Building employees as brand ambassadors

Building employees as brand ambassadors

ASHIM KUMAR BANERJEE Director-Human Resource


Of all the aspects of sales and marketing, branding has the unique distinction of being the most subjective concept with the most objective impact. The scenario becomes all the more interesting when this subjective concept is personified and a concept called ‘brand ambassador’ is created. This makes it necessary that the meaning of ‘brand ambassador’ be established before any deliberation on the topic to be fruitful.

Rather than exploring classical dictionary definitions, let us establish it through an example of the oldest ambassadors known to human civilisation – Sri Krishna.

The grand nature of the battle of Mahabharat sometimes takes attention away from the gruelling preparation which went behind it. It was easy for the Kauravas to rally kings and consolidate a combined army of 11 Akshauhini (approximately 2.2 million) since they themselves were rulers of Hastinapur. But for the Pandavas who were ousted from their kingdom and thrown into obscurity, gathering support was a herculean task. It was Sri Krishna’s charisma which, when applied to rally support for the Pandavas’ cause, gathered the seven Akshauhini (approximately 1.4 million) army for Pandavas. He was the person who went from court to court, presented his influential personality as a reflection of the Pandav character and won the Kings’ hearts and minds alike.

This story of Sri Krishna gives us a practical definition of an ambassador. Logically extending this to branding which essentially involves creating anchors for a company and its products; ‘A charismatic person who establishes trust for a stakeholder by representing characteristics of the stakeholder through his own influential personality’.

Importance of ‘trust’ in pharma industry

In a competitive set up based upon choices, no company, irrespective of sector, can succeed without trust among the consumer and other stake holders. However, in a sector like pharma where matters are related to health – even life and death, the importance of trust is many times more as compared to other sectors. This naturally increases the importance of ‘Brand Ambassadors’ in pharma, they being the agents of trust for a company and its products.

Who can be a brand ambassador?

Applying the definition in today’s context where reaching to the desired category of customers is of prime importance, any charismatic personality who is also a recognised name within masses is a suitable choice for a brand ambassador.

Think on these lines and the known celebrities related to entertainment and sports are the first picture which pops up in our mind. The fact that they are a well known face in their arenas vouches for their charisma and influence; add this to the media which connects them to all categories of customers and they stand as the primary choices for a brand ambassadorship.

Brand ambassadors for pharma – a special challenge

Pharma industry has a special challenge in context of choosing brand ambassadors. The technical and complex nature of products for pharma companies (medicines) limits the options of brand ambassadors.

Let us again understand through an example. It is easy for a textile company to use Amitabh Bachchan’s elegant personality to represent the suave nature of its fabric; however for a pharma company it will be difficult to find a representative for the anti – inflammatory nature of its medicine.

Thus, pharma companies face a special challenge – while the importance of brand ambassadors and the trust created by them is a lot more in pharma industry, the primary choice of brand ambassadors is difficult to exercise (barring rare exceptions like Wasim Akram, who promote products for a disease he himself suffers from).

This compels pharma companies to take up the formidable challenge of making up for the absence of the primary choice of brand ambassadors and creating the same amount of trust in a different way – through creating ‘internal celebrities’.

Creating ‘internal celebrities’

The example above can be used to establish two conditions for a pharma brand ambassador:

  • For a brand with non – technical features, the brand ambassador’s personality facilitates linkage between itself and the product’s feature, on its own.

However, for a brand with technical features, the brand ambassador’s personality will have to be mixed with a sound technical knowledge of the product and its background, for the linkage to happen.

The first natural choice which stands true on this are the high performing employees of the company; since an employee being present in the ‘high performing’ cadre implies that the employee has a strong personality backed with sound knowledge.

  • The fact that the use of a known personality is limited and that there are restrictions on advertisement of most pharma products (barring OTC drugs, which can be advertised like any other product), it becomes imperative that pharma companies develop their own platforms to project these high performing employees as ‘brand ambassadors’

Creation of these platforms is the most significant initiative a pharma company needs to take to build its employees as brand ambassadors.

Creation of ‘platforms’

These are the steps which are proposed in this direction:

All high performers have ‘success stories’ – challenges which tested their mettle and which they successfully met during their career. The first step in building the platforms is to explore all such stories with the associated thoughts and give them a structured and communicable shape – of an article, of a short film and so on.

All these stories need to be communicated on all possible platforms – electronic media coverage (short films), print media coverage (articles), employee meets etc.

  • Building up on the stories:

Once these established stories are communicated thoroughly and the employees have been positioned as a ‘pharma celebrity’, the employees themselves need to build upon this positioning to carry out the ‘brand ambassadorship’ for their company. The category they will target is a niche category consisting of medical fraternity, dealers of medicines and other stakeholders directly related to pharma (like entrepreneurs etc.)

Significance of ‘Word of Mouth (WOM) Concept’

The Word of Mouth (WOM) concept finds a special relevance in this endeavour. One of the latest and most effective concepts in marketing, WOM involves spreading information about a company, product, event etc essentially through informal channels like one to one conversations, chatting, blogs and social networks. Although simple in description, the strength of this technique has been established through mathematical assessment like ‘The Law of 250’ (The Law of 250 states that every person is in touch with an average of 250 people to whom he can convey an opinion).

While the concept is an everyday phenomenon, the importance of focusing on and managing this concept is increasingly being understood and acted upon. By its very nature, the concept is most effective while targeting a niche clientele.

It is contended that internally created brand ambassadors of pharma companies need to make optimum use of this tool to create trust for their brand within the niche category described above.

These are some values which the pharma brand ambassadors will need to inculcate and demonstrate when using the WOM tool for brand building.

  • Initiative in reaching out:

It is a basic fact of human psychology that people show interest in you when you show interest in them. Thus, for a WOM marketing specialists whose task is to make people say good things about their company and its products, ie spreading brand salient, initiative to reach out to as many people as possible is quintessential.

  • Building a personal rapport:

The ability to detail a product is widely found in pharma world and easily achievable. What will differentiate a WOM marketing specialist will be his / her ability to strike a personal chord with the persons he is detailing to or generally dealing with. This will involve keen observation of the person’s behaviour, communication abilities and knowledge to convert these observations into conversations and a high emotional quotient (EQ) to build relationships on the basis of these conversations.

Passion is one of the most contagious of all human emotions. Thus, in a scenario when the aim is to create trust by spreading a good word about a company or a product, strong passion in the employees about the company, its philosophies and its values is a must.

As highlighted above, trust is all the more important in pharma since the matters are related to health – even life and death. In such a scenario, only that person who has built a personal credibility by standing true on his word and being transparent in his action can utilise WOM to the fullest.

These values which enable an employee to spread good word about his / her company through informal channels can be inculcated through informal and formal channels. Apart from training and development initiatives, when the leadership team is seen to be ‘walking the talk’, the values percolate down the organisation enabling a pharma company to meet of the challenge of building its brand through its employees.