branding tips

By Catherine Kaputa

As smart marketers know, the best way to market your brand is to get others to market it for you. The hot new way to do that is through a brand ambassador program. You can tap employees, satisfied customers or influential people as ambassadors. Enterprising entrepreneurs as well as more established business owners are creatively putting together brand ambassador programs on a tight budget. Here are some ideas:

Warby Parker and Its Bespectacled Brand Ambassadors

It takes some improvising to launch a brand ambassador program if you’re still in school, like the four enterprising MBA students at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business who launched eyeglass company Warby Parker when they were still students. In 2008, the group was brainstorming business ideas and one topic was eyeglasses. “Why are they so expensive?” they wondered. They discovered that the prescription eyeglass industry was dominated by a few players making incredible margins. That insight led to their new business idea, an indie, anti-brand eyeglass brand with good prices and good designs that could be bought over the Internet as well as in brick-and-mortar stores.

The student cofounders realized that school was the ideal incubator for their start-up idea since their classmates were their target consumers. To sell the glasses, they recruited popular classmates and student leaders as brand ambassadors. After they graduated, they expanded the brand ambassador program to include department store buyers, maître’d’s and other people who come into contact with a lot of other people. The deal for Warby Parker’s brand ambassadors? They get a free pair of glasses and a discount for their friends and acquaintances.

Sweaty Betty and Its Fitness Ambassadors

Sweaty Betty, a U.K. woman’s yoga and athletic clothing company that is expanding into the U.S., hires salespeople who embody the healthy, active lifestyle that the brand represents. It also recruits fitness and yoga instructors in its local markets as fitness ambassadors and customers have access to free classes through its “Get Fit for Free” campaign. It’s a win-win since the fitness ambassadors get to meet potential new clients for their private classes and training. Sweaty Betty not only gets their clothing out in the fitness community, its fitness club and free classes are a great perk to offer customers.

Knitty City and its Passionate Knitters

Even very tiny brands can use a brand ambassador program to create a special community experience for customers. Knitty City is a knitting store in New York City and its brand ambassadors are knitters who come in to teach a class, show their work or just knit together with others. Knitty City has created events to attract all different types of knitting ambassadors whether it’s a local knitter leading a beginning class or a well-know fiber artist demonstrating their latest creations.

Jones Soda and Its Soda-Drinking Student Ambassadors

The world hardly needed another soda, but Jones Soda created an iconoclastic brand in a market dominated by big rivals.  Before brand ambassador programs became in vogue, Jones engaged customers to send in to the website their own photographs to use as bottle labels. The company now has millions of submissions and the thousands of people who have had their photos used become brand ambassadors promoting the product with friends and family.

Since the brand targets young people, Jones Soda has an active program recruiting college brand ambassadors. They seek out students who love the soda, are active online through a blog or social media like Facebook andTwitter, and can lift fifty pounds. The Jones student brand ambassadors share the soda with classmates, give out Jones soda during midterms and finals and distribute it a major campus events. The payoff: lots of soda and hourly compensation.

If you want to get your business noticed, maybe it’s time to adopt a winning strategy from the marketing playbook: Get other people to promote your brand for you.

Catherine Kaputa is a brand strategist, speaker and author. Her latest book is Breakthrough Branding: How Smart Entrepreneurs and Intrapreneurs Transform a Small Idea Into a Big Brand (Nicholas Brealey Publishing, $19.95)winner of the Silver Medal, Book of the Year Awards, 2012 (Business category) sponsored by Foreword Magazine. She is also the author of You Are a Brand!, winner of the Ben Franklin Award for Best Career Book, and The Female Brand. To learn more visit or contact