How to Build and Scale Successful, More Authentic Ambassador Programs

June 21, 2021

If you’ve been in the marketing game for at least the past couple of years, there is a high likelihood that you have heard the terms “affiliate” and “ambassador.” But do you really know what each describes? Affiliates and ambassadors are two similar yet very different marketing avenues that hinge on authenticity to support a brand’s vision. This is nicely summed up by a quote from Amanda Maksymiw which states, “Influencer marketing at its core is about developing real relationships to ultimately champion your influencers to market with you.”

In this session from Digital Summit at Home, Amanda Carroo, Director of Brand Marketing at Pact, taps into her career-long passion for building brand partnerships to provide tips on ways marketers can engage with and activate ambassadors and affiliates in an authentic way to boost their business.

Affiliates vs. Ambassadors (3:00)

Many marketers don’t fully understand the difference between affiliates and ambassadors, so Carroo starts this session by clearly indicating what makes these two groups different. Affiliates programs are comprised of individuals or publishers who make commissions from selling a brand’s products, while ambassadors are influencers who receive some form of payment, either monetary or product-based, for promoting a brand. Let’s take a closer look at each.

Affiliates (3:30)

First things first, affiliate programs allow brands to see revenue coming in directly through these partnerships, allowing marketing to monitor ROI more closely. Affiliate programs have been growing in popularity, with 81% of advertisers and 84% of publishers activating in this way.

Types of Affiliate Programs (5:30)

Carroo goes into detail about several different types of affiliate partnerships. Some of the most common include:

  • Coupon Sites like Retail Me Not and Honey
  • Shopping and brand aggregator platforms
  • Social/Content Producers — influencers, bloggers, etc
  • Media Publications, particularly those that allow for paid affiliate content

Creating an Affiliate Program (8:30)

With any of these partnerships, it is essential to lay out the following in a detailed manner to set the goals and activation strategy for the program:

Practical ExpectationsDetermine what part of a revenue mix should be attributed to affiliate marketing

Clear Commission StructureSet a firm structure at the beginning of a partnership and adjust as needed as the program progresses

Defined Content StrategyIt is essential to continually feed affiliate partners information and content that will help them to promote your brand and generate sales

PRO TIP #1: Before kicking off an affiliate program, be sure to clearly define the goals and expectations of the program, providing your partners with all the information they need and a process for communicating on a regular basis. As a bonus, offer them exclusive deals and opportunities to earn a little extra to keep them engaged with your brand. 

PRO TIP #2: Carefully vet each of the partners you choose to work with to ensure standards and consistency, and constantly be on the lookout to add new affiliates that are a good fit for your brand.

Ambassadors (19:30)

According to Carroo, Ambassadors should be viewed as influential people on social media channels who “rep” your brand but don’t necessarily receive commissions for doing so.

For a brand to identify which individuals they should partner with on an ambassador level, it’s critical to have a deep understanding of which influencers their audience looks to for social proof when making buying decisions. 4 out of 10 millennials say that their favorite content creators understand them better than their own friends.

Identifying Influencer Ambassadors (24:15)

So how do we find these potential ambassadors? Carroo breaks down three primary ways to discover the right people:

  • Platform tools that aid in research
  • Agencies who do the leg work to find and communicate with influencers on behalf of your brand
  • Manual searching on social networks. Brands should also be prepared for influencers to reach out directly to them looking to partner

PRO TIP: Lean in where your brand’s audience is, whether it is Instagram, TikTok or Facebook, to identify and activate ambassadors who closely align with your brand in an authentic way. 

Creating A Process (27:30)

Once you have identified the influencers your brand would like to partner with on an ambassador level, Carroo lays out a process that should be followed to make the program successful, including the following steps:

  • Find a platform or create a Google Form to help track the program’s activity
  • Decide what kind of program you want to activate, such as an awareness program or one that drives revenue
  • Determine whether the partnership will be paid or only offer free product
  • Create a cadence to vet influencers and start to build a connection

Tracking An Ambassador Program (29:15)

Carroo provides the following tips effectively tracking an ambassador program to keep a close eye on ROI for each partnership:

  • Provide ambassador-specific promo codes to allow for tracking on clicks to measure results
  • For top-performing ambassadors, invite them to become affiliates to allow you to track the direct revenue more easily they produce
  • Keep track of your organic channels (social, website, etc.) to correlate growth to ambassador partnerships

The insights provided in this session help to provide a clear illustration of the differences between and the benefits of affiliate and ambassador programs. Take a careful look at your own brand’s goals and see how these types of programs can factor into your strategy to grow brand awareness and revenue. Regardless of which of the two you test the waters with, be sure to keep authenticity at the center of your programs to keep your brand’s message intact and your audience engaged.


To hear from more experts like Amanda on the regular, check out an upcoming Digital Summit event, with 14 in-person events planned for 2021.