Despite what advertising tells you, supermodels don’t generally eat mile-high bacon burgers.
Yet this is exactly the type of fabricated reality we have come to expect from marketing. Often celebrities are hired as spokespeople for products they would clearly never use in real life. Actors in stock photos portray overly airbrushed people faking handshakes while billboards proclaim out of touch messages like “Hotness comes in all shapes and sizes” … as long as that size happens to be less than a size 2.
It is no wonder brands and advertising continually rate dramatically low on every survey of trusted forms of communication among consumers. This is the modern believability crisis and it has been fueled in no small part by the lack of truthfulness in marketing and advertising. So how can we stop the bad habits that have put us in this situation and change the way we approach marketing?
Some brands are trying to answer this challenge by turning to deep campaigns focused on transparency like Domino’s Pizza Turnaround or McDonald’s latest efforts out of Australia to take consumers inside how their products are made. These attempts at a sort of “radical transparency” are certainly great PR strategies and work well in crisis situations. What they don’t do, though, is generate any real positive word of mouth. A great message will still have limited impact if you have to be the one delivering it on behalf of your own brand.
There is one thing that is always better: having your best customers share their experiences and passion for your products and services on your behalf. Finding those people and giving them the right incentives is tough. If you can do it, though, you have something far more powerful than brand spokespeople … you have brand ambassadors.
Brand ambassadors are more than good customers. They are the individuals who love what you do so much that they are highly likely to volunteer to tell other people about it. And they exist for almost every brand – if you can just locate them. As a brand marketing guy, I sometimes talk about my own experiences with brands that I love. One I have talked often about in the past (and even worked for as a client) is tech brand Lenovo.
For the last 15 years, I have never purchased or used a laptop that wasn’t a ThinkPad. I’m so loyal to their notebooks that I have worked at places where I actively rejected corporate shifts to get people onto Apple laptops and fiercely defended my passion for the functionality, amazing keyboard, and overall experience of using a Thinkpad.
A few weeks ago, I saw an ad for Lincoln that struck me immediately as brilliant because they managed to do something very rare. They converted a spokesperson into a brand ambassador. The ad features Matthew McConaughey driving a Lincoln while speaking to the camera. In the first ad, he shares “I’ve been driving a Lincoln long before anyone paid me to drive one. I just liked it.”
That’s how I always felt about Lenovo. So when I met one of their brand managers a few weeks ago and she mentioned an opportunity for me to officially join a brand ambassador program they have been running for influencers called Lenovo INsiders, I jumped at the chance. Sure, getting to try the newest tech gadgets for free is appealing – but like many bloggers I often get invited to this type of program to get free stuff. Most of the time, that alone isn’t interesting enough. With Lenovo, it’s different.
I believe in their products and the quality of the machines. I’m a fifteen year long evangelist, brand advocate and customer. I’ve purchased thousands of dollars of equipment from the brand in the past. And now I’m officially a Brand Ambassador. So on occasion I’ll be sharing my experience with my new Thinkpad X1 Carbon and the new Yoga 10+ tablet. When they offer me any special discounts or offers, I’ll pass them along.
From a marketing strategy point of view, my hope is to use this as an example of what can go right when you find passionate people to talk about your brand, and then give them the tools and support to do it.
Brand ambassadors will always be better than spokespeople. When you find them, it can even lead you toward better marketing. You know, the kind of marketing where supermodels don’t eat bacon burgers.