Posted: July 11, 2010
It seems to be the season for requests, for no sooner had I hit “post” on my last request-inspired piece about brand stewardship that another popped into my in-tray. “What do you think are the attributes to look for in a brand ambassador?” it asked. Who could resist…?
As before, let’s get the terminology straight first. The take I have on “brand ambassador” is someone who represents a brand personally to the public. This could mean a chairman – Richard Branson comes to mind as someone who fulfills the role admirably – or a celebrity who has no executive responsibility, for instance Lewis Hamilton plays the role for Mercedes, Tag Heuer and other exotic, speed-orientated brands.
A brand ambassador can play a powerful role in the development of a brand and will definitely help emerging brands establish themselves far quicker that they otherwise might. But, be warned, as with all communications, the wrong person could do your business and your brand more harm than good.
The brand ambassador relationship is, to some extent, symbiotic. It relies on PR – that’s press relations rather than public relations. Basically your ambassador should be a darling of the press, the kind of person who is followed around by paparazzi or featured in Sunday supplements … but only for the right reasons. I suspect that the queue of brands for Peter Doherty, for instance, would be quite a bit shorter than that for Pete Townshend! However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that it’s all one-way traffic, because events that your organisation arranges will often provide the kind of press opportunity that some celebrities consider of benefit to them, so negotiate.
The brand ambassador gig is a kind of extreme form of sponsorship and to get your money’s worth (and this is never a cheap option) your subject has to relate to and enhance features of your business. For example a few years back I was involved when Skoda Auto first looked at sponsorship as a way to take their Central European brand to the West and beyond. The brief was to find a subject that would reinforce the speed, skill and excitement of their revitalised (courtesy of the Volkswagen Group) brand and appeal primarily to European and American markets. We eventually matched them up with the Ice Hockey World Championships and the relationship was so successful they extended their involvement in the sport to national leagues, the Czech national team and national league teams in other countries. However, the relationship with individual personalities can be deeper and more valuable that the broader benefits of events or teams and that’s waht I see to be the biggest difference between sponsorship and brand ambassadorship.
If you want to get the best out of the relationship, before you go out shopping for a brand ambassador you simply must have a clear understanding of your brand and what it stands for. That might sound straightforward enough but there are a lot of businesses out there art aren’t as clear as they should be on this issue and there’s no better way of achieving this than with my Brand Discovery programme. This is a series of workshops, analyses and presentations that culminate in an eleven-point Brand Model that clearly defines your brand. The next step is to identify the kinds of people who are likely to represent those elements – the core values and beliefs upon which the relationships with stakeholders (that’s internal and external) are founded. I call these Brandships.
The brand ambassador you eventually partner with is, in effect, a shorthand communication for your brand. His or her relationship with your target market gives you an instant audience and the kind of credibility you will never achieve from other conventional communications forms. You can build all manner of constraints into the deal you strike with your eventual ambassador – You’ll notice for example that Lewis Hamilton always puts a Tag watch on before press conferences and like most other sportspeople, Hamilton probably gets bonuses from his sponsors for winning races or in relation to his position in the rankings (because success generates positive press coverage) but when your ambassador is caught behaving contrary to your brands values and beliefs the relationship can become a liability, so a conduct clause is a vital part of any contract of this kind. The publicity from a celebrity gone off the rails is always bigger short-term than anything they could generate from positive actions and the fall-out for the brand can be momentous – think
Fame or notoriety is always an important factor in your choice of ambassador because its like the readership figures of a newspaper – they define it’s value, but there’s more to the ambassadorial role. For instance, the values and beliefs of your ambassador are just as important as the exposure he or she gets.
If you are getting the idea that the brand ambassador idea is beyond you just now don’t throw the idea out entirely. Just because your budget doesn’t stretch to the kind of numbers a big name celeb would command doesn’t count you out of he game. Give me fifty low profile individuals who’ll accurately and reliably represent everything that’s good about a brand for free any day and every organisation has that resource at its disposal already. I’m talking, of course, about harnessing the ambassadorial value of your own brand community, Your employees and customers. I’ve seen organisations pouring millions into sponsorship while their greatest and cheapest resource goes untapped. Any business that understands brand development, of course, will be running an internal marketing strategy and nurturing this group with a really good internal marketing strategy will cost you the tiniest part of a regular sponsorship package and give you a great return on your investment. Organisations that are good at this are John Lewis in the UK and SouthWest Airlines in the US, but there are probably hundreds around.
With the world becoming ever-more competitive and the squeeze firmly on, no business can afford to underutilise its resource and Brandships are probably as valuable as assets can get. If you are brand conscious you’ll know that already and be developing and leveraging your Brandships, so re-adjusting your focus to include the brand ambassador remit isn’t going to add much to your effort or investment. Its worth the consideration of any business these days.
Posted: July 4, 2010
Last week I was put on the spot when someone asked me for my views on “brand stewardship”. Apart from the fact that its like asking for my view on world peace – I could either just say “I’m in favour of it” or talk for three hours - the term “brand stewardship” poses a question in itself. I mean what is it? What’s the difference between “stewardship” and “management” or “development” and, given that anything to do with a brand touches on every aspect of a business, where should I start (or end for that matter)?
Let’s begin with nomenclature. My guess is that someone, somewhere, at some time in the past, came up with the “stewardship” concept in order to accommodate the fact that the closest we can ever get to owning a brand is in the role of minder. But why not “management”? I assume that this must be based on the belief that “management” sounds a bit too formal and structured for something that is very human and organic. So far, even though I have a loathing of the terminology that marketing people think up to make themselves appear smart, but actually just confuses everybody, I can live with all of this and if I’m right, I guess I understand the question and whether you call it stewardship, management or development it’s all about caring for a brand. I’m going to assume that a brand steward is like the steward of a golf club – he’s there to make sure processes are adhered to and everything is kept in shape but he/she doesn’t have an executive role. So, let me try to summarise my views on “brand stewardship”.
I must have explained my understanding of what a brand is hundreds of times, but to this day defining “brand” even among the “marketers” who participate, remains a critical component of most of my workshops and seminars. Such are the vagaries and inconsistencies within the marketing business. I view brands as communities, which, like any other is really just a group of people with something (or things) in common. A large part of this is values and beliefs. Some members of a brand community create a product or services that reflect these beliefs and values and others buy and use them.
People buy BMW’s because Brandenbergischen Motorenwerke belive in things like quality, engineering excellence and innovation and the cars and motorcycles they produce are manifestations of that. If you need a car and these things are important to you, its logical that you’ll feel comfortable in the BMW community. Similarly, Apple is all about innovation and style, so if these subjects are important to you, you’ll probably own a Mac., i-Phone or i-Pad.
These brands and others have taken the time and trouble to drive awareness of what they stand for and as a result the brands themselves have become icons for a clearly defined set of values – you have YUPPIES driving BMWs and then there’s “white van man”. Provided the reality measures up to the promise you’ll have the reassurance of knowing what to expect from a product wearing a familiar label. It works the other way too. Owning a BMW or a Mac is a badge of belonging to a community – a symbol of your beliefs – and because, as Maslow revealed, most of us are insecure, sales of many products are driven by people who have a need to wear a badge denoting our belonging to a group. Why else would we wear clothing large areas of which are taken up with advertisements for their manufacturers?
However, this is a bit simplistic. Few people, for instance, will find a single brand community that represents everything they stand for so most of us combine a portfolio of brands to represent different aspects of our belief system. If you think of a brand community as a residential community you’ll recognise that you choose to live in a place because it is “your kind of place” but because the brand thing is not exclusive, when you move in you bring the trappings of your other communities with you. In this way, while joining the community may broaden your horizons, at the same time, to some extent, you’ll enrich the community with the stuff you bring with you. That explains why brand communities are constantly changing.
All truly great brands are like Marmite. However broad and diversified your brand community may be you are never going to appeal to everyone, and you shouldn’t want to. Brands with broad appeal are inherently weak because, along with the need to belong we also have a need to express our individuality. That’s where quirky niche brands play their part in life’s rich tapestry. A strong brand is normally vivid or distinctive and while stark differentiation like this means it won’t be to everyone’s taste, distinctive brands will foster deep relationships with community members (I call these “Brandships”) and strong loyalty. These factors are the keys to sales, profit and longevity.
Difference is very often synonymous with newness. Its relatively easy to be different when you are the new kid on the block, but the success that your newness drives will take you ever closer to becoming “the establishment”. The more successful you become the greater the challenge of maintaining your difference becomes. A successful brand will recognise that it is the difference of the products it makes rather than the products themselves that is responsible for their success and as their products become familiar and competitors bring look-alikes to market, they’ll find new ways of representing “difference”, just as Apple have done by constantly changing their products and introducing radical new ideas. Of course, some new products and ideas will fail, but failure is good because it is a product of innovation, change, experimentation. While longevity can be a valuable and reassuring asset it is important to recognise that having been around for a long time may not count for much if you’ve not changed anything about your business in all that time.
Brand stewardship in many ways is just the same as any kind of management or indeed parenthood. Its mostly about facilitation, providing the scope, tools and resources and opening the doors to opportunity, guiding where necessary, but avoiding imposing your own values or rules on your charge. Its about providing opportunities for discourse, listening to what your members are saying both to you and each other, providing what they need to do the things they want to do (Which also means predicting what they will need in the future), offering up suggestions and being around to fix things that go wrong. In other words, providing access, introducing communications like on-line or social networking, fuelling and being involved in discussion, collecting insights and data, analysing it and developing products and services that because of all of this you can be confident your community will welcome and generally policing.
In order to do all of this you first of all have to be absolutely clear what the brand and its community is all about – its that values and beliefs thing again – and to do this you’ll need a methodology to help you condense, what is a complex thing into as simple a form as possible. My Brand Discovery programme introduces such methodology and using it any business can create an eleven-element Brand Model that will sum up their brand. But that’s just the beginning. You then have to apply it to your business, making sure that the actions you take on every level of the organisation reflect and support the essence of your brand. That will take a brand Steward into every corner of your business where he/she will influence pretty well everything that is done. This can be a risky job in organisations that don’t already have a team-playing culture, which is why Brand Discovery also provides an ongoing management system that engages everyone in the organisation, gives them the tools they need to ensure that their decisions and actions are aligned to the brand promise and ensuring they are fully involved in the process of keeping your brand alive.
Good brand stewardship drives things like Cupidtino the new dating service for Apple users, Saturn’s annual owners factory tour, Yeti bikes’ bashes, Harley Davidson’s HOG chapters and many other different elements of the communities of discerning brands around the world. Good brand stewardship is the reason why innovative organisations innovate and efficient businesses are efficient, but, as I said earlier, it’s a very big subject and this is a very simple answer. If you want the whole nine-yards we’ll need a much longer discussion.