How to Launch a Brand Ambassador Program for Your Apparel Brand

5 Steps to Creating a Brand Ambassador Program for Your Clothing Brand

Congratulations! Your apparel brand has made it onto the (sometimes virtual) shelves of key retailers. What comes next? Many would argue building customer loyalty is the make-or-break objective of any brand, whether you’re selling high-end socks or vintage-inspired jeans.

While there are a number of ways to go about that, including extensive marketing, experiential campaigns and grassroots efforts, no method has proven as powerful as the existing customer referral. One study found referral customers are about 25% more profitable per year and carry approximately 25% more lifetime value than customers acquired by other means.

Today, those referrals have evolved from in-person recommendations to online through social media and similar channels more and more often.

So, how can you get your hands on sales-driving referrals?

You could count on organic, online reviews left by satisfied customers, but the reality is that although 83% of satisfied customers are willing to refer a product or service, only 29% actually take the time to write a review or make a recommendation. Or, you could take matters into your own hands by launching a brand ambassador program for your clothing or accessories line.

Take athletic-wear behemoth Lululemon for example; their brand ambassador program propelled their yoga attire from small-time sales to household name. With over 1,200 ambassadors worldwide ranging from yoga instructors to professional athletes, Lululemon still manages to maintain the three elements most important to any brand program—loyalty, relevancy and authenticity.

If your apparel brand is looking to join the ranks of Lululemon and other highly successful brand ambassadorship programs, here’s your guide to getting started.

Brand Ambassadors vs. Influencers

From meetings with marketers to your own online research, you’ve probably heard the terms brand ambassadors and social media influencers thrown around like confetti. Sometimes, the two are used interchangeably, but there are major differences between ambassadors and influencers you can’t ignore. Before we dive any further, let’s take a beat to lay out the differences.

Influencers may range in fame from Instagram to Hollywood with the lines between movie star and “lifestyle personality” blurring more and more each day. These individuals have large, engaged audiences, typically in a specific area of expertise, like fashion, wellness, technology, etc., as well as the power to influence the purchasing decisions of others. While influencers often take on brand partnerships, featuring products on their feeds in exchange for free merchandise or payments, these engagements are often on a single project basis or short-term arrangement.

Brand ambassadors on the other hand are brought on by companies for extended periods of time and may act as the face, or faces, of the brand. Ambassadors truly embody everything the brand they represent stands for, from their values to their process and beyond. They may create and post content on your brand’s behalf, whether on their channels or yours, as well as attend or host events representing your brand, appear at pop-ups at local retailers and more.

Now that we have a working definition of what qualifies as a brand ambassador, it’s time to begin shaping a program that works for your ideal audiences.

Identify Your Goals

Before setting off on any new adventure, you’ll need to define your destination. Only then can you map out your journey. Creating an ambassador program for your clothing brand is no different.

The first step in creating an army of devoted ambassadors is to figure out your goals for the program. Are you trying to reach an audience you’ve never quite tapped into before? Working to boost word-of-mouth marketing for your brand? Generate buzz around a new product launch?

Once you have your objectives on paper, examine your goals to determine the key performance indicators (KPIs) you’ll track to measure success. Those KPIs can include factors like number of ambassadors in your program or clicks to your site from ambassadors’ social profiles.

Define Your Program’s Structure

Next up, you’ll need to develop a program structure focused on delivering a win-win outcome for both your brand and your ambassadors. Here are a few questions to answer as you draft up your program’s guidelines:

·       Who will be in charge of managing the program and communicating with ambassadors? Will this be an internal employee or are you looking to hire an agency?

·       How will ambassadors join the program? Will there be an online application process or will ambassadors be hand selected by your team?

·       What kind of compensation will you offer ambassadors? This can vary from free products and covering travel expenses to industry events to cold hard cash.

·       Will ambassadors be contracted to produce certain types and quantities of content in a specified period? What will those formats and numbers be?

Let Your Ambassadors Take the Lead

One of the most difficult yet most rewarding parts of having a team of brand ambassadors is sitting back and letting your brand be represented by an external force. Remember, your brand ambassadors are independent of your brand—they are advocates for your products and messaging because they truly believe in what you have to offer.

A key component of any successful brand ambassador program is authenticity. The most effective way of achieving the level of transparency your ideal audiences are looking for is to allow your ambassadors to truly own their work for your brand. If you’re constantly in your ambassadors’ ears telling them what to say and how to act, your customers will see right through them and disqualify your brand as a viable option.

Keep Ambassadors Engaged

Loosening the reins on your ambassadors doesn’t mean you can stop working at keeping them engaged. In fact, the hands-off nature of ambassador management means you can spend more time devising valuable opportunities for your ambassadors to get involved with your brand. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Host private events exclusively for ambassadors. National or international brand? Foot the bill for your top ambassadors to attend your event and make it an experience they won’t soon forget. Don’t forget to create a hashtag for your shindig so your ambassadors can keep sharing their passion for your brand and all you do on their social channels.

Make your ambassadors the stars of your next marketing campaign. From TV commercials to social media campaigns, featuring your brand’s ambassadors on your advertising efforts does double duty by showcasing real people wearing and loving your product while showing the world yours is a great brand to partner with.

Highlight top ambassadors on your social profiles, linking back to their feeds or websites to generate additional exposure for them while showcasing your gratitude and appreciation for the work they do for your brand.

Measure and Reward Successes

As mentioned earlier, measuring progress is a cornerstone of any successful ambassador program. To get where you want to go, you need to know both where you’re coming from and how far you’ve come.

While quantitative data like impressions, sales numbers and follower counts may be part of your program measurement, don’t discount qualitative sources, such as ambassador videos gone viral, countless hours of quality user-generated content and more, as indicators of your program’s achievements.

And of course, everybody wants to feel like their actions are making a difference. Recognizing your brand ambassadors for the work they do will help not only retain your current talent but attract new waves of loyal brand representatives. Do this through social media shout outs, handwritten notes accompanying a shipment of new products or developing a section on your brand’s website to feature and highlight ambassadors.

Ready to tap into the referral power of brand ambassadors for your apparel brand? Follow these five steps to create and launch a successful, bottom-line boosting program or reach out to our agency and let the pros take care of you.