Category Archives: Brand Ambassador

London 2012 – the best Brand Britain could have hoped for.

As a Brit, particularly one who is keen on sports, I find myself swelling with pride at the performance of both the 2012 Olympic committee and the British athletes.  In short, from planning through building to competing, we nailed it!  However, as a marketer I’m even more delighted to see signs that whoever is driving this also knows what to do next – because, when you’ve invested 14billion quid in something there has to be a “next”.

I’ve said before that one of the reasons that countries like the US and Australia have in the past achieved such high national branding equity is that they have used their sporting successes as a vehicle for campaigns designed to boost national pride.  I’m a great fan of  events of any kind designed to generate publicity for my client’s brands and I have invested heavily over the years in initiatives designed to grab press attention.  To be honest I had not really expected the Brits to rise to this occasion.  After all, we are renown for not blowing our own trumpet.  However, London 2012 has been an astounding success and the media have been managed better than I think anyone could have hoped.  The UK habit of highlighting negatives like shortage of security personnel and drugs cheats, rightly failed to gain traction, and once the medals started flowing the PR guys were out of the blocks like Usain Bolt, steering the hacks in the right direction.  This is looking like  PR as it should be, but there’s far more mileage in this yet and managing the post-event campaign is a whole new challenge.

Its easy to see why, when the soccer-players of our football-mad nation are better at rolling around on the floor than they are scoring goals, the masses become cynical, but I think the great British public have received a really well orchestrated education in the last couple of weeks in the hardship, grueling challenges and absolute dedication demonstrated by champions worthy of the name.  We’ve had our attention drawn to the personal stories of real heroes we never knew we had.  We Brits have certainly had our values re-aligned and now the marketers have something to work with.

It will be interesting to see how government and commercial enterprises responds to this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build national brand equity.  There is nothing like sport to engage a community, kids love it, young adults rise to the challenge and even armchair sportsfolks get behind it, as we have seen over the last couple of weeks.  Will we have an even bigger squad of champions in 2016?  There’s no reason why not, but there’s whole lot more that Brand Britain can gain from this both domestically and internationally.  Its up to the marketers, politicians and organisers to rise to the challenge set by our new sports heroes.

Are retailers raping brands, or are our brands willing victims?

We all like a bargain and, as always when the squeeze is on, there has been a surge in the fortunes of retailers who can pander to that need over the last few years.  TK Maxx built their UK reputation on the mountains of liquidated stock, over-orders and manufacturers over-production that were accumulating across Europe, but these days we are all more frugal and surplus stock is a rare sight.  Walk around you local TK Maxx these days and you’ll see stuff that is clearly straight out of the factory and looking suspiciously like re-specd versions of mainstream branded products.  It’s a bit of a let-down by the retailer, but what is this doing for the brands?

It’s understandable that, faced with a shortage of supply in certain categories, retailers like TK Maxx would go looking for alternative sources to support their “Designer labels for less” claim, but for me, at least in some departments, they are failing.  They’ve never been too strong in the footwear department for instance, but, I guess, having staked out their shoe pitch they probably feel its incumbant on them to protect their claim.  Unfortunately that seems to mean introducing minority brands or “brands” that nobody has heard of (because they are just labels that manufacturers slap on to inferior product to help them hood-wink the odd independent retailer into a purchase and not real consumer brands) and it seems to me, even ordering production runs in inferior materials to get the price down.  This might keep their shoe racks full, but it’s not even close to where TK Maxx have in the past tried to persuade me they stood.  It won’t be long before this development is acknowledged by enough consumers to represent a concern to the people running the business.  Somebody said to me only the other day that TK Maxx was a con, but this practice won’t only damage their business, it will reflect on the brands that have stooped to re-engineering their products to meet the retailer’s demands and even those legitimate brands that have constituted the genuine bargains that TK Maxx was built on.

Of course, there are a lot of brands with equity earned in the past that hasn’t been leveraged in recent years, often because the organisations that own them have abandoned them or shut up shop themselves.  SportsDirect is a retailer that has been quick to realise this and have built a very successful business on rebadging inferior Asian-made sportswear and equipment with famous labels from the past like Lonsdale, Kangol, Dunlop and Slazenger.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favor of people being able to buy a pair of sports shorts for £5, but by sewing a Slazenger label onto them Sports Direct have surely done irreparable damage to this old brand.  Before long, consumers who have been reassured by the label will realise that all they have is a pair of shorts from a Vietnamese sweat shop and henceforth that’s the association Slazenger will have with everybody.

When its a case of retailers buying from independent manufacturers I expect they’ll excuse the practice with the claim that it’s at least keeping the a consenting manufacturer in business and I’m sure there are many willing victims, but when the retailer is buying the brands with the sole purpose of abusing them, it raises a whole new bunch of issues.  Sports Direct own Dunlop in the UK and you can buy Dunlop squash rackets for £30 in their stores that look very much like those used by the world’s top players who they sponsor.  However, the shop versions are just mass-produced rackets from an Asian factory and the similarity to the pro gear ends with the badge, as anybody gullible enough to buy one will soon discover.

It’s a neat route to a quick-buck for Sports Direct, but in the long-term, what they are doing is burning brands – squeezing the life out of them, discarding them and moving on to their nerxt victim.  I guess they have concluded that there are enough old brands with decent equity around to earn their founders the retirement they have their hearts set on and they’ll no doubt go on buying brands and squeezing the life out of them all the way to Dorset’s Sandbanks real estate, but I’m not so sure and anyway, I hate waste as much as I despise abuse and this practice smacks of large helpings of both.

Don’t hire a celeb. Benefit from the brand ambassadors that are right under your nose.

It seems to be the season for requests, for no sooner had I hit “post” on my last request-inspired piece about brand stewardship that another popped into my in-tray.  “What do you think are the attributes to look for in a brand ambassador?” it asked.  Who could resist…?

As before, let’s get the terminology straight first.  The take I have on “brand ambassador” is someone who represents a brand personally to the public.  This could mean a chairman – Richard Branson comes to mind as someone who fulfills the role admirably – or a celebrity who has no executive responsibility, for instance Lewis Hamilton plays the role for Mercedes, Tag Heuer and other exotic, speed-orientated brands.

A brand ambassador can play a powerful role in the development of a brand and will definitely help emerging brands establish themselves far quicker that they otherwise might.  But, be warned, as with all communications, the wrong person could do your business and your brand more harm than good.

The brand ambassador relationship is, to some extent, symbiotic.  It relies on PR – that’s press relations rather than public relations.  Basically your ambassador should be a darling of the press, the kind of person who is followed around by paparazzi or featured in Sunday supplements … but only for the right reasons.  I suspect that the queue of brands for Peter Doherty, for instance, would be quite a bit shorter than that for Pete Townshend! However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that it’s all one-way traffic, because events that your organisation arranges will often provide the kind of press opportunity that some celebrities consider of benefit to them, so negotiate.

The brand ambassador gig is a kind of extreme form of sponsorship and to get your money’s worth (and this is never a cheap option) your subject has to relate to and enhance features of your business.  For example a few years back I was involved when Skoda Auto first looked at sponsorship as a way to take their Central European brand to the West and beyond.  The brief was to find a subject that would reinforce the speed, skill and excitement of their revitalised (courtesy of the Volkswagen Group) brand and appeal primarily to European and American markets.  We eventually matched them up with the Ice Hockey World Championships and the relationship was so successful they extended their involvement in the sport to national leagues, the Czech national team and national league teams in other countries.  However, the relationship with individual personalities can be deeper and more valuable that the broader benefits of events or teams and that’s waht I see to be the biggest difference between sponsorship and brand ambassadorship.

If you want to get the best out of the relationship, before you go out shopping for a brand ambassador you simply must have a clear understanding of your brand and what it stands for.  That might sound straightforward enough but there are a lot of businesses out there art aren’t as clear as they should be on this issue and there’s no better way of achieving this than with my Brand Discovery programme.  This is a series of workshops, analyses and presentations that culminate in an eleven-point Brand Model that clearly defines your brand.  The next step is to identify the kinds of people who are likely to represent those elements – the core values and beliefs upon which the relationships with stakeholders (that’s internal and external) are founded.  I call these Brandships.

The brand ambassador you eventually partner with is, in effect, a shorthand communication for your brand.  His or her relationship with your target market gives you an instant audience and the kind of credibility you will never achieve from other conventional communications forms.  You can build all manner of constraints into the deal you strike with your eventual ambassador – You’ll notice for example that Lewis Hamilton always puts a Tag watch on before press conferences and like most other sportspeople, Hamilton probably gets bonuses from his sponsors for winning races or in relation to his position in the rankings (because success generates positive press coverage) but when your ambassador is caught behaving contrary to your brands values and beliefs the relationship can become a liability, so a conduct clause is a vital part of any contract of this kind.  The publicity from a celebrity gone off the rails is always bigger short-term than anything they could generate from positive actions and the fall-out for the brand can be momentous – think

Fame or notoriety is always an important factor in your choice of ambassador because its like the readership figures of a newspaper – they define it’s value, but there’s more to the ambassadorial role.  For instance, the values and beliefs of your ambassador are just as important as the exposure he or she gets.

If you are getting the idea that the brand ambassador idea is beyond you just now don’t throw the idea out entirely. Just because your budget doesn’t stretch to the kind of numbers a big name celeb would command doesn’t count you out of he game.  Give me fifty low profile individuals who’ll accurately and reliably represent everything that’s good about a brand for free any day and every organisation has that resource at its disposal already. I’m talking, of course, about harnessing the ambassadorial value of your own brand community, Your employees and customers. I’ve seen organisations pouring millions into sponsorship while their greatest and cheapest resource goes untapped.   Any business that understands brand development, of course, will be running an internal marketing strategy and nurturing this group with a really good internal marketing strategy will cost you the tiniest part of a regular sponsorship package and give you a great return on your investment.  Organisations that are good at this are John Lewis in the UK and SouthWest Airlines in the US, but there are probably hundreds around.

With the world becoming ever-more competitive and the squeeze firmly on, no business can afford to underutilise its resource and Brandships are probably as valuable as assets can get.  If you are brand conscious you’ll know that already and be developing and leveraging your Brandships, so re-adjusting your focus to include the brand ambassador remit isn’t going to add much to your effort or investment.  Its worth the consideration of any business these days.