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Usually, when we hear the words “brand ambassador”, celebrities like Michael Jordan and Elizabeth Hurley fronting campaigns for major brands such as Nike and Estée Lauder jump to mind. However, brand ambassadors can be non-celebrities who go public to promote a product or service, or even in-house corporate enthusiasts, like Apple’s Steve Jobs.

Brand ambassadors are the “face” of a product or service. They interface with the press and customers, attend public events such a product launches and, increasingly, mobilise and engage with consumers on digital social networking platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

Adding this feature to your marketing arsenal may be worth considering – here are the pros and cons to consider:

Pros
– A successful brand ambassador can have a positive influence on consumer perceptions. This is especially true when a company is trying to turn around its brand. For instance, David Tlale, a brand ambassador for Volvo, lends a fresh, unexpected spin to what has been traditionally seen as a conservative, unadventurous brand.
– The human experience the ambassador brings to a campaign can be massively effectively. For example, Angelina Jolie as a UN Goodwill Ambassador publicizes her site visits to disaster areas and people tend to listen and believe her when she speaks out about humanitarian emergencies.
– Brand ambassadors who embody success, beauty, wealth and happiness tap into the aspirational values of the brand, making it more sought after. A slim, fit looking representative is often the best inspiration for customers to buy a slimming product.

Cons
– You cannot control what your ambassador does. Tiger Woods is a prime example of someone whose wholesome image crumbled quickly after allegations of multiple affairs went public, leaving many of the brands he was affiliated to in a difficult position.
– The financial investment may not be worth it if your ambassador is not a good match for your brand, or lacks credibility. If there are a strong, unshakable beliefs about your brand, having an ambassador may be ineffective, or even seem to be misleading on your part.
– The ambassador’s popularity could compete with or supersede the brand. The public can so strongly identify with the brand ambassador that their impact is disproportionate, as is the case with Paris Hilton who was signed on by Fila sportswear.

A brand ambassador can be a huge asset, but manage this resource well. Sign legally binding agreements to ensure that they live up to the values of your brand if necessary. But most importantly, understand that he or she is only one component of your overall marketing strategy and you still have to protect your brand and business.

Puseletso Mompei is a communications consultant and trainer. She offers communications and media training for corporate executives, spokespersons, managers and entrepreneurs. Contact her at puseletso@kwazicommunications.co.za.