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How brand ambassadors grow tribes

There is tremendous potential in using a small but very dedicated base of customers to build up a brand. These customers, the ones who elevate a brand from a niche to a mass market brand are not just evangelists; these brand ambassadors are the key to growth.

These customers are the masonic tribe that become spokesman, representatives, and recruiters for the brand without any incentives. These customers are the brand’s loyal influencers and key marketing tool. They define the culture, and in turn create subcultures unique to the brand. They elevate the status of the brand among their networks, and they have the potential to influence brand virility. A well-executed psychographic segmentation study can help you to better understand your current customers or a new market. But once you know this information, it’s crucial to look at how you select the right brand ambassadors to inspire others and amplify your brand.

A great brand to learn from is SoulCycle.  SoulCycle started out with two women, looking for a way to combine the philosophy of yoga and the rigor of cardio. What it morphed into was a community of fitness junkies who changed the way the fitness industry looked at the word “tribe.”

SoulCycle did not invent the concept of a spin class. Most traditional gyms with classes offered those. However, what SoulCycle did was elevate the workout experience of a traditional class. SoulCycle classes were not just about the intensity of a cardio experience, but about the greater “one-ness” of the experience. More importantly, the SoulCycle brand understood that it had a small market, and so they had to make that market matter. Brand ambassadors were essential for solidifying the elite nature of the community and spreading the word to the masses.

SoulCycle created a cult community. The product delivered on its fitness promise but the brand delivered on the intangibles. The brand evolved the concept of traditional cycling by infusing music, yoga meditation techniques, inspirational maxims, and performance antics into the mix. SoulCycle riders left the workout feeling more than exhausted. They felt tired, excited, accomplished, and most importantly, they felt that they belonged to something. That sense of belonging, for both SoulCycle customers and employees was core to the idea at its conception. Because of that, it is mandated that every employee take classes-from the IT guy to the receptionist. As the brand continued to expand, it did so with a very deep understanding of its core audience. Music, lighting, and classes that served one segment of Manhattan, such as the Upper East Side, were not the same as ones that served another segment such as the Union Square, college-student crowd. Yet, one thing remained constant and that was the SoulTribe that was forming. As classes become more crowded and celebrities became more abundant, the brand caught the ear of similar fitness players. Equinox, a company which shared similar brand sensibilities, bought a stake and helped to expand SoulCycle’s offering to 17 locations. Since then SoulCycle has popped up in 55 locations and continues to grow.

SoulCycle took a commoditized product (cycling) and tailored it to a market that felt authentic to the brand and which it understood really well. Then the company used the small group of other like-minded “tribes-men” to expand its influence and recruit others. This “tribe” of brand ambassadors created a community, and within that community, a tight-knit bond of belonging to something that elevated one’s daily life. That deep emotional connection created a subculture of cycling enthusiasts and from there, the trickle-down effect impacted all boutique fitness offerings and now even traditional gyms. SoulCycle continues to lead the market as the top cycling brand, but more than the actual classes, the SoulCycle ethos of respect, community, wellness, and fun in fitness, have now permeated how most brands aspire to serve up fitness.