by: Matt Rhodes

I have to admit that I have never been to an Olive Garden. In fact I only know it from an episode of Will & Grace, and only realised it was a real chain when I read an article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. And not only is it a real chain, but it has a great and loyal following.

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One famous brand ambassador in particular takes every opportunity to tell us about the brand. Sounds great, the kind of endorsement many brands dream of. The only problem is that this particular brand ambassador is not completely wanted by the brand.

Kendra Wilkinson, a Playboy cover model, television star and one of Hugh Hefner’s three live-in girlfriends, professes deep love for the Olive Garden Italian restaurant chain [...] To the consternation of Olive Garden’s marketers, who have spent millions crafting the franchise’s family-friendly image, the 23-year-old adult-entertainment star and aspiring real-estate mogul repeatedly uses her spotlight to rave about its midprice eateries

Ms Wilkinson’s brand advocacy is strong and she uses a mix of traditional and social media to spread her thoughts on the brand. Pictures and endorsements on her MySpace page are particularly effective as she has more than 730,000 friends. On one hand Olive Garden is getting the benefit of the kind of amplification of brand advocacy that you get in social media. But for them, this advocacy may not come from somebody they want associated with the brand.

So what should a brand do if it gets an unwanted brand ambassador, and should thye even worry about who is enthusiatic about them? In reality there is very little that you can do. Brand ambassadors are great - they enjoy your product and are willing to go and tell lots and lots of people about it without you having to do a thing (except continue to give them the great product you make anyway). You can really benefit from them, we know that people are much more likely to trust real people than they are a brand and so when these real people recommend your brand the power is great.

The problem is that you do have no control over the situation. You can’t control who will really enjoy your brand, and you can’t control which of these people will be passionate enough to tell other people. So maybe you shouldn’t try. Maybe you should do what Starbucks do, and never comment publicly about who may or may not have been pictured with your product. Let them get on and do their thing and talk about your brand if they want to.

What you can do tho is work actively to find advocates and amplify their word of mouth. Your brand advocates can be very separate from the brand itself - but they are really passionate about you and so engaging them can bring real benefits. These people truly believe in your brand, they want to belong to it and want to go and bear witness, telling other people about it. Though you can’t control them, what you can do is to equip them with the tools to do this. The means to tell people and to pass on their brand advocacy.

You can’t choose who your brand ambassadors are, but amplifying the word of mouth of all these people will be only positive for your brand. And it will mean that it is not just the more famous ambassadors who are widely associated with your brand, others will too.

Some more reading

Original Post: http://blog.freshnetworks.com/2008/08/what-if-you-dont-want-them-as-a-brand-ambassador/

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