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“I just said we gotta do this, this is at the heart of the brand.  We’ve got a real problem in losing control of our ability to talk to friends.” – Former Maker’s Mark CEO Bill Samuels Jr. on how he pitched the idea of launching a brand ambassador program to his Board of Directors.

I am in love with this quote right now.

Often when a business considers launching a brand ambassador program or even a fan-engagement strategy on a smaller scale, one of the key worries is a loss of control.  Companies fear giving more control over to their customers and letting these customers have any significant amount of say and control over the path that the program takes.

These companies can only see that they will be losing control.  They can’t see what they will be gaining.

In my book Think Like a Rock Star, I’ve included several case studies from where rock stars gave their fans control of a message, idea, program.  What do rock stars like The Donnas, Katy Perry and Jewel understand about their customers that your company does not?  Why would they give away control so freely to their fans and actually look for the opportunity to do so?

Because rock stars understand that when you give control to your fans, you get back their trust.

When you give up control, you gain trust.  And people advocate for brands and people that they trust.

In the Maker’s Mark example, the brand had always prided itself on having a one-to-one relationship with its most passionate customers.  Maker’s Mark truly embodied the rock star mindset of embracing your fans.  But as the brand grew beyond just a small Kentucky brand into a national brand, it meant that its network of fans became national as well.  So the founders realized that the brand had lost control of its ability to connect directly with its biggest fans.

The solution?  A brand ambassador program.  With a brand ambassador program, Maker’s Mark had a vehicle that let the brand connect directly with its biggest fans (its brand advocates), and by extension, it could then connect with all the customers that the brand ambassadors came in contact with.  By creating this program and giving up some control to its members, Maker’s Mark regained control of its ability to connect direct with its fans.  It regained the ability to connect with its fans that it lost when the brand went national.

Maker’s Mark understands what most rock stars do: That if you embrace your biggest fans, you will gain their loyalty, and their trust.  And they will work for you to help build your brand.

Sometimes it’s worth it to give up something small, to get something bigger in return.

Pic via Flickr user LunchBoxStudios

PS: Every week we discuss how your brand can create more passionate fans in the Think Like a Rock Star newsletter.  Click here to signup for free.


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