How to turn customers into “brand ambassadors”

Audience attention spans have changed. Back in 2000 it was 12 seconds - now it’s estimated at only 8 seconds. Marketers and advertisers are going out of their way trying to catch customers’ attention. It seems at times that they are everywhere: on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. But at the same time, how do you build a loyal customer following without being too annoying or too cheesy? Hazel Francis, communications and marketing manager at University of the Arts London thinks one of the ways to do that is get the customers involved and turn them into “brand ambassadors”.

“Your customers should essentially be the voice of your brand. Five or ten years ago brands used to pay celebrities or bloggers to talk about them, and have celebrities as their ambassadors, but now I think it’s shifted,” says Francis. “It’s more genuine to have your actual audience do it. For example, at the moment Aldi do this with TV adverts where they ask their customers to see how their food gets produced”.

“There are a variety of ways brands and organisations can turn their customers into ambassadors. You can initiate a loyalty scheme, so returning customers get discounts; you can send out surveys via email; or you can launch competitions to get user generated content of customers using your products or services,” explains Francis.

The good reviews that will come out of this, thinks Francis, are “fantastic”, because they are both free and showcase the best of your company: “It is worth every marketing brand or customer service team having an ambassador strategy in place”.

Francis thinks the key to building a loyal customer following is to listen to them. Being on social media for the sake of it can do more harm than good, she thinks, because if you don’t engage with your audience in the “right way” then you’ll either be ignored or be seen as annoying.

“When brands first came to social media there was this need to advertise, to still talk to customers as if they were advertising and there was a clear line between a brand and a customer. These days people are looking for a much more down-to-earth way of speaking,” says Francis.

The key, she thinks, is reaching out with content which is relevant to your customers and what they are actually going to enjoy, whilst at the same time staying “true to your brand”.

“There are lots of different companies that do it really well. One of my favourite brands is Innocent Drinks. What’s really great about them is that every single post isn’t necessarily about smoothies, but because in general their content is humorous, and inventive, customers will engage and follow them on social media.”

“One of their recent campaigns was all about office stationery. They had a stapler and on it was written “do not move this from the fourth floor”, so whenever someone went out on holiday or left the building they would take the stapler with them and post a picture,” says Francis. “It sounds silly but it’s a small thing that they posted on social media every week and it connected with audiences. Customers felt more loyal towards this funny brand that was doing things in a different way.”

However, she warns, there is a very fine line between being innovative, friendly and funny and being cheesy or even inappropriate. Cheerios, she says, caused a major outrage among people when they tweeted after the news of Prince’s death. A seemingly harmless and simple message “Rest in Peace” against a purple backdrop with a Cheerio used to punctuate the i. The brand quickly removed the message, but the damage was already done. Many people saw this as cheap exploitation of the pop legend’s death.

“This is called “news jacking”: whenever there is a hashtag, for example, lots of brands try to jump on the bandwagon and say something, but sometimes it has the opposite effect,” says Francis.

“My advice to brands and to my own team is to always create content you are proud of. Listen to what your audience is saying. If something is really working on your platform or on your social media, run with that, rather than chasing trends,” says Francis.

“At UAL we noticed a huge spike of people reading our articles or sharing our social media content if it was about vegan and vegetarian food. There’s been a massive increase in students buying vegetarian food at UAL. So if this is something our customers are interested in, we should provide extra content to cater to it,” explains Francis.

As a response to students’ interest in vegan and vegetarian food, the marketing team decided to take a few students out to the latest vegan place in Hackney called “Vegan Chicken”.

“We filmed a video while we were there – we got students to taste food and we shared it on social media. We had a huge response because it was something students were interested in and it was a bit unusual,” says Francis.

She also thinks it’s really important for brands to show their “human” side. “One of the ways to do that is to show your staff. It makes your audience realise they are talking to real people. There are a few initiatives that I would recommend. In every organisation I have worked with, I insist that we do staff videos to introduce the team. When there are special events in the office, for example, we share pictures on social media. I don’t think brands need to go overboard and share personal holiday snaps, but it’s all about showing that human side!”

Hazel Francis spoke at the Digital Content Summit 2017, read more speaker interviews at


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