Cultivating Brand Ambassadors

This post was originally posted on Clubhaus, Block Club's blog of inspiration.

What informs our opinions about brands and businesses? What makes us walk into a new store or make a reservation at a new restaurant? Beyond advertising, marketing and press, word of mouth—both in-person and online—can make or break a business.

Of course celebrities and other prominent figures influence our opinions about brands when they act as spokespeople paid to endorse brands. Some of these paid endorsers adopt the term “influencer,” suggesting they have a bigger stake in the exposure and health of these brands. And while we may not know if these endorsements are paid or not, influencers are attractive because they represent an aspirational version of ourselves.

For smaller brands, it may not be in the budget (or even vision) to connect with millions of followers. Here are a few ways to activate the tastemakers and trusted customers in your space so they can help you attract attention to your brand.

Turn your early followers into brand ambassadors

A nice article in the local paper or feature on a popular blog is a good start, but it’s not always enough to sustain buzz around your business. Your earliest consumers may become your most valued supporter; take notice of those who are curious about your business, its location, your products and services and engage them early on. Why are they so curious? What do they want to know? Look for opportunities keep them interested and interacting with you so that they are the first in line when you open. They’ll be well-informed about your brand and ready to share that info with their circle of friends.

Foster loyalty with special events or products

Everyone likes free stuff, or to feel like a VIP. Inviting a curated group of desired customers to check out your brand is a great way to get people talking about what you’re doing. Think beyond the typical “friends and family” night and invite people who can be critical as well as congenial. Help guide the message you’d like them to share with talking points, insider tips and social-media elements—like preferred or relevant hashtags, and an Instagram-worthy environment—to maximize exposure.

Give them something to talk about

It’s not enough to ask your ambassadors to simply promote your business; you’ve got to give them something specific to say. Keep tabs on your most valuable and loyal customers and make sure they always feel affinity towards your brand. Did you provide them with excellent customer service? Did they receive a special perk or offer just for them? Give them a reason to gush about you!

Carefully tend to the trolls

Think of this as anti-ambassador intelligence gathering. Reading a comments section can be devastating for a business owner, but it’s a valuable way to see what people are saying about you. Take criticism from online commenters with a grain of salt, but don’t be defensive if someone has something negative to say. Use this as a potential area for improvement or refinement as you continue to develop your brand. Circle back with your already-assembled brand ambassadors by counter-marketing with positive, affirmative messaging and promotions, rather than a combative “tackle” of those who are critical.

This post was originally posted on Clubhaus, Block Club's blog of inspiration.