Creating Brand Ambassadors Like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”

brand ambassadors, buffy, buffy the vampire slayerBy Samuel Scott

People may like your brand – but do they love it? The difference is crucial to understand.

If someone likes your soft drink, tennis shoe, or website, he will continue to buy the product or visit the site. However, someone who loves a brand will often attempt to sell it to his friends, family, and acquaintances – usually without even realizing it.

As Harvard Business Review notes in a recent blog post, a love of a brand will turn someone into a “brand ambassador” who:

Supports the brand. An advocate will stand by the brand even in times of difficulty, isn’t afraid to react to criticism or correct factually incorrect statements about the brand, and will purchase brand products as gifts for friends and family.

Actively promotes the brand. Advocates share their experiences via various social media, openly praise company employees both internally and externally, and provide unsolicited feedback on service and quality. In some cases, they consider themselves “brand protectors.”

Is emotionally attached to the brand. They have a sense of ownership in the brand. They will forgive shortcomings (such as price) when buying products, and treat the brand as part of their inner circle.

The latter point is extremely important. Emotion is a primary motivation – some people, especially marketers, would argue that it is the primary motivation – for human behavior, and television and film are two industries that capitalize on this understanding. Their products instill emotions in people – comedies inspire laughter, dramas foster sadness – and then develop massive followings as a result.

For readers who enjoy fantasy or science-fiction, here is one example: The cult television-program “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” The show has remained massively popular today through fan fiction, conventions, DVD sales, and merchandise even after its cancellation in 2003 following seven seasons. (I know people who have become “brand ambassadors” by pushing the DVDs onto their friends and exclaiming, “You HAVE to watch this show!”)

And it goes even further.

Warner Brothers has gained the rights to remake the 1992 film version of “Buffy,” which originally inspired the television series. However, neither Joss Whedon (the creator of the first film and series) nor any of the stars of the series will reportedly be involved. Whedon and Sarah Michelle Gellar, who played the heroine on television, said that the new movie will be, in polite terms, less than stellar – and fans are outraged that their beloved brand show will likely be tarnished.

But here’s the catch. I will bet anyone that the new film will make a lot of money. Despite any threats of boycotts, fans are so emotionally invested in the brand show that nearly all of them will still see the movie in the end even though they will expect it to be terrible.

And that is brand loyalty.

So, the obvious question: How do you get people to love your brand (assuming that yours does not involve a teenage girl killing demons and saving the world)? HBR’s post gives some helpful insights (silencing detractors, building a positive customer-experience, and offering extraordinary experiences), and I wanted to discuss three more that focus specifically on the need for emotional attachment as well.

  • View your customers as ends rather than means. In other words, treat them as human beings with needs in their own rights and not merely as vehicles through which you make money. Once your organization understands this principle, then each department – marketing, customer service, and so on – will adapt their methods and practices accordingly. Whedon did not treat his audience as just a number – he completely understood the emotions and situations with which teenage girls (the first fans of “Buffy” in the show’s beginning) deal in their day-to-day lives. What drives your target demographic? What do they want, hope, love, and fear?
  • Help your customers in their daily lives. The true genius of “Buffy” was that it was not really a show about a superhero fighting evil (that would be a cliché). It was actually about the trials and tribulations of high school (and, later, college and adult life). The former was a metaphor for the latter. Viewers identified emotionally with the intense, dramatic plots each week involving issues including parental divorce (and later death), physical abuse in relationships, and a person’s realization that she is a lesbian. The show provided an outlet to help viewers with the situations that they themselves were facing at the same time. How can your product or service really help your customers in their daily lives in ways that they will find emotionally fulfilling? How (and through what mediums) can you connect with them in a regular basis in this manner?
  • A little glitz and glamour helps. Whedon also knew that male viewers would like a show that featured “cute girls kicking butt” (along with having more than its fair share of violence) as well. A little superficiality (but not too much) is necessary because people are emotionally attracted to that which is, well, attractive. Books, unfortunately, are often judged by their covers. No one will share a product or website that is visually unappealing.

Once you have created an emotional attachment to your brand among your customers, then the word-of-mouth advertising will start to flow naturally. And you won’t even need a wooden stake to do it.

Samuel Scott is Director of Digital Marketing and Communications and SEO Team Leader for The Cline Group. You see more of his thoughts on TwitterGoogle+, LinkedIn, Facebook, Slideshare, and Quora. His personal website is here. See his series for The Cline Group on how he built and marketed his own “Buffy” fan website at Buffy the Vampire Slayer Online.

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  • amy justo

    bravo sam! well done!

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