Case Studies - Brand Ambassador Programs: Part One

Two CPG brands, Maker's Mark and Sephora, and one non-D2C brand in Harley Davidson provides examples of great brand ambassador programs. Harley Davidson's and Maker's Mark's programs are decades old, but Sephora's program was started in 2019. Below their respective webpages, their launch strategies, and their launch stories are summarized.

Harley Davidson

Name of the program: Harley Owners Group (HOG)
How they launched:
The Harley Owners' Group launched on January 1, 1983. It had 30,000 members at launch.
 The groundwork began in 1978, the 75th anniversary of Harley-Davidson when a series of cross-country rides were organized to connect the company with its customers.
In the first year, they staged rides at motorcycle events across the US and Canada at established motorcycle events such as the Sturgis Rally, Daytona Bike Week, and others.
Beginning stages:
The initiative took about 5 years to get off the ground from the time groundwork was being laid in 1978.
They had to use established motorcycle events to launch their program in 1983, but in 1984 they were able to have their own events in Reno, NV, and Nashville, TN. These events were used to create a sense of community with their customers and to generate word-of-mouth so that others would want to join.
The company launched with 30,000 members and by the end of 1985, the initiative had 60,000 members in 49 official chapters.
Currently, the group has 325,000 members.

Maker's Mark

Name of the program: The Embassy 
How they launched:
Maker's Mark was launched when they realized that even though they were a small brand in Kentucky, there were fans of the product in other states.
The Maker's Mark Embassy ambassador program was a way to solve the problem of not being able to connect with customers who love their whiskey.
In 1995, it was suggested to them by a family friend that they should launch an ambassador program.
Beginning stages:
It took only a few years from the time a friend advised Bill Samuel's son to launch an ambassador program to the actual launch.
To solve their outreach program, they solved it by technological means. was registered on August 13, 1997, which makes 1997 the most likely year of the creation of The Embassy. It took two years from the suggestion to the start of the program.


Name of the Program: #SephoraSquad 
How they launched:
Sephora launched their program in February 2019 by inviting applications to their new #SephoraSquad ambassador program. Over 15,000 people applied.
They looked for those who had an active Instagram account, a passion for beauty, and a passion for Sephora products. The applicant's follower count didn't matter but each applicant had to have good testimonials from other people in their network.
Beginning stages:
They announced the first 24 people to join the program by the end of March.
Finalists are currently working for Sephora until they pick a new set of people in 2020.

Case Studies - Brand Ambassador Programs: Part Two

Two non-D2C brands, Blackbaud and GE, along with one CPG brand, Shine Cosmetics, provide great examples of brand ambassador programs. These programs are discussed in more detail below.


Name of the program: Blackbaud Champions.
How they launched:
At the beginning of 2014, they realized that investing in customer advocates would encourage purchases from B2B buyers who depend on recommendations.
Groundwork began in setting up their customer advocate program, and from that, they used the data to begin Blackbaud Champions.
Blackbaud Champions was launched later that year to recognize their most valuable customers.
Beginning stages:
After September 2014, Blackbaud launched their Champions program. This shows it took about 9 months up to a year for them to get up and running after laying the groundwork.


Name of the program: Employee Brand Ambassador Program 
How they launched:
They started with a budget of zero dollars.
The initiative was launched to combat the negative brand perception at the time, which was preventing them from effectively recruiting for open positions. They wanted to change the view that GE was a monolith corporate entity. 
Their program started in 2012 with a social media team including Shaunda Zilich, who joined GE in 2012 as Social Media Recruiter and became Global Employment Brand Leader a year later.
Beginning stages:
Within the first month of using employee ambassadors to tell the GE story, job applications to the brand increased by 800%. This shows that the program immediately got off the ground.
The initiative continued to be successful that by Q1 2017, engagement worth $3 million was generated due to their employee brand ambassador program.
Also by 2017, GE became number 1 on WilsonHCG's Fortune 500 Top 100 Employment Brands Report.

Shine Cosmetics

Name of the program: Shine Cosmetics Beauty Ambassador Program 
How they launched:
The program was most likely launched at the end of 2017, based on our estimates.
Beginning stages:
Based on the time it took from the launch of the webpage to the first published article mentioning the program, the program could have taken around 2 months to get off the ground.
After that February article, which was written by an ambassador, there were many more articles written by ambassadors that mention details about the program. This shows things started to pick up throughout 2018 as more ambassadors joined the program.