Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #Smallbizchat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9 pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with Shakira M. Brown. Shakira is a 13-time award winning PR and marketing expert, speaker and CEO of SMB Strategic Media, providing affordable PR, marketing, website strategy and social media management for small businesses. Shakira is known as “The Small Biz Whisperer,” and has been featured in PRWeek, BrandWeek, MidJersey Business, Black Enterprise and Master Your Finances. For more information visit http://pradviser.net.
SmallBizLady: I KEEP HEARING ABOUT BRAND AMBASSADORS. WHAT EXACTLY IS THIS REFERRING TO?
Shakira Brown: Simply put, a brand ambassador is someone who loves and believes in your brand and sings your praises every chance they get by word of mouth, social media or even testimonials. These are invaluable conversations that help to perpetuate your brand 24 hours a day. Businesses of all sizes and industries can greatly benefit from having a solid group of brand ambassadors.
SmallBizLady: HOW CAN YOU MAKE YOUR EMPLOYEES BRAND AMBASSADORS?
Shakira Brown: I get this question all the time. Small business employers want to wave a magic wand and turn their employees into brand ambassadors. They think of the concept as a great idea until I tell them that it’s not something they can train employees to be and it’s more about the way in which they manage and care for their employees.
SmallBizLady: SO HOW CAN YOU AUTHENTICALLY turn your employees into brand partners?
Shakira Brown: First off, advocating for a brand starts with a feeling. This feeling is related to how you treat your staff and their connection to your company goals and mission. There are three ways to connect your employees to your brand:
- Focus on employee engagement – Make them feel like they are part of something that goes deeper than a 9-5. Allow them to help drive your company’s success by being open and transparent.
- Educate your employees on brand ambassadorship – let them know that their attitude toward your brand goes deeper than their workspace and relates back to the customer and therefore your company’s revenues.
- Encourage Share and Tell – Share authentic stories, pictures and company events across a variety of media in order for employees and followers to repost and drive viral dispersion.
SmallBizLady: HOW DO CUSTOMERS BECOME BRAND AMBASSADORS?
Shakira Brown: Have you ever been so passionate about a product or service that you told everybody about it? In most cases this reaction is due to product quality or service. So when you talk about converting your customers into brand ambassadors it begins and ends with the product or service that you are offering. When you offer high quality services and products that stand out above the rest and you ensure that your offerings are to the satisfaction of your customer no matter what – you foster a relationship of trust. When your customer truly trusts and believes in your brand they become your advocates. All you need to do is to maintain and remain true to your brand and ambassadors will follow.
SmallBizLady: WHAT CAN A SMALL BUSINESS OWNER DO TO ENCOURAGE BRAND AMBASSDORS TO SPREAD THE WORD?
Shakira Brown: Here’s an example. I recently advised a small business owner selling high quality, organic, natural, portioned meals-to-go on marketing tactics. He is currently selling his meals in a local specialty market. During his tastings at the market people say to him, “Wow I wish this was sold in my supermarket”. I advised this entrepreneur to leverage this micro moment of opportunity via a brand ambassador program – consisting of a marketing piece stating “Love Our Product? Tell Your Local Grocer to Carry Us” on one side, and on the other side, brief info about the product along with contact info for distribution. I suggested he hand this piece to anyone from out of town with the advice, “Take this to your local grocery store manager”. This not only gives the entrepreneur more reach while he tries to grow this business, he is connecting these otherwise passersby to his brand beyond the taste test.
SmallBizLady: CAN YOU REALLY TURN CUSTOMERS INTO AN UNPAID SALES FORCE?
Shakira Brown: Absolutely. There are many ways to empower brand ambassadors, from loving your brand in solitude, to telling anyone they can. For me, when I love an up and coming product I tell everyone – mainly because I want the product to be around for a while. In my opinion, if you keep it to yourself you are doing the brand a disservice. Businesses come and go every day, so I like to give the ones I want to continue to patronize as much brand love as I can.
SmallBizLady: HOW SHOULD #SMBS MANAGE, POSITIVE and negative, social media conversations?
Shakira Brown: People are three times more likely to spread bad news than good, and social media creates a transparent boundary between your employees and the marketplace aka your customers. An employee brand advocate can help defend and support your brand on social media when a customer is unhappy. Customer brand advocates can do the same. When people are researching your brand, positive social posts can help sway a decision on whether to do business with your company or even work there. For this reason, you want a good mix of employee and customer brand ambassadors singing your praises and making good with unhappy customers on social.
SmallBizLady: DO SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS UNDERSTAND WHAT A BRAND IS?
Shakira Brown: For the most part no. Here it is plain and simple. Your brand is your promise to your audience (customers and staff). It tells them what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from that of your competitors. Your brand is derived from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be. So it goes far beyond the company logo and colors as many tend to believe.
SmallBizLady: WHAT DOES A STRONG BRAND BRING TO A SMALL BUSINESS?
Shakira Brown: I like to say, never underestimate a strong brand. It ensures easier access to distribution channels; boosts customer and employee loyalty; increases the chances of customers choosing your product or company; offers protection against competition and most importantly, it increases revenues. Who wouldn’t want that?
SmallBizLady: HOW DOES A BUSINESS OWNER KNOW WHETHER THEY HAVE A STRONG BRAND?
Shakira Brown: Consistent messaging is a good sign. Do all of your company goals, values and messages across all platforms match? And are they clearly understood among all audiences? Another way to tell is having a recognizable visual identity. And yes this is where your logo comes in. A lot of small businesses miss the mark when it comes to this. Be sure that your company logo and colors are consistent across your entire organization and your collateral materials (signs, brochures, uniforms, business cards). Most importantly, when your customers and clients clearly identify with your name and visual identity, then you likely have some brand equity out there.
SmallBizLady: What are the key takeaways for encouraging brand ambassadorship?
Shakira Brown: A good takeaway from this conversation for small business owners is if you take the time to make the employee experience stellar, your employees will organically become your brand ambassadors. This will have a natural and positive trickle-down effect on the customer experience. Happy and engaged employees lead to better customer conversations, products and experiences; which converts average customers into brand advocates. It all comes full circle.
SmallBizLady: What is the best benefit to having employee brand ambassadors?
Shakira Brown: It is much easier and cost effective to build a strong brand if a company has an army of employees flying their organizations flag, defending it with their heart and soul. Those are true brand ambassadors and they are worth their weight in gold.
If you found this interview helpful, join us on Wednesdays 8-9 pm ET; follow @SmallBizChat on Twitter. Here’s how to participate in #SmallBizChat: http://bit.ly/1hZeIlz For more tips on how to start or grow your small business subscribe to Melinda Emerson’s blog http://www.succeedasyourownboss.com.