are brand ambassadorships mutually beneficial?

Social media has changed so much of the way we view the world, in particular the way we connect and consume. Jobs that didn’t exist even five years ago are now thriving industries. The way we discover brands, invest in companies and purchase products has seen a major shift. Millennials crave intimacy from companies—faces with names, stories of success and opportunities to engage. Introducing Brand Ambassadors! A face, with a name and a story, paid (or bribed) to spread a company’s mission, name and products.

So that’s our topic today. The evolution of this new side hustle, or for some, a full-time jobs. Not to be conceited, but we’ll begin with me.

Mackenzie Grant
Ambassador for: BANGS Shoes
Pay: Deep discount on awesome swag/shoes

I’ve always been intrigued by the opportunity to be a brand ambassador, but I knew it had to be for a company/product I already used and was genuinely passionate about. I was asked last year to be a social media ambassador for @MyCarolina, the alumni association of my alma mater @UofSC. Every so often, My Carolina sends me content to share with my network. It’s often things I’m already sharing as a proud alumna and employee of the university. For me, bragging on UofSC is organic and on-point with my personal brand. Telling their story through my lens is natural. I don’t get paid for this—but it has increased my network of engaged followers and given me more presence among alumni I admire and might not have otherwise met.

When I saw BANGS was looking for new brand ambassadors, I immediately applied. The requirements were pretty low—have a public Instagram and love BANGS. But I quickly found out that 8,000+ applications were submitted. Somehow, I was selected, and after some questionnaires and a YouNow live conversation, I was part of the team. I’ve admired BANGS and Hannah Davis for a while now. For those who don’t know, (shameless plug) BANGS is a shoe company (duh). Besides their cute, adventure-geared shoes and swag, their mission is to encourage/help/financially assist small businesses/entrepreneurs in the startup of their companies. Their model is built to invest 20% of net profits in helping people start businesses. Buy BANGS Shoes = Your Adventures Help Others Find Theirs. (go check them out)

My ambassadorship is really just being an #ad without feeling like an #ad—or at least not feeling spammy. My goal is to embody the values of the brand by how I present myself on, in this case, specifically Instagram. Once a month, there is a #BANGSBlitz (which is today), and BANGS encourages all customers to share photos of their shoes in a way that relates to that month’s topic. This month’s is Companionship (peep my adorable pup & sweet new BANGS).

More on why I think this works after hearing from some other awesome ambassadors.

Clair Hollingsworth

Ambassador for: Glossier
Pay: Deep discount on awesome swag/shoes

Clair was a harcore fan girl/consumer of Glossier for about three years before her chance to be what she calls a “cool girl icon” was offered up. After being a loyal customer, Glossier reached out to her and asked her to be a representative for them. They set up a rep page and she was official.

“It was really awesome because I got to gush about my favorite products and they feature them on my page along with my tips on how to use the products.”

Clair is a perfect example of someone who believes in the company and was already sharing her positive experiences. Much like my affiliation with the alumni association, Clair found that being a Glossier rep was pretty much her social content as usual—but now with an official title and a few added perks.

“I have been turning people on to glossier since I first heard about it. I have preached the wonders of their products way before I even imagined that I could be a rep. A lot of my friends and family were buying and loving glossier way before I had an affiliate link. But if people do use my affiliate link, I do receive some small perks. I also get e-mails talking about the glossier community and upcoming products. My favorite part is actually being a member of the community and feeling like I’m part of a brand that I really love.”

For Clair, the experience blossomed out of an original love for a product, not the desire to be an ambassador. As a law clerk, she says marketing and branding is outside of her normal work, but she’s found that her natural tendency to “talk up” the brand created an opportunity, not the other way around. And it’s an opportunity, she’s not necessarily looking to do for anyone else.

“I would if it was a brand/product I absolutely loved. I’m sure everyone says that but let’s be honest, people can’t really drink that much FitTea. I have really high standards for the beauty products I use and I would think about working with other brands if they could ensure a quality that meets those standards. Frankly I’m just happy being a glossier girl.

Ugh what a babe. Visit her insta once and you’ll see she really is makeup goals. See her favorite Glossier products here.

NEXT UP…

Adam Fricke

Ambassador for: Merrell
Pay: Free stuff/monthly payment

Full disclosure: Adam is my boyfriend and has helped me navigate the brand ambassador world. He is also a social media manager for Parachute Media in Nashville, TN.

Adam’s story of brand ambassadorship is pretty unique. After college, he wanted to take a gap year—but wanted it to be something he could put on a resume and ultimately make enough cash to fund the year. So, his brother Justin and he landed on the idea of a cross-country road trip, or as they called The Bro’d Trip: 50 states in one year, all while living in a van. Planning was a big aspect of making the trip a success.

“We planned and budgeted for the trip for two years, so we tried to think of anything and everything that could make our trip bigger and better,” says Adam. “At the time, Merrell was just beginning their ambassador team; we had no idea they were looking for people to represent their brand. We just so happened to be reaching out to other companies, asking if they'd give us some free stuff and a little bit of money in exchange for photos, video clips, and blog posts from the road. Back then, my brother had an outdoor gear review blog and a rep from Merrell found him and asked if he'd be interested in reviewing a pair of boots. He said that he'd be willing, but he had a better idea of how we could work together. Next thing you know, we're on the phone with them, pitching our trip, and sending them our little marketing packet we'd been sending to other companies. Turns out, we were exactly what they were looking for. Life is weird.”

Throughout the trip, Justin and Adam created content for Merrell’s social media, as well as developed a blog that featured products in an original way.

“What I lack in "Insta fame," I make up for in photo and video skills. For the road trip, we regularly supplied our sponsors with photos from around the country that incorporated their product in a way that felt authentic and unforced.”

Merrell and the Fricke brothers were a natural fit. Both guys already used Merrell, and their trip embodied the adventurous spirit the company was eager to project. For Adam, brand ambassadors are tangible evidence of the company. They serve as the role of the everyday person.

“Ambassadors connect the brand's core values in a more attainable way. You can preach the benefits of groundbreaking footwear technology 'til the cows come home, but nothing makes a person connect with shoes more than seeing a photo of a regular dude on a mountain peak. It makes them think, ‘Hey I could do that too. That Adam fella also has great hair.’”

Thanks A—you da best, babe.

LAST ONE...

Angel Prater

Ambassador for: Express
Pay: Free stuff/discounts

Angel and I met (well Instagram-met) through a mutual friend at UofSC. As soon as I visited her profile, it oozed with style and showed that not only did she have great taste in clothes, but she had clearly defined her personal brand. Her experience becoming a brand ambassador for Express was unique. As a Visual Communications major with a minor in Retail, she was a prime candidate for ambassadorship. She saw a lot of her friends doing work as ambassadors and that really sparked her interest to figure out what being an ambassador was all about. But it wasn't a particular brand that caught her eye, instead it was the opportunity to get BTS of a big-name retail company, and join their marketing efforts.

"The Express ambassadorship is through a company called Youth Marketing. You can apply to become an ambassador for a brand through there. They have an interview process. I had a couple phone interviews over the summer and they looked over my social media accounts to make sure they fit with their needs. I was then notified that I had gotten the ambassadorship."

Angel's responsibilities reach beyond the cyber world, promoting the brand around campus through events, as well as helping students become familiar with the store and their rewards system. It's a tactic many companies use to reach college campuses. Setting ambassadors up with the tools to share their brand and then just letting them be college kids who connect, refer and mingle.

"My friends have definitely shopped at Express more because I have introduced them to the clothing selection that they offer and have shown them ways to use ExpressNext to receive more offers and promotions to end up with really awesome deals."

Scroll through her page once and you'll see that Angel is definitely on-trend and on-brand, reppin Express whenever she can, but she says she's open to working with other brands as well.

"I definitely am a big shopper so I would love to be an ambassador for another brand in the future, if I have the opportunity to. I would recommend being an ambassador to anyone. You really just have to do your research and you can find them with a lot of brands!"

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For me, brand ambassadors work because they’re authentic. Traditional marketing (ie. Stock photos from staged shoots) are expensive when compared to free social media content. Not only do brand ambassadors, or really any engaged consumers, present the product in an organic way, they present it to an audience that may not have otherwise been reached. AND that audience isn’t paid for. While yes, many companies boost (pay to place) their content, having an ambassador share on their personal page is a guaranteed wide audience who’s (possibly first) impression of your brand is rooted in their relationship with that person, not price, one specific product or an unwanted ad.

I think an unexpected benefit of being a BANGS ambassador came in the connections I’m beginning to make with other ambassadors from across the globe. The company has paired us with a mentor (Hi, Candice) who leads our Squad (hey hey #pzza). Via group texts, slack, and social media, we’re encouraging each other in this endeavor, as well as growing connections about life stuff. It’s been so fun/interesting/rewarding to see people from all walks of life, all ages, all careers bonding really over their love of adventure. And if that doesn’t represent what BANGS stands for—then I don’t know what does.

And as a social media/content creator/marketing person, being a brand ambassador is a chance for me to hone my skills. It’s an active, creative outlet. I see the opportunity to feature a product or company as mutual beneficial. While free swag and in some cases, extra cash is a nice bonus, I find the value it propelling a company I believe in, all while having the opportunity to craft brand messages. In this field, having ambassadorships on your resume shows that your content is valuable, effective and relevant. It also presents yourself as someone with a brand-forward mindset, and as someone eager to continue learning.