Why your company needs a brand ambassador and how to get it right

If you’ve dipped your toe in the world of athlete sponsorship, chances are you’re already feeling the benefit of being associated with a known face on the circuit.

If you want to increase your brand exposure and deepen customer engagement, finding a brand ambassador is the next logical step. Here’s our guide on how to get it right.

What is the difference between a brand ambassador and a sponsored athlete?

A sponsored rider is generally someone who talks about a brand on social media in return for products or services. While sponsoring a rider can bring many benefits to your business, it’s often an informal relationship – in fact you may never actually meet your sponsored riders.

A brand ambassador, however, is far more closely linked to your brand and your values. They should embody your corporate identity – from their appearance, to the way they behave.

Jane Davies, Equine Brand Manager, at Connolly’s RED MILLS, explains: “For me the difference is about the activation and the relationship. We won’t work with anyone who doesn’t genuinely believe in our products and who isn’t aligned to our core values.”

“A brand ambassador will help bring your brand to life and through their channels you can show-case the real-life benefits of your products. For example, we are dedicated to producing a feed that is designed to support health, wellbeing and performance. Through our ambassadors we get to see and showcase the fruits of our labour.”

What to expect from a brand ambassador

Your brand ambassador will be your company spokesperson, whether that is through public appearances or social media. Using their name and influence, they will help strengthen your customer-product/service relationship in order to increase sales and boost brand awareness.

This could be speaking in public, schmoozing with clients at events, or giving guided tours of their yard – however, most of their networking and promoting will be done online.

“Social media has had a massive impact on reshaping the expectations and opportunities linked to ambassador partnerships, there is definitely a notable shift from ambassador in the traditional sense, to the role of “influencer,” says Jane.

Irish showjumper David Simpson agrees that the role of a brand ambassador has changed a lot since the rise of social media.

“I still do meet and greet stuff, but it’s all about followers on social media and being up to date with your content, so we make sure our Twitter, Instagram and Facebook pages are interactive, with all the latest news,” David explains.

“We are always open to doing campaigns with our brands – we did a Charles Owen take over day where all our Instagram stories were based around their brand. It’s good for us, as it puts out our brand, too. Charles Owen are very well established, and I believe if you work with the right people you go in the right direction.”

Picking the right brand ambassador

Picking the right person for the job is key to the success of the relationship. Not only do you need to find someone confident enough to talk about your brand in public, and with a strong presence on social media, they also need to fit with your brand.

As Jane says, a partnership will work best when the fit is right, and it feels natural for them to engage with your brand and products. They can then communicate their experience to both their audience and your audience.

“Matching our core values is key. RED MILLS is a fifth-generation family business, we specialise in high-performance equine nutrition. Everything we do is based on trust, quality and consistency. We put the horse at the centre of all we do.

“Working with riders that share and embody these principles, in their stable management routines, beliefs, practices, training, and communications is essential.”

You need to do your research to find riders that share your work ethic, have similar goals and will portray the right message to your audience.

“There is so much you can get a feel for by following riders online – such as results and progression, and even their mind-set, in terms of their attitude towards success and failure.

“Of course, you must meet them and build-up a relationship too. Our team is actively involved within all aspects of the equestrian industry, so we get to know a lot of people and build networks.”

It’s not just the business that needs to take rider values into consideration when picking the right ambassador. An athlete worth the investment will only go with brands they rate and use themselves. Consumers are a savvy bunch and will quickly spot a rider that is only with a brand for a few freebies.

“I’m a firm believer that I use the products of any brand I work with,” says David. “If I don’t feel like it works for me, even if it’s free, I won’t endorse it. I believe in karma and if I wouldn’t buy it myself, I wouldn’t recommend it.”

Creating the right deal with your brand ambassador

Your brand ambassador may become a friend, or indeed the relationship may have started out as a friendship, but it’s vital you draw up a contract you both agree on. You need to address both your expectations – and what you hope to get out of the relationship, in terms of brand exposure for you and financial gain for them.

“You have to work with the business owner and get every last detail in the contract sorted,” says David.

Once the relationship is established you can then identify new opportunities that arise. This could be anything from creating a social media campaign to going into partnership with the rider to buy a horse.

Ensuring a happy and profitable relationship

The key to a long, happy relationship with your brand ambassador is communication. You need to know everything about their career, their horses and their lifestyle – and they need to know all about you.

“If the brands do nothing to get to know us and we have no dialogue it’s hopeless,” says Chloe Bunn, who runs Breen Equestrian with her husband, international showjumper, Shane Breen. “You need to reach out to your riders to get more out of it, or they won’t get a feel for the company, and you won’t get to know them.

“The more you put in, the more you will get out of it. It’s only by building a rapport that you can bounce ideas off each other and come up with strong marketing ideas.”

Jane agrees it’s “critical” riders have a good knowledge and understanding of your business, and that you also understand what goes on behind the scenes on their yard.

“We are genuinely passionate about supporting our riders, we love to follow their journeys, their successes and milestones and most importantly seeing their horses thrive, looking in great condition, performing to their best and enjoying what they do,” she says.

Pitfalls to avoid with your brand ambassador

Aside from failing to draw up a contract there are a few pitfalls to avoid:

  • Taking on too many riders and not having the resources to activate and nurture each one properly
  • Misalignment of values – don’t just go a rider with a high profile and lots of followers on social media. While aligning with an influencer can do wonders for your business, it will only work if their values – and their followers – fit with you business model
  • Unrealistic expectations – don’t expect to see a sudden surge in sales because you’ve signed Charlotte Dujardin. Actually, you probably will see a sudden surge in sales if you can do that! But, like most successful marketing campaigns, they take a while to gain traction.

Monitoring and measuring the relationship with your brand ambassador

Like all pillars of our marketing strategy, measuring return on investment ROI) is critical, for both parties.

“It’s important to set mutual KPIS (Key Performance Indicators) from the outset and make sure both parties are aware of each other’s expectations and that they are aligned,” says Jane.

It’s also important that your goals are SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Actionable
  • Realistic
  • Timed

If you get it right, working with a brand ambassador can be fun, fulfilling and fabulous for your business. Just take the time to make the right choice, and build a strong relationship.

For more great marketing advice get in touch to find out who we can help you build your brand and make your market on the equestrian market.