Brand Ambassadors--And Their Blogs--In Big Demand

Help wanted: Chief Beer Officer for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide. Must attend beer fests, sample more than 300 brews, tour breweries, host Oktoberfest and choose beer menus for new hotels. Knowledge of blogging--and beer--a must. Generous travel/expense account.

Add that job opening to Chivas's current search for a couple to spend $200,000 ballyhooing the Chivas Life at exclusive polo and golf events while traveling the world--and blogging.

While marketers are increasingly turning to word-of-mouth advertising and hiring companies to help them create buzz, others like Chivas and Starwood are hiring their own bees as product ambassadors.

Starwood's job posting appeared as a full page ad in yesterday's Wall Street Journal and on HotJobs.com and Monster.com.

Michael Solomon, a visiting professor of marketing at St. Joseph's University and author of "Conquering Consumerspace: Marketing Strategies for a Branded World," said the hiring of "ambassadors" is an example of a fundamental shift in marketing and part of a broader trend of consumer-generated marketing.

"It is much more effective than traditional advertising because the source of communication is much more credible," he said. "Consumers know that advertising is a paid form of communication that is identified with a sponsor. Ambassadors are not perceived as employees."

Starwood's newest employee will be part of its Best Brew program, which is supported with newspaper inserts, print in trade publications for brewers, and direct marketing to Starwood Preferred Guest members.

Best Brew is part of Starwood's larger "Comfort isn't complicated" positioning, which has included free bottled water in guest rooms, as well as Seattle's Best coffee and apple cinnamon pie (that scent you smell in the lobby).

All 130 of Starwoods' Four Points hotels in 22 countries are encouraged to carry indigenous craft brews. The North American properties will feature a selection of imports as well as craft brews. Each hotel also has a Beer Champion who can teach guests about beer and food pairings and encourage them to try new tastes.

"Word-of-mouth is a lot less costly and easier to pull off, especially if you are recommending an obscure brand," said Solomon.

That was true for Franklin Foods' Hahns Yogurt and Cream Cheese Spread. The Vermont cream cheese manufacturer turned to Bzz Agent to increase its regional distribution. Bzz representatives were sent to supermarkets with product coupons and encouraged markets that didn't carry the brand to do so.

"Even better, because of our feedback to Franklin Foods, the company created a larger size, a new flavor and eliminated food coloring," said Joe Chernov, director of communications for Bzz Agent. "So word-of-mouth goes both ways."

Solomon cautions there is risk in word-of-mouth and blogging for pay if companies are not upfront about it. He cites recent controversy over fake blogs, known as flogs, which are purportedly by consumers, but are actually written by company shills. Flogs are considered unethical by the Word-of-Mouth-Marketing Association.

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