Grant Leboff: One of the big buzzes that people talk about today is the whole influencer marketing piece and leveraging others, which I think more and more businesses and companies do and explore. How important are influencers, brand ambassadors, in the experiential world and how is it best to utilise them?
Shirra Smilansky: Brand ambassadors are unbelievably crucial in experiential marketing and live brand experiences and in business as a whole really. But who are they? I think that's the really important question that people often aren't asking themselves and do need to, because your brand ambassador is not just that VIP. It's not just some Olympic athlete endorsing a Nike sneaker or an Adidas athlete. A brand ambassador can be anyone from... the cashier at the till of your local market is a brand ambassador for that supermarket. The way that they personify that brand in the real world and they interact with that consumer in that very crucial moment of purchase, probably does everything to create that lasting impression in the mind of that consumer as to how they feel about that brand and whether they'll be loyal, whether they will return.
So the brands that are really moving in a very intelligent way nowadays are separating their influence with the pyramid into a hierarchical - that's why it's what I call it a pyramid - a kind of hierarchal triangle shape where at the very top you've got this tiny wedge of VIP style influencers. That might be an endorsement which you managed to get from somebody very influential, the massive reach.
If you go one level down, you've got a different tier of; still to mass, but maybe a more organic kind of an influencer. So it could be a social media influencer who isn't necessarily a VIP or a celebrity endorsement, they're not necessarily a big global expert, but they have got that following on mass.
Then one level down from that, again, a slightly bigger cross section of your triangle. You've got a broader audience around engaged consumers and staff.
So who are your brand ambassadors on the front line? Who are your people who actually engage with your audience? Whether it be on the phone, remotely, via some kind of chat desk or in the real world physically at your store, at your live brand experience. So in that final wedge of the triangle, you've got your engaged customer group and I think that's a massively overlooked segment of your brand ambassador population. If you look at a consumer who has partaken in a real world, added value, live brand experience with your product or service, whether that be a deep product engagement in store or they've partaken in some kind of experiential event or experience that you've taken out on the road. How do you treat those consumers differently to that broader non engaged population?
Actually if you look at it on the advocacy pipeline, the more times that you've engaged with someone and the greater depth of that interaction, the chances are you've moved them along from simply being a target audience member or a customer to actually being a brand fan, an advocate, and ultimately, the holy grail, an evangelist. So to start to move people through those advocacy stages, we realise they're actually becoming brand ambassadors on our behalf where they'll sing the praises of the brand. They'll do that message communication without any prompt, without any payment, they'll do it because they have that genuine emotional connection and that love for that brand. So obviously we've seen an enormous sense of brand advocacy for brands like Apple in the past where you got that classic Mac versus PC debate lasting over 10 minutes.
So how do we create an engagement programme which looks at different types of brand ambassadors? Who are our brand ambassadors at different points? Is that the VIP? Is it the social media influencer? Is it our staff? Is it that more deeply engaged group of consumers that we've recently spoken to at our events and had some kind of added value experience? It's probably a bit of all of them. So really not ignoring any one brand ambassador group, but looking at how you cultivate them, and how you incubate them, to move them through that advocate pipeline that we spoke about, towards the holy grail of evangelism
Grant Leboff: Are there any rules of thumb for businesses that perhaps, haven't got so much experience of this, engaging with those brand ambassadors? And obviously there are different people from the very top of that pyramid to the bottom of it. Are there any rules of thumb, businesses should be thinking about in order to engage those brand ambassadors, whether they happen to be customers that have been part of a live experience or perhaps further up that triangle, a sports personality or whatever it is. But are their rules of thumb in, in that engagement and making it work.
Shirra Smilansky: One of the very interesting items that I've come across over the years is a concept called the Hawthorne Effect. The Hawthorne Effect is basically where if you consult - I think in this case the first example where it was coined, was about work in a factory - If you consult people on the outcome of anything, if you consult them, take their input, take their feedback and make them feel listened to, they become passionate and they become advocates. So when consulting consumers, they can actually become advocates faster. So what I've seen brands start to quite successfully is to take that group of already engaged, early stage brand ambassadors - so you're, a customer that's recently become a more engaged grade of customer. How do you incubate them?
You can actually garner their input. You can run different things past them that are exclusive, that they haven't been seen before. That was the kind of juxtaposition with the Hawthorne Effect. It was the combination of both consulting people in their opinion and giving them access to something exclusive, made them feel very special. So not only do you benefit by gaining market research input and actually getting the ideas and crowdsourced concepts from your customers, but they will get the opportunity to feel like they partook in the process of evolving your brand with you. And really, always be transparent, always be authentic and don't start any kind of communication that you can't maintain.
The worst thing you could do as a brand is try and build some kind of old singing or dancing, incubated fan community and then not moderate it, not give them any added value and not maintain it. I've seen too many brands, simply set up random Facebook accounts or microsite communities and shelve them 12 months later when the new marketing director comes in. That can actually do more damage than good to go from intense regular communications, to no communication or some kind of scatter gun, inconsistent approach, which consumers are not stupid. And they will see straight through that.