Their names are known throughout the world by millions of adoring fans, they are attractive, sometimes they are even genuinely talented, they are often absurdly wealthy – and for just a few million more, one of them might be willing to lend their gorgeous, famous face to a company or brand.
However, only major corporations with massive advertising budgets can afford to hire celebrities to become their brand ambassadors.

“Unfortunately, not all companies are in a position to afford Brad Pitt – like Chanel was. And I bet it cost Nespresso far more than a cup of coffee to get George Clooney to flash his movie star grin in their TV spots,” says Dayle Wheeler, founder of ModernBusiness.

“Of course, in rare cases, the CEO of the company also reaches almost cult-like celebrity status, such as the late Steve Jobs of Apple. Not only did he front a company with innovative and beautifully designed products – which certainly helped his cause – but he actually managed to make being a geek cool. Before long, consumers believed that the entire Apple brand was cool.”

But what is the average small-to-medium enterprise (SME) to do then if it does not have a major ad budget or a celebrity CEO? How should such a company go about trying to establish a name for itself, its service, or product?

Wheeler says companies already have their most valuable advertising assets: their own employees.

“Marketing needs to happen from the inside out, and your workers are your company’s best brand ambassadors,” he says. “They are essential to conveying your brand’s message to the world.”

A great way to accomplish this is through enterprise social networking (ESN), says Wheeler. “ESN, which is basically internal social networking on a platform where ideas can be shared between employees working across various departments, is catching on worldwide as companies realise how much value it holds in terms of fostering collaboration and innovation,” Wheeler explains.

Wheeler, who has launched an ESN – aptly called “ideas” – says apart from sharing information companywide, ESN also allows your company’s marketing department to ‘test-drive’ campaigns among co-workers first before sending it out into the world.

Even those major corporations that do have huge ad budgets are realising this. In order to win back consumer trust in financial institutions following the major banking crashes on Wall Street in recent years, one
Fortune 250 insurance and annuities firm in the US, Lincoln Financial, rolled out a TV campaign during Thanksgiving last year.

Called “You’re In Charge”, the empowering message they hoped to convey was to let consumers know that they are in charge of their own financial futures.

Before publically launching the campaign, Lincoln Financial empowered its employees too. It enlisted the help of some of their employees to spread the campaign at its various operations across the US.

Not only did the tactic serve to spread the word among workers and get them enthusiastic about the campaign, but it simultaneously allowed the company’s marketers to “kick the tyres” and evaluate the effectiveness of the campaign, allowing them to tweak it and iron out any possible wrinkles before the public reveal.

“Getting employees directly involved in something as crucial as your company’s brand image empowers them,” says Wheeler. “This in turn will strengthen the entire company, because when your employees genuinely believe in the product or idea they are selling, consumers will buy it too.”