In my second post reflecting on the last 10 years, I want to focus on what many people consider to be at the heart of Guerrilla Marketing, the Brand Ambassador (or sampler, evangelist, promoguys, hot chicks who hand out stuff, etc. depending on who you are talking to). These are often the face of the brand in live executions and their roll has changed quite a bit over the years.
When we started out, one of the tasks that we undertook was to create a solid nationwide collection of brand ambassadors and local market managers. Having often outsourced this task with some of my other ventures, I knew the value of a good, dedicated set of people that you could trust to replicate the creative vision in their local market and did not feel like the nationwide staffing companies, in general could guarantee that. I also made two decisions that could get in the way of business growth, I felt I needed to institute. The first was that we would pay our brand ambassadors 10-20% above market average depending on the complexity of the job. The second was that they would get paid at maximum three weeks after they worked (usually 2 weeks), regardless if we received payment from our client or not.
These rules were put in place for a few very simple reasons. Loyal people will work harder for you and if you pay a premium, you can expect a premium. The staff that we have worked with, over 7,000 of them in all across the world, understood that we were going to take care of them and in return we wanted them to work harder, be more engaging and be focused on our job only when they were on site. We were very specific in training them, hiring them and overseeing them in the field. Nobody got a job without being interviewed, without role-playing, without being able to correctly communicate the specific brand values, copy points, and promotion we were selling. And we cut the bottom 10% of performers after every job, so the best always rose to the top. And in exchange, they were paid better, and they always knew when their compensation was coming. And 10 years later, we still do the same thing.
We have had staff working everything from early mornings at the Today Show, very late nights in seedy bars, the hottest night clubs there are and at trade shows all over the world. Our staff have delivered product to key influencers in France, Japan and Kuala Lumpur among other foreign lands and have dressed as cavemen and wandered the streets of major cities instructed to not utter a single English word, only to grunt and climb. For a large percentage of our jobs we have utilized these people to represent our clients, our company and me personally, and I believe they have done an amazing job at it. Of course there were the few that we had to reprimand here and there, fire on the spot or pay for their mistakes, but in general, our commitment to them and in turn, theirs to us has helped us do some outstanding work and they deserve every bit of praise I can give. I still run into some of the early promo staff here and there. Some have gone on to successful acting careers, some started their own companies and a surprising amount of them ended up in Real Estate, but across the board they mention how good it was to work with us for the few years that most of them did and how we took care of them and taught them some useful skills that they still utilize.
It is amazing to me how the role of the brand ambassador has changed in those 10 years. There has been a transition from BAs focused on handing out large numbers of free samples to brand ambassadors now being utilized to perform and generate truly creative experiences. Where we have often measured their success in their take rate, now we often measure the number of views their viral videos receive. At one point it was about how little can we get them to wear, now we are seeing more elaborate costumes and how we can embed social technologies into the costumes themselves (that battery pack goes where?!?!).
Brand ambassadors are often hired for their ability to be engaging, attractive and convincing but unlike 10 years ago, now they are often asked to bring in their social networks into the promotion as a part of the job (Have 1150 twitter followers? You are hired!). Back then nobody had ever heard of a FlashMob or a Pop-up store, now they are already becoming old hat. In essence the nature of the experience has changed and the sampler/BA role has adapted with it.
There is one thing that has really changed in regards to effectively staffing a promotion, guerrilla action or tradeshow, and not for the better. Yes, I am talking about our friend the smart phone. It is one of the single hardest challenges we have had to deal with. Effecitive brand ambassadors have to be in a head-up position. They have to be able to see their target audience coming down the block or hall and using body language, eye contact and often a simple smile, put that person at ease. With smart phones and the realities of texting, email, Twitter, Facebook, and all of the other distractions hitting the small screen, those same people who are the face of the brand now adopt a head-down posture, where not only are they very often not paying attention to who is approaching and where the traffic flow is coming from, but those that do want information or a sample feel like they are interrupting the staffer because they seem ‘busy.’ It makes the job of managing and getting a great experience much harder and you literally have staff that will not take a job if they are told they have to leave their phone in their bag as if it is an appendage they cannot live without. Don’t get me wrong, I would be lost without my devices, but for a brand looking to create quality connections, smart phones are the enemy.
I think as we become an even more social and connected society, that the brand ambassador role will continue to change and evolve with it. Evangelists with large social followings may command more dollars and importance in the promotion process. Looks and attitude will still be desired, but so will those with strong valued voices. The sphere of influence is widening and those whom we often hired to be outgoing and approachable are doing so in their own lives and may realize that connection is currency, and that should be encouraged. Don’t get me wrong, people will always take free stuff or want to talk to a handsome actor looking to introduce the latest energy drink, but the more that those instances live beyond the specific point of contact, the more valuable they become.