Brand ambassador is a marketing term for a person employed by an organization or company to promote its products or services within the activity known as branding. The brand ambassador is meant to embody the corporate identity in appearance, demeanor, values and ethics. The key element of brand ambassadors lies in their ability to use promotional strategies that will strengthen the customer-product/service relationship and influence a large audience to buy and consume more. Predominantly, a brand ambassador is known as a positive spokesperson appointed as an internal or external agent to boost product/service sales and create brand awareness. Today, brand ambassador as a term has expanded beyond celebrity branding to self branding or personal brand management. Professional figures such as good-will and non-profit ambassadors, promotional models, testimonials and brand advocates have formed as an extension of the same concept, taking into account the requirements of every company.
Rise of brand managers
The concept of brands and brand marketing have evolved over decades. Traditionally, consumers were familiar with only a few products that were widely available in the market. Beginning from the 1870s a large number of companies began pushing 'branded products,' which familiarized consumers with more brands. From 1915 through the 1920s, manufacturer brands were established and developed further, which increased companies' reliance on brand advertising and marketing. However, the Great Depression led to a severe drawback in brand progress, as companies were left with few ways to increase revenue and get their business back on track. For the sake of their brand and survival in a hopeless market, companies such as Procter and Gamble, General Foods and Unilever developed the discipline of brand management. The "brand manager system" refers to the type of organizational structure in which brands or products are assigned to managers who are responsible for their performance. They not only aim towards creating brand awareness within the consumer market but also coordinating corporate resources.
Era of change
From the early- to mid-1950s to the mid-1960s, more firms moved toward adopting brand managers. The sudden boom in the economy, followed by a growing middle class population and birth rate, increased the demand for products within the market. This led to a steady competition among a number of manufacturers who found it hard to get their products noticed amidst the pre-existing brands. By the year 1967, 84% of large consumer packaged goods manufacturers had brand managers. Brand managers were also being referred to as "product managers" whose sole priority shifted from simply brand building to boosting up the company's sales and profit margin. "The product manager is man of the hour in marketing organizations.... Modern marketing needs the product manager," raved one 1960's article. Because so many marketing gurus recommended this strategy, it spread among a large number of corporations, eventually becoming an overused managerial fad. For several years to follow, many companies recklessly hired brand/product managers using the traditional P&G exemplar. Even though employing a brand manager played an essential role in an effective marketing strategy, it was often mandated in haste with unrealistic expectations of prompt results.
Over the course of several years, brand managers continued to exist as a medium that would help boost company revenue. In the 1990s, Marketing UK highlighted that brand managers are a part of an "outdated organizational system" while "the brand manager system has encouraged brand proliferation, which in tum has led to debilitating cannibalization and resource constraints." As a result, this system ran its course and was termed as ill-suited for the current environment.
Evolution of brand managers to brand ambassadors
From the 1990s to early 2000s, brand management itself evolved as brand asset management. Davis defined Brand Asset Management Strategy as “a balanced investment approach for building the meaning of the brand, communicating it internally and externally, and leveraging it to increase brand profitability, brand asset value, and brand returns over time.” Traditional marketing strategies that included brand management focused on brand managers as the primary spokespersons for the brand. However, Davis maintains that this model never died down.
In fact, from during the 1990s, this model changed to incorporate brand champions and ambassadors in place of brand managers. Thus, brand asset management included a reformed version of brand managers known as brand ambassadors. A brand ambassador was mainly employed by an organization to document its products and services in a positive light. Apart from being an important aspect of marketing and branding strategies, a brand ambassador has the ability to serve versatile functions as per the need of the company. Often, they form the face of the company, business or organization they work for and are looked upon as a reliable source of information regarding the product. Much like its predecessor, brand ambassadors need to be carefully selected in order to serve optimum function for the brand. Since their inception, brand ambassadors have acted more as "endorsers" or "brand champions" which is still a relative and evolving term. They serve multiple functions to a brand and have integrated into various forms that companies can use and customize according to their needs.
Along with profitability, brand ambassadors focus on establishing credibility of a product or service amongst the target audience. This concept is also known as customer engagement; by keeping the customers satisfied with their product or service experience, a brand ambassador ensures that these customers will be loyal to the brand. As a number of marketing strategies have moved into the digital sphere, so have brand ambassadors.
Using celebrities as brand ambassadors is hardly a new concept. Creswell highlights that, "film stars in the 1940s posed for cigarette companies, and Bob Hope pitched American Express in the late 1950s. Joe Namath slipped into Hanes pantyhose in the 1970s, and Bill Cosby jiggled for Jell-O for three decades. Sports icons like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods elevated the practice, often scoring more in endorsement and licensing dollars than from their actual sports earnings."
Large corporations realized that the overall image of a brand ambassador within society is an integral element to attract consumer attention. As a result, there was a substantial increase in celebrities as brand ambassadors, it was assumed that integrating a celebrity to a brand would increase chances of it being sold, which made companies value the business ideal of a 'brand ambassador.' The case study of the famous watch brand Omega, illustrates that the brand faced a severe crash in sales in the 1970s due to the Japanese Quartz phenomenon. Michault believes that, "by the time Omega had seen the error of its ways, the damage to its reputation was done. From the 1970s to the end of the 1990s, it was no longer seen as a luxury watch company." It was then for the first time in 1995, that Ms. Cindy Crawford became the new face of Omega, introducing the age of the celebrity brand ambassador. The man behind this marketing ploy was believed to be Jean-Claude Biver, whose strategy changed the entire landscape for branding in the future. During this time, many companies expanded their annual budgets to meet the financial liabilities that came with celebrity endorsing.
Celebrities are popular and followed by many people so it makes sense that marketers benefit from using them in order to get their message across. A celebrity can capture consumers' attention link the brand with their own personal image and associate their positive attributes with those of the product concerned. However, in some cases celebrity branding could go terribly off the script and affect product revenue.For example, recent doping charges on Lance Armstrong cost him $30 million in endorsements. Celebrity, world-famous athlete, he stepped down as the chairman of Livestrong. On the other hand, Nike sponsor to the athlete and U.S cycling team stated in a press release,"due to the seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade, it is with great sadness that we have terminated our contract with him."
According to Giriharidas,"the personal-branding field or self-brand traces its origins to the 1997 essay “The Brand Called You,” by the management expert Tom Peters." Contemporary theories of branding suggest that brand ambassadors do not need to have a formal relationship with a company in order to promote its products/services. In particular the Web 2.0 allows all individuals to choose a brand and come up with their own strategies to represent it. Biro believes that "everyone owns their own personal brand. Companies and leadership must see the value of this concept for a successful social workplace recipe. If a brand ambassador chooses to represent the company and/or its brands, the individual should do so in a transparent way."  Self-branding is an effective way to help new businesses save the hassle of hiring brand ambassadors, training them and then realizing they are not good enough for the company. In addition, it is an effective tool in order to target a niche audience and allows one to take sole control of their own brand representation. On the other hand, branding one's own product/service creates an instant connection with the audience and helps the brand stand out in comparison to other known brands that use popular celebrities or hire brand ambassadors. Reis propagates her branding mantra, "think about other people. Think about the impressions you are making on friends, neighbors, business associates. Think about your brand." Creating a personal branding strategy is an effective way to attract audience attention. She gives the example of Marissa Mayer, CEO Yahoo. According to Laura Ries, Marissa is successful because she has what most people don’t – "she has a brand."
A Goodwill ambassador is an honorary title and often linked with non-profit related causes. Their primary function is to help non-profit organizations spread their message across. Predominantly, goodwill ambassadors are celebrity advocates or known personalities, who use their fame and talent to get funding, donations, encourage volunteers to participate and raise awareness towards the organization's cause. In the past many organizations such as UNESCO have endorsed their cause through UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. These celebrities or known personalities are picked according to the organizations' intended audience and if fully invested in the cause they are promoting they can greatly influence the process of persuading others. Goodwill ambassadors make widely publicized visits to the world's most troubled regions, and make appeals on behalf of their people and the organization. For example, the United Nations Goodwill Ambassadors include famous celebrities like Angelina Jolie for UNHCR, David Beckham, Shakira for UNICEF, Christina Aguilera for WFP and Nicole Kidman for UN Women.
A promotional model exists in the form of a spokesmodel, trade show model and convention model. Each of these models carry out functions beyond representation of the company in a positive light. The main difference between a brand ambassador and a promotional model is in the way they represent the product/service. In many cases, unlike brand ambassadors, a promotional model may give the audience a live experience that reflects the product or service being branded. They may be required to promote the brand at simply one to many occasions while a brand ambassador is often tied down to one particular brand through the means of a contract over a period of time.Promotional models are required to be physically present at the venue as per the requirements of the marketing campaign, however brand ambassadors are most often referred to as the face of the brand. Promotional models are most often found in trade shows exhibits (in some cases referred to as booth babes), conventions and in print, digital or selected advertisements for the brand from time to time. Booth babes as promotional models at trade show exhibits and conventions have attained much criticism. Florence highlights that the concept of booth babes implies that, “women aren’t truly welcome in that world, because the moment you objectify something it isn’t part of anything. It’s just there. It’s just something else to be consumed. Fundamentally, it depicts a woman as a product."
Testimonial is simply a way of conveying assurance, in this case assurance is provided by the testimonial of the company or product/service in question in a written or spoken manner. A testimonial does not advertise the product freely unlike the role of the brand ambassador. A brand ambassador performs the function of a testimonial but a testimonial is not a brand ambassador. By simply providing a testimonial for a product/service, one need not be an ambassador for the same. For example, a customer can be a testimonial, since a testimony could be formal or informal "word of mouth" advocating the positive facets of the product. On the other hand, a consumer could not always be brand ambassador, since the latter is more commercial and is often considered as a position bound by monetary and professional liabilities. To a certain degree, celebrity endorsements provide testimonials for the product/service they are marketing. However, with the advent of the digital age testimonials have reached an all time high. A large number of websites feature a "go to" tab where one can put down reviews or testimonials for the product/service. This has led to an increase in fake reviews, where companies have chosen to pay people to get their positive feedback. According to a study conducted by the research firm Gartner, "one in seven reviews/testimonials posted online by the end of next year is likely to be false. Other estimates put the number as high as one in three."
Fuggetta highlights that a brand advocate is a marketing term for "highly satisfied customers and others who go out of their way to actively promote the products they love and care about, they are a different breed altogether. " Further, he states that they are 50% more influential than an average customer. Often a positive experience with a brand, successful customer-service relationship motivates a brand advocate to express their positive feelings towards a brand. Traditionally, a brand advocate would sing praises of a brand and this would circulate through 'word of mouth' or other similar channels. However, in the digital age social media tools have allowed brand advocates to express themselves on forums such as Twitter, Facebook by 'tweeting' about a brand experience or 'liking' the brand itself. Rubin believes, "when customers seek you out via social, they’re looking for an opportunity to build an emotional connection. So give it to them." This will help enhance customer engagement and increase brand awareness among the customers. A brand advocate performs functions higher than that of a testimonial and much lower than that of a promotional model or brand ambassador, since brand advocacy implies active participation with the brand involved. Advocates if formally hired by a company must be placed in a higher position and looked upon as co-leads; using their insight, thoughtful marketing approaches, will ensure that a brand gains recognition in the market.
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