Let’s face it, the Internet, blogs, and social media are changing the world we live in. For the most part, I think it is bad – people hiding behind little itty bitty hand held screens, large mega-pixel screens, all potential barriers to real interpersonal relationships. As the digital world moves ahead at the speed of light, there is nothing I can do to stop it, nor should I try. I shall be mostly left behind. People have the right to do as they please, as long as they don’t infringe or obstruct another individual’s personal rights.
One of the effects of our digital world is the ability of small companies to reach thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of potential customers for little cost at all. It is a marketing executive’s dream come true.
Small niche companies can reach untold and never imagined numbers of people via the Digital World. One common methodology is to recruit people who have a substantial following in their personal social network – these recruited end users are called Ambassadors. I first expressed my dislike for this nearly two years ago in The Business of Backpacking, so this isn’t a new theme.
This is how this marketing strategy works. Individuals, often ordinary people like me, can become a company’s Gear Ambassador. As a Gear Ambassador you might get a free piece of gear, let’s say, a backpack. Additionally you may get discounts on other products for your personal use, your friends and family might get discounted products too. Many of the companies with Ambassador Programs are small entities and their ambassadors will (hopefully) help them grow the business. Forget ‘giving back to the community’ or any other social good they may advertise; all of this is driven by profit, as it should be.
So what does it take to become a Gear Ambassador? Usually you need to have a digital presence, that is, your online presence needs to have some significance. This isn’t that difficult. My blog has had nearly half a million visitors in less than 2 years. I could easily quadruple this by getting involved with other social media platforms. But at what cost – my time would be the cost, and that price is too high to pay. Besides, what would be the point? I don’t need any free products, I don’t need to help a company grow their business – that is their job not mine, and I don’t need the aggravation. There would be no personal gain for me to do this.
So why do people want or try to become Gear Ambassadors? I don’t know, but I can guess.
Some people just want free gear. Sorry, but nothing in life is free; there are always strings attached. I’ll get to that later.
Other people are trying to build their personal brand, that is, to get their name recognized in the public domain as subject matter experts. “Personal Brand” isn’t my invention; Tom Peters used the term almost 20 years ago. With a recognizable personal brand, these individuals may be able to use this as a springboard to a new career. Actually, I approve of this; that is – building your personal brand, although I am not enamored with the idea of corporate ambassador programs. However, these programs have no impact on me at all. I am mostly just a by-stander as this digital locomotive speeds down the track leaving me in its dust.
There are a handful of blogs I read, whose owners would like to leverage their knowledge and expertise into something that will generate a good living doing what they truly love to do – at least this is my perception or they have stated that fact. If that is their goal, more power to them.
For the rest of the ambassadors, or wannabe ambassadors, I have no idea what their motivation may be, nor do I care.
THE STRING ATTACHMENT
There are two parties to the ambassadorship; the company and the individual. The individual gets gear and the company gets name recognition via the individual’s social network. But there is a catch, these companies often want and expect more.
There is nothing evil about these companies wanting more, I just want to point out what may be expected, so everyone understands the rules of the ambassador playing field.
It is important for me to note that the next section is no reflection on the following companies. I have bought products from at least one of them and am a happy customer. I only want to provide some examples of expectations of companies who have implemented gear ambassador programs.
Here are a few quotes I found on their websites…
Gear Ambassadors are expected to use Elemental Horizons products when participating in outdoor activities. You do not have to use Elemental Horizons products exclusively, but our goal is for our Ambassadors to be enthusiastic and visible representatives of our products and brand. We want other outdoors enthusiasts to see our products in action and to be able to approach our Ambassadors with questions and to receive honest and useful information about Elemental Horizons products.
Gear Ambassadors are expected to provide product testimonials, reviews, photographs, and trip reports for use in Elemental Horizons newsletters, blog, and social media outlets.
Gear Ambassadors will have advanced notice and access to new products during the new product development process, and we encourage and welcome constructive feedback from our Ambassadors to help us refine these new products.
Gear Ambassadors are also encouraged to hold gear demos, and give talks or instructional seminars on topics related to Elemental Horizons products, including techniques or benefits of lightweight and ultralight backpacking or hiking, etc.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear
HMG ambassadors are testers, critics and storytellers of our products. Putting our gear through the paces of their explorations, these experts provide critical feedback helping to shape the final result. We build our products with confidence that they will perform in the world’s toughest playgrounds… where they start.
As a Trail Ambassador, we expect you to use Gossamer Gear products when you are out on hiking and backpacking trips. You don’t have to use Gossamer Gear products exclusively, but we do want other hikers to see you using our packs, trekking poles or accessories and to be able to ask you questions about them.
Trail Ambassadors are encouraged to hold gear demos and give talks about the techniques and benefits of ultralight and lightweight backpacking. Gossamer Gear will assist you by providing product samples to demonstrate and supporting instructional materials.
Ambassadors can provide design input and feedback on new products and design prototypes.
Attend Trail Ambassador sponsored events or meetups in your area.
Provide trip reports, how-to articles, photographs and updates for Gossamer Gear’s blog, newsletter, and social media channels.
Eagles Nest Outfitters
Do you love hammocks? Do you want to be the coolest camper on your college campus? Uh, duh…of course you do! Well, let us introduce you to the ENO Brand Ambassador Program (BAP)!
The ENO BAP aims to spread the word about our perfect products on a grassroots level through colleges and universities across the Nation. Each BAP will represent ENO by hanging hammocks across their campuses, collect potential customer email addresses, promote our contests and giveaways, hand out discount cards, photograph ENO moments and answer any ENO questions people throw at you! Sound like fun? Well, it gets better. We give YOU free stuff to use whenever, and wherever, you choose!
The ultimate goal of the BAP is to have everyone on your campus in a hammock or wanting one. And let’s be honest…how hard is that going to be really?!
Here are you a few reasons why YOU should get going with the BAP:
1 Why pay for ENO gear, when you can get it for free? Based on your effort and participation you can win ENO gear for you, your friends, and your family. This works out especially well around the holidays.
2 Use your experience for a resume booster or summer internship.
3 Based on the rewards program, you can earn gift cards to your local outfitter and favorite store/restaurants.
4 You’re now the most popular person on your campus.
5 Earn access to special pricing on a variety of outdoor gear.
Again, let me reiterate: I am not singling out these companies; they all make some good products and are well known by thousands of people. It is more of an example of the fiduciary responsibility to the company by their Ambassadors. I think you get the general drift of these Ambassador Programs.
What is important is the contractual responsibility of the Ambassador. Whenever an Ambassador is discussing a product (within their social network or in public) from the company, they should disclose their relationship to that company. If they are reviewing a product, it is my understanding that the Federal Trade Commission requires a disclosure of the relationship.
One delicate area is the overall portrait of the company – if they make a good product, but their customer service sucks an Ambassador might exclude that fact, which is a disservice to his or her readers; and disclosing that information may cost them the Ambassador title.
If you are reading a review by an Ambassador (hopefully that was disclosed to you) to help make a purchase decision, you should be somewhat skeptical. Do you feel the Ambassador is credible and honest? I would think that Ambassadors who are trying to build their personal brand will be forthright with all the facts, as they cannot afford to tarnish their reputation. If the company they represent does not meet their personal expectations they should probably end the relationship.