Monday, August 7, 2017

The Death of the Brand Ambassador

The American Craft Spirits Association (ACSA) is promoting a seminar next week entitled "Build a Better Brand Ambassador," conducted by Robin Robinson.

The seminar is described as follows: "BUILD A BETTER BRAND AMBASSADOR is focused on creating the next generation Brand Ambassador: a sales-oriented, account-driving individual. Full of brand and category knowledge, loquacious and articulate, this individual delivers the brand pitch with aplomb and insider confidence. But also sharply focused on where the brand is at all times and dedicated to driving adoption and volume." (Emphasis added.)

The term 'brand ambassador' is used in many industries, not just distilled spirits. Originally, it was used to describe celebrity endorsers, so the term has always been flexible. But when the distilled spirits business began to use it, maybe 15-20 years ago, the idea was to have someone in the field who was focused entirely on product knowledge and brand education, without the pressure of moving cases and reaching sales goals.

The idea was that salespeople typically have responsibility for multiple brands in multiple categories. It is hard to have in-depth product knowledge about all of them. This reflects on credibility, as does the fact that salespeople have a reputation for saying whatever it takes to get a sale. No criticism intended. If your job is sales, then selling has to be your number one priority. That is why part of the definition of brand ambassador has always been, 'not a salesperson.'

With that background, this seminar doesn't tell producers how to 'build a better brand ambassador.' Instead, it tells the rest of us that the brand ambassador era is over. There can be no such thing as a brand ambassador who sells. That person is called a salesperson. To call them brand ambassadors is disingenuous at best, dishonest at worst.

The ACSA is a terrific organization and Robin Robinson is a superb presenter who understands the marketing and promotion of distilled spirits products better than anyone I know. Again, this is not intended as a criticism of anyone involved, just of their rhetoric. This also is nothing against salespeople. As salespeople are fond of saying, nothing happens until somebody sells something.

The argument has been made that craft producers, as small operations, can't afford to field both types of representatives. Fine, makes sense, then build a better salesperson. Don't pretend they are brand ambassadors.

The 'redefinition' (i.e., death) of the brand ambassador role is not limited to craft producers. Last year, 'world's-biggest-drinks-company' Diageo ended its 'Masters of Whisky' program and 40 people lost their jobs. Some were rehired as 'redefined' brand ambassadors, i.e., salespeople.

Another role in the mix here is 'field promotions manager.' Now some of them are being called 'brand ambassadors.' Could it be that 'brand ambassador' is too desirable as a title to be wasted on actual brand ambassadors?

If 'the next generation of brand ambassadors' is really the next generation of brand-aware salespeople, there is nothing wrong with that. Just don't pretend it is something else.


Neyah White said...

Nailed. It.

Unknown said...

Basically. Asking known ambassadors to now sell will cause awkward interactions as buyers and reps acclimate to new roles in routine meetings.

ImNotDrunk said...

gee Chuck, thanks for the unintended promo for the event, and I love the fact this is stirring up some juices out there. this is the way it should be. I guess everyone will have to shell out 59 bucks to find out!

doctorx0079 said...

The brand ambassadors came into distilled spirits around the time that the advertising ban ended, about 20 years ago. CAN'T be a coincidence.

Rick Dobbs said...

So, now people who can actually sell something and be accountable to metrics that include an ROI on their paycheck have to get hired? SLOW THE FUCK UP!

Erik Fish said...

It seems to be nothing but title inflation. This implies no disrespect for the professional salespeople; as Chuck says, they are indispensable. If it helps prop up their ego to be called "brand ambassador", fine. But then the industry should find another title for the former holders of that function, the retired master distillers, people like Elmer T.Lee after he retired, who can't be held to sales metrics and volume goals, but whose appearance at whiskey events, ceremonies, media etc. is invaluable to the label identities of their distilleries, even if it can't be easily quantified. And they're cheaper and have more credibility than Mila Kunis.

Crown Point Marc said...


Chuck Cowdery said...

Interesting point about Mila Kunis, Matthew McConaughey and other celebrity endorsers. The brands will not make them available for interviews. Why? Well, for one thing, they get paid for any and every little thing they do. Wild Turkey isn't going to spend that kind of money for some blogger. Also, most celebrity endorsers don't know anything about the brands they represent except what they've been spoon fed by the advertiser. If you want to talk to them about their new movie, that's different.