Tamara Kelly, “Joy Creator” for Red Heart Yarn, says the benefits of being a brand ambassador “go beyond the tangible” and include financial benefits, yarn support and “increased social media reach and traffic from their audience.”
Photo courtesy of Tamara Kelly
Nothing sells a product better than word of mouth from a trusted source – whether it’s a restaurant to try, a movie to see, or a craft product to buy – which is why brand ambassador programs are so successful.
“A brand ambassador can be a powerful evangelist for a craft company, carrying their brand message to fans who already trust and admire the ambassador,” says Nancy Nally, publisher and editor of ScrapbookUpdate.com. “An ambassador also puts a more human and likable face on an otherwise impersonal corporate entity, making it easier for customers to relate to the company.”
Companies hire brand ambassadors to showcase products in real-world projects featured across various social media platforms, including Facebook, blogs, Instagram, etc. Ambassadors may be paid per-project or at a flat rate, usually on a six-month or one-year contract. They receive free products, often getting sneak peaks at new goodies.
“Sometimes we have a product line we’d like to highlight but more times than not the ambassador pitches an idea and products and we set a date for that promotion,” says Julia Sandvoss, national director, social media and education, at Therm O Web. “We also offer giveaways they can use to help promote that (post).”
Ambassadors also provide valuable feedback.
“Our ambassadors are our partners,” says Jim Price, director of sales at Brother USA. “We appreciate their product feedback and insight on trends in the marketplace and what our end users need and desire.”
Julie Fei-Fan Balzer began working with Brother as part of a focus group for Brother’s yet-to-be-released die cutting machine, the ScanNCut, launched in 2013.
“The folks at Brother pretty much pointed us at the machines and let us play,” says Balzer. “I was blown away. It was so easy to create cut files from my drawings!”
There were also things she didn’t like about the machine, and she said so. To her surprise, “they wanted to know more.”
Now, not only does she get paid to work with the ScanNCut, “but I also share feedback with the Brother team, from marketing to engineering. I feel heard and respected; my opinion matters. The best brand ambassador relationships are those where both sides feel they are getting value from each other.”
Since launching its ambassador program, Brother has seen an uptick in sales, as well as “growth in our customers’ trust,” says Price. “Our ambassadors are not just content creators. They are educators, artisans, and true enthusiasts. They provide feedback and valuable market insight. Our ambassadors are significant assets.”
Perhaps the best ambassador success story is that of Fiskars’ Fiskateers, an online community of passionate crafters that started in 2006, just as social media was blossoming. The name alone was a grabber.
Fiskars, which started in Finland in 1649, was losing sales to cheaper goods. The company hired branding gurus Brains on Fire, which looked into how consumers discuss and buy craft products. Delving into Yahoo groups they found a robust crafting community with a younger-than-expected demographic.
These bloggers were obviously a force, and eventually five women were picked (and paid) to be lead Fiskateers, authentic cheerleaders for the company. They blogged, shared projects, attended trade shows, and did demos and taught classes at retail stores. They also gave feedback – good and bad – and Fiskars listened.
The plan worked. According to a Case Study by B.L. Ochman for her whatsnextblog.com, first published in 2007 and updated a year later, mentions of Fiskar products rose by 400 percent in 2007 and by another 200 percent in 2008 on a per-week basis. Sales also were up.
The Fiskateers, which grew to more than 5,400 members, had its own Facebook page until 2015, when the company changed directions.
Julie Fei-Fan Balzer, here with Brother’s ScanNCut, says a good ambassadorship is not a “one way street, but a true relationship” in which everyone is a partner.
Photo courtesy of Julie Fei-Fan Balzer
Brother USA ambassador May Flaum says Brother sets the parameters for projects but that she has plenty of time to “plan, work, and make my best and most authentic work.”
Photo courtesy of May Flaum
“The Fiskateers bonded over a love of all things crafty and helped inspire, encourage, and support fellow crafters in their creating endeavors, and assisted in finding ways to share our passion for crafting with others,” says Missy Pfeil, Fiskars’ communication coordinator.
The idea, she adds, was “more about creating community, rather than creating a structured environment with assignments.”
“The Fiskateers really brought the concept of the brand ambassador to the crafting world,” says Nally. “They started something that changed not just Fiskars, but the entire industry’s marketing.”
The personal touch fostered by makers who genuinely love and use certain products creates a strong customer base and brand loyalty.
Red Heart Yarn, a division of Coats & Clark, started its Joy Creator program in August 2016 and has already seen “many more eyeballs on our products,” says Carrie Leahew, senior marketing manager, Coats & Clark.
“The amount of impressions and page views monthly from these influencers reaches millions,” she says. The company regularly checks analytics, number of followers, etc., and gauges product sales through affiliate programs.
“Sales have improved and brand recognition has continued to grow by reaching different consumers each day,” she adds.
Ambassadors reach consumers “who are truly interested in this type of content,” Leahaw says. “Our brand message is presented authentically. A consumer’s view of a brand can be extremely positive if the influencer truly believes in our product.”
Letting the ambassador take the lead in content is also key because “they know their audiences and what will resonate best with them,” Leahaw adds. “Trying to control it too much results in poor engagement.”
Heather Paulson, brand ambassador for Therm O Web, creates four posts a year using the company’s products, which includes adhesives, foil, mixed media products, and more.
Photo courtesy of Heather Paulson
Paulson’s projects might include foiled t-shirts, hair clips, etc. “I get to work with products I love, and I get paid,” she says.
Photo courtesy of Heather Paulson
Sounds like a sweet gig, right? Here are some tips on how to position yourself for an ambassador job:
Build a loyal following
“The size of your following matters less than their level of engagement and interaction with you,” says Nally. “Demonstrate your enthusiasm for the products you love, and use those companies’ social tags when you share their products.”
“Go where your followers are,” adds Heather Paulson, a Therm O Web ambassador. “Find where your loyal followers hang out and make that your place.”
Be authentic with an “honest passion” for the product
“I don’t need to fake anything,” notes Brother ambassador May Flaum. “I get to authentically share what I’m up to with my ScanNCut.”
“We love partnering with ambassadors who genuinely enjoy our products, sincerely care about their followers, and will have an open conversation on how we can improve,” adds Price.
Have an aesthetic that aligns with a company’s brand
Take good photos
“It’s one thing to come up with incredible projects but if the photos are lackluster, it’s not a win-win,” notes Sandross.
Network at craft and blogger events, trade shows, etc.
“Reach out to brands with a media kit and be persistent,” says Paulson. “Attend blogger events if possible.”
Do quality work
Follow through on promises
“I can’t say that enough,” says Sandross. “Follow through on the plans and expectations outlined in the contract. Stick out the term. It’s disappointing when we have to keep after someone only to find they no longer want to participate. Do the work on time and don’t make us babysit you on tasks. We’ve had ambassadors drop the ball, not do projects, make things that were less than stellar, change the projects to something we didn’t agree on…or simply disappear.”
Before approaching a company, try different brands to find products you love
“Use that company’s product in a natural way,” adds Tamara Kelly, a Red Heart Joy Creator.
“When you feel you’re ready, send them an email with examples of your work. Be creative and remember your own worth.”
Roberta G. Wax
Roberta Wax is an award-winning journalist and imperfect crafter. A former news reporter, her freelance articles and projects have appeared in a variety of newspapers and magazines, from the Los Angeles Times and Emmy magazine to Cloth Paper Scissors, Somerset Studio, Craftideas, Belle Armoire, etc. She has also designed for craft companies. Although she has no art background she was a crafty Girl Scout leader. www.creativeunblock.com