remember, though, that a brand ambassador is not just someone who leaves you a good Yelp review or would agree to be quoted in a brochure or radio ad. Brand ambassadors are passionate enough that you can call on them repeatedly, in many different situations and have confidence that they will continue to share their great experiences with others. An endorser will say nice things in a survey. A brand ambassador will say nice things for a year straight.
Existing, happy customers are the best place to look for ambassadors. Talk to them. Ask them directly about speaking out on your behalf. You’ll be surprised how many will agree. But you’ll have to work with them and direct them – maybe even write for them. Remember, they are customers, not experienced promoters or ad experts.
But if you’re just starting out, you may not yet have a deep pool of happy customers. That’s what the ads, marketing and PR is for, you’d say. If that’s where you are, simply let people try your product or service for free.
Yes, there will be some cost to doing so. But it’s wholesale cost, your cost. And the value of a good brand ambassador can well outweigh the investment. Moreover, you may also find that it’s easier to find and build band loyalists when they’re getting free stuff.
Wherever you find them, remember, they are gold. Thank them. Reward them. Because good brand ambassadors can add a new layer and texture to your existing publicity or kick-start awareness for your new venture.
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This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Minor edits have been done by Entrepreneur.com.ph.