How Express Ambassador Program Drove 168% Return-On-Investment in Online & In-Store Sales Using Mavrck
Fashion retailer Express knows that when it comes to style, the rules don’t apply. But while social media is instrumental in inspiring shoppers in the searches, consumers are increasingly relying on people they trust for opinions before they make their purchase.
According to the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer Global Report, distrust is a default sentiment echoed by 59% of respondents until they see clear evidence of truth. Respondents feel closer, stronger bonds with those in their local circle — like neighbors and coworkers. This sentiment increased 6-7% over the last year.
For Express, inspiring trust and community among its shoppers was a priority. Express is among the largest specialty apparel brands in the U.S. with $1.9B in Q3 2022 net sales.
It wanted to increase its online word-of-mouth marketing and brand buzz, especially among its target male audience (U.S.- based men, 20-30 years old). Additionally, its objectives for spring 2018 revolved around needing to address business challenges within its existing male-led influencer program revolving around scale, sales, and efficiency.
To resolve these challenges, Express wanted to expand its micro-influencer network by 10x and diversify its influencer marketing mix to include influential brand employees and consumer advocates. These groups would ideally be recruited from its store associate cohort within key markets and from its existing customer loyalty program.
To connect influencer content to sales and increase efficiencies company-wide, Express provided the macro- and micro-influencers involved in its Express Men’s campaigns with unique promo codes to share with their audiences, that were redeemable in-store and online.
These personalized links helped Express to track sales associated with individual creators while simultaneously reporting on engagement rates — trying to maintain a minimum average of 3% across the program.
Express’ influencer strategy was borne from the insight that its customer base now exists in an influencer-augmented reality, where influence is not just a touchpoint on the path to purchase; it is the path to purchase.
Yet consumers have grown increasingly wary of online promotion and inherently trust their peers more than a brand. With that in mind, as part of a strategic shift to showcase relatable content, Express knew that a mix of creators, employees, and customers would be ideal candidates for this initiative. Given that their content could be scaled across key touchpoints, it could in turn better accelerate purchase decisions both online and offline. This idea evolved into a robust ambassador program that is still active today.
Express brought its ambassador program to life by redefining the idea of an “influencer” in the context of its customer by using these steps:
- Identifying a diverse influencer cohort, consisting of micro-influencers, influential customers, and engaged employees
- Activating these creators across brand-owned channels
- Bringing the “New Definition of Work” message and styling concepts to market, focusing on modern looks that transition from the workplace to casual hangs
Express also took an omnichannel approach to customer engagement, knowing that its target audience would be looking for purchased validation outside of a traditional feed.
Influencer-generated content (IGC) from the program was then amplified across email campaigns, retail store creative, out-of-home (OOH) materials, and on the brand’s own Instagram — all in an effort to connect digital and in-store messaging.
The ambassador program laddered up to Express’ larger vertical-wide marketing campaign: Express. Your Rules., which activated prominent macro-influencers at the time, such as Jordyn Woods and Candice Huffine.
This campaign’s goal, like its ambassador program and subsequent additional campaigns, empowered influencers at all levels to showcase how they express their individuality through fashion.
When Express launched its enhanced ambassador program, it achieved its primary goals by migrating its existing program to Mavrck’s influencer marketing platform. Here, Express could create and manage a private, brand-owned network that was safe for employees and customers to join.
All full-time, salaried Express store sales associates were invited to participate in the ambassador program via email and through Workplace by Facebook. Meanwhile, customers from the EXPRESS NEXT loyalty program, along with macro- and microinfluencers from the brand’s existing network, were identified and then recruited by email. Ambassadors were offered cash rewards and points as incentives to create looks using new wear-to-work (WTW) products, with instructions to dress on their own terms.
Approved ambassadors were selected by email to participate in monthly campaigns to support key “New Definition-of-Work” messaging (#ExpressYourRules) featuring new WTW styles and expanded sizing options on their own Instagram feeds via posts and Stories.
Express then amplified and repurposed this IGC across its own brand channels — including its various social media accounts, its official e-commerce website and blog, within in-store video, on digital billboards in New York City’s Time Square, at mall kiosks, and in printed lookbooks.
In the end, Express not only successfully tied sales to ambassador activity; the brand gained new insights into how its target male audience shops.
Perhaps most important to the continued growth and success of the Express ambassador program and the business was one particular takeaway: that collectively, Express Men’s influencers drove a higher volume of in-store sales (74%) compared to online sales (26%), indicating that Express’ target male audience is more likely to shop WTW styles in-store vs. online.
Express micro-influencer ambassadors also drove a higher volume of in-store sales (86.8%) and online sales (79%) compared to macro-influencers. This indicates that when activated at scale on Instagram, Express micro-influencers increase brand awareness and conversions at a higher return and with greater efficiency than macro-influencers.
In the end, the #ExpressYourRules campaign that Express executed in partnership with Mavrck drove:
- 11x growth in ambassador program members
- 46M total impressions for IGC on Instagram
- 2.3M total engagements for IGC on Instagram
- 5.5 – 7% average engagement rates for IGC on Instagram
- 168% ROI from in-store & online purchases made via IGC
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Growth in Ambassador Program Members
Total Impressions (Instagram IGC)
Total Engagements (Instagram IGC)
5.5% - 7%
Average Engagement Rate (Instagram IGC)
ROI (in-store & online purchases made via IGC)