Brand ambassadors can deliver real benefits for health and wellness brands – and for consumers who want to change their lifestyles for the better, says Dorian Payne, Head of Operations at StreetPR

Health is big business, and not just because we’re still in the season of New Year resolutions, when everyone starts a new diet, signs up for the gym and quits smoking and drinking. There’s a much bigger shift in attitudes going on here – the UK is finally waking up to the fact that we have a problem with obesity, general fitness levels and related medical conditions.

But how can gyms and fitness clubs, healthy eating brands and health charities get people to convert this increased awareness of the need to look after ourselves better into action – not just joining a gym, but going regularly throughout the year, and not just starting a diet, but changing eating habits and lifestyles long-term?

Ads on the TV, in the papers and on billboards, online marketing and even old-fashioned direct mail all have their part to play; but face-to-face engagement is becoming much more important for many marketers, as it offers the ability for brands to start and exploit conversations around the benefits of changing habits with their target audiences.

You can’t have a conversation with a TV ad, and there’s something a bit soul-less about ‘talking’ to someone online. Is it a real person? Are they more interested in sticking to their script? Are they an AI-driven chat-bot? There’s something much more reassuring about being able to talk to someone in person.

The NHS is a big user of brand ambassadors for this kind of direct face-to-face communications – we’ve been working on anti-smoking campaigns in and around London for some years now. It’s amazing how smokers are so much more open and responsive when they’re actually discussing the challenges they face with a sympathetic listener who responds to their worries and provides tailored advice – and who will often themselves be a reformed smoker!

Face-to-face marketing should always be about far more than just handing out some leaflets, particularly when we’re talking about getting people fitter, healthier and living a longer and more rewarding life.

Gyms and health clubs are also big users of brand ambassadors. An additional benefit for them is that they can run very tightly targeted campaigns, selecting locations within a set distance from their outlets, or around those places they know their key audience will be (upmarket High Streets or transport hubs, for example). It’s no surprise that so many gyms will run campaigns handing out leaflets offering free trial day memberships at major train stations during the morning and evening rush hours – it really does drive footfall.

Backing up leafleting with some kind of pop-up activity really helps to leverage the impact of on-the-street campaigns. So if you’re a marketer for a health club chain, how about taking a rowing machine or a fitness bike into local shopping centres and challenging people to take on your brand ambassadors? You can even link up the output from the fitness machines with any digital screens in the area, and make them sharable via social media, to amplify the impact of the experiential work.

There are also obvious benefits for healthy food and drink companies as well. People are far more likely to buy something if they are able to try it first, and brand ambassadors on the High Street, in shopping malls, at tube and train stations – and even at festivals and cultural events – can hand out free samples and, even more importantly, discuss any concerns that consumers may have there and then.

Brand ambassadors can be used on their own or for short-term tactical purposes (such as the opening of a new gym or healthy eating outlet), but we’d argue that wherever possible they should be woven into the long-term marketing strategy. On-street activity works really well in partnership with other media channels to drive awareness and traffic. In today’s ‘always connected’ world, face-to-face marketing is particularly effective when it is integrated with social media channels to create buzz about the campaign and the brand and even content that can be used on websites or in advertising.

But don’t forget that simple leafleting also keeps on working for a long time after the campaign finishes – we had clients saying that they’ve had new customers walking through their doors up to six months after we’ve run a campaign for them, waving leaflets they’ve had stuck on their fridges for that long.

Real people talking to real consumers about health issues that matter can deliver significant benefits both for the consumers and for the businesses concerned.

Originally posted Gym Owner Monthly | 6 February 2018