Rethinking Brand Ambassadors with Keri Russell

Brand Experience
How your brand can live—and work—among your customers.
By 
Joe Smith
August 31, 2023
Keri Russell, star of the Netflix show "The Diplomat"
Brand Experience
How your brand can live—and work—among your customers.
By 
Joe Smith
August 31, 2023

This spring, Netflix gifted my living room with The Diplomat. “The series centers on Kate Wyler (friggin’ Keri ‘Felicity’ Russell), the new United States ambassador to the United Kingdom, as she helps defuse international crises, forges strategic alliances, and adjusts to her new place in the spotlight. She also manages her deteriorating marriage to fellow career diplomat Hal Wyler (Rufus Sewell aka ‘Count Adhemar’ from A Knight’s Tale and probably other stuff too).”

[Mild spoilers below, though you’d have to expect most of the following to occur in a series like this...]

From day one in her new post, Kate Wyler goes through some stuff, mostly pertaining to preventing the outbreak of a world war. She’s highly competent, decisive, and willing – when she must – to circumvent the established chain of command to help diffuse the crisis. Also, her boss, the Secretary of State, is a total jerk.  

I’ve worked in brand for over 15 years, including stints on the CPG side, so I’ve occasionally gotten fast and loose with the term “ambassador,” and I’m by no means the only one. When most of us think of brand ambassadors we imagine hastily recruited, though enthusiastic, people in ill-fitting logoed apparel handing out swag at trade shows. In other words, we’re conflating brand promotion with brand ambassadorship, which is selling the latter a bit short.

Imagine agents of your brand as fulfilling your brand’s promise beyond the confines of corporate HQ, interacting with customers to bring to life the value proposition and positioning you’ve worked so hard to codify. Someone who not only speaks for your brand but acts on behalf of your brand, interprets your brand through interactions to solve problems for and delight customers. Yes, maybe a frisbee with your logo is part of that equation, but it’s not the whole picture.

I’m not here to evaluate the verisimilitude of Debora Cain’s show, but rather to look at Kate Wyler as inspiration for what brand ambassadorship could be.

1. A Brand Ambassador must have a clear mission

In the show, we’d call Kate’s mission “U.S. Foreign Policy.” It’s the set of general guidelines that describe her role and objectives as well as the priorities and interests of her home country. If you’re a brand, you similarly need to equip (i.e., brief) your ambassadors with an understanding of the brand’s goals, experience principles, and positioning. This is not a script or a checklist to execute against but rather an endowing of responsibility. The “mission” needs to be specific enough to fully encompass your brand strategy, but broad enough to account for the countless interactions your brand ambassadors must navigate, which leads to point 2.

2. A Brand Ambassador must be empowered to act independently

As Ambassador to the U.K., Kate Wyler is guided by high-level goals such as making sure ICBMs aren’t launched at her home country. However, each day she is constantly having to make decisions that support her mission but that don’t have to be dictated by her boss (which is good, because, like I said, Secretary of State Miguel Ganon is the WORST). Judgement is part of doing her job on behalf of her home country. In the same way, your brand ambassadors need to be steeped in your brand strategy and experience principles in order to react and respond in ways that would be consistent with the brand, even if they hadn’t been predicted or documented. One of the best examples of empowering brand ambassadors to act on behalf of the brand, no matter what the situation, comes from Ritz Hotels. Even if specific to the hospitality industry, this is an excellent example of what it looks like to be fully committed to empowering your brand ambassadors rather than trying to dictate their every move.

3. A Brand Ambassador must know the customs and culture

Your Brand Ambassador is likely operating outside of your “home turf” (i.e., your owned and paid marketing channels). Their behavior must reflect the circumstances in which they’re interacting with people. Kate Wyler is successful in her role, particularly when it comes to building relationships with her English counterparts, because she understands that her actions and words need to pass through the contextual filter of her surroundings. It’s HER job to translate her mission and objectives into the language and “style” of those around her. In the same way, your brand ambassadors aren’t merely klaxons broadcasting your brand’s value proposition at maximum volume. Their job is to enable your brand to function in an environment it doesn’t fully control and to behave in a manner consistent with expectations of the people it serves.  

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