Brand Ambassadors, Brand Advocates or Brand Influencers? 10 key differences

May 2 2015

A recurring discussion in marketing departments is how to identify, engage and collaborate with strategic individuals given the numerous possibilities offered by digital technology. Although the involvement of influential people has become a common practice in several industries, their role and contribution are often misinterpreted by managers, creating a sense of general confusion in the field. Recent technological and sociological changes heavily contributed to the rise of empowered consumers that communicate on behalf of brands, also enlarging the meaning of the term ‘influencer’. A regular consumer can today evolve into recognized brand influencer, advocate or ambassador, without necessarily being a celebrity or professional endorser with millions of fans. Although, I have noticed a convergence of these three strategic profiles, I believe there are still significant peculiarities among them.

Brand Influencer: is usually a celebrity, blogger, expert that, having a large number of followers, is contracted by a brand to represent its image in order to increase the overall company credibility, thus, sales. Influencers are not required to have deep product knowledge or to show their genuine passion about the brand. The motivation to support a brand is for them purely economical and driven by their need to grow personal reputation and reach.

Brand Advocate: is often a very satisfied customer that spreads brand messages, naturally or incentivized by a company, to provide its social network with information he/she finds valuable. Advocates have good knowledge of the recommended product as they have satisfactory used it in the past. Their primary motivation is the perceived sense of recognition coming from friends, family members and peers, combined with other economic benefits such as discounts or giveaways.

Brand Ambassador: is defined as ‘extreme brand lover’ that is actively engaged in the co-creation of value with a company, having the ability to generate insights that produce value for the entire brand community. Ambassadors are irrational lovers that build long-lasting relationships with brands and other community members thanks to a sophisticated knowledge of the product. They are driven by the desire to become key community members and seek to receive preferential treatment (e.g. exclusive gadgets, access to company events, etc.) and social recognition.

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These are the key differences among brand influencers, advocates, and ambassadors:

Role & Impact: while brand influencers have the scope to represent the product, advocates are mainly involved by companies to distribute content and ambassadors generate insights and engagement for other community members through stories. If the company collaboration with empowered individuals has the business objective to increase sales, influencers might be chosen over others for their ability to reach a broad audience. Although this network is often made by weak ties, they benefit from a great sector-specific credibility. An advocate usually responds to the communication objective of creating awareness, serving the purpose of generating a high level of WOM. They function as opinion leaders inside their social network, despite they can directly reach a quite limited number of close connections.Ambassadors are, instead, handled when the relational objective of building strong communities, through both participation and advocacy, are in place. These brand lovers, not necessarily customers, can influence a rather narrow group of individuals with whom they have intimate relationships. Both influencers and advocates direct their efforts towards their connections outside the company, while ambassadors are also involved into some internal operations for their ability to co-create value with the brand.

Involvement & Commitment: while brand influencers do not need to be loyal consumers of a product in order to publicly endorse it, brand advocates must be trialist or loyalist with a good knowledge of it in order to generate effective WOM. Differently, brand ambassadors are often in the very final communication funnel stage ‘love beyond reason’ as they are enthusiast consumers completely immersed into the brand and community life. Personal knowledge of a product dictates the kind of tasks these three groups can undertake for a brand. Influencers are asked to promote products, for example, creating a new blog article to introduce the new Nike Air Rift. Also advocates support promotional activities when, for instance, they invite friends to join AirBnB.com and get a discount on the next trip if they register.Ambassadors are usually engaged into consumer collaboration activities such as ‘tell us the story behind your coffee break and work with Illy Coffee managers to create the new advertising campaign’. Another differentiating factor among these profiles is the length of their involvement with the brand. Commitment varies depending on the tasks and their level of passion for the brand. Brand influencersoften collaborate for a short period, or even for a single activity, following the contract conditions under which the partnership originates. Advocates are involved as long as there is interest in the brand, or the company incentive justifies their effort. Differently, ambassadors are ideally involved for longer periods being their collaboration based on a high quality relationship made of mutual trust, reciprocal commitment and respect.

Motivation & Engagement: also personal motivation significantly varies among the three strategic individuals. In principle, brand influencers are driven by the need to grow their own fan/follower base and will privilege collaboration with brands that, besides offering good remuneration, also increase their overall image. A company that wants to engage with influencers needs to identify and ‘force’ them to represent the brand, as they would not naturally do so. Advocates decide to take an action having a social goal in mind. They want to help others and benefit from a sense of recognition besides some tangible reward such as samples, prizes, and discounts. Advocates do not always recommend a product naturally; sometimes they need to be induced through some incentive. Brands usually engage with them using a mix of push and pull strategies depending on the strategic importance of that particular consumer. Differently, ambassadors desire to become key brand community members, to receive preferential treatment and enlarge social relationships because of their expertise, creative touch and passion. Thanks of their genuine interest in the brand they don’t need economic incentives but rather exclusive experiences and rewards from brands. As these individuals naturally seek to connect with the beloved brands, a company can identify them through pull activities such as continuous listening and monitoring.

As you have seen above, there are at least ten elements to evaluate before choosing among brand influencers, advocates and ambassadors. In my view, knowledge and love for a brand are essential factors to consider before involving someone into your marketing and communication activities. For example, I believe you should sign endorsement agreement with only with influencers that genuinely love your brand. In addition, I believe that strategic individuals should always be rewarded by the brand for the their efforts. The company should clearly understand motivation and needed incentives (both economic and non-) ahead of a campaign launch.

Sometimes a ‘thank you’ message is enough to make someone feel special. Don’t miss the chance to thank the most important people for your business.

Alex Mari

Founder of BrandMate App