Influencers versus advocates. Which is more important for your brand?


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Recently I wrote about Influencers (what is online influence, and why is everyone desperate to measure it?). In this, I look at what the difference is between an “influencer” and a “brand advocate”, and why both are important. But why “brand advocates” are more important for driving sales, and how to engage with them.

With all the focus on “influencers” and the obsession and battle to measure and track the size of their networks, there is a risk that marketers confuse INFLENCERS with ADVOCATES.
ADVOCATES will actually be more key for your brand or business than INFLUENCERS.
  • Brand Advocates will be more important in driving your brand as they have passion and will be evangelical about it. Usually without you actually having to incentivize them to do so, unlike with Influencers. They will do it because they love your brand, and want to spread the word to others.

What is the difference between an INFLUENCER and an ADVOCATE?

Zuberance, an agency specializing in the area, defines: “A brand Advocate is a highly satisfied customer or other who recommends their favourite brands and products without being paid to do so”.

Michael Brito in his book “Smart Business, Social Business” argues that Influencers tend to have a wide reach due to their large social networks, need to try and maintain independence and offer unbiased opinions (as they tend to be category bloggers, journalists etc.), tend to be influenced by short term activities and incentives offered, and do not have the health and success of any particular brand close to their heart.
  • So, Influencers are important to a brand in getting a short-term message about the brand, perhaps when there is a new product or other news as they can get the message out fast and to a wide audience.

Brand advocates, on the other hand, have a deeper and more lasting love for and passion for a brand (even if the brand is not incentivising or even talking to them). They like to be vocal about the brand by writing reviews, answering questions, having dialogues and actively recommending the brand – even with no input or influence from the brand. They have a long-term interest in the brand’s health and growth.
  • So, Advocates have greater ability to get people to try and buy your brand, as they act as salesmen and endorsers for the brand as they offer enthusiastic and authentic advice and encouragement to customers. This they keep doing over and over and continuously over time, not just when there is new news from the brand.

Why are ADVOCATES for your brand likely to be more important for your success?

  1. Falling trust in paid-for commercial messages: Every study and report shows that consumers are losing trust in advertising as sources of information and trusted messages to make a purchase decision. They are looking more at recommendations from people they know and trust.
  2. Growing trust in recommendations: A recent Nielsen “Global Online Consumer Survey” across 50 countries showed consumers were much more likely to trust recommendations and consumer opinions posted online than paid for advertisements. The pace of this has accelerated.
    • For example, between 2007 and 2009 consumer trust in recommendations from people they know or trusted grew from 78% to 90%, Consumer opinions online from 61% to 70% while trust in TV ads fell from 62% to 49%.
    • In another study by Dr Ferris-Costa (University of Rhode Island) showed that brand advocates are 70% more likely to be seen as a source of reliable information, and 50% more able to create content that influences purchase than other sources. The study also showed that they tend to be very loyal to the brand they are advocates of
  3. What companies can talk about, versus what consumers want to: Another key factor is that, as a study by KRC Research showed, there is an important difference in what companies do and can talk about, and what consumers and users want.
    • The top topic companies communicate and speak about is “the quality of our product” (88%) while the top issue consumers want to hear and talk about is “how you feel about a product you have purchased” (69%) – versus the benefits and features as such. Advocates can and do talk about that with credibility, authority and passion. Companies cannot.

How should you help ADVOCATES get the message out about your brand?

Remember that they love your brand and have huge passion, so once you have identified them the key is to ensure you engage them and reinforce you see them as valuable. This does not need to mean payment and inducements that you may need to with influencers and magazines. Things you should focus on are:
  1. Asking their opinion on what you are doing, your products, advertising etc.
  2. Use them to input and test out new ideas.
  3. Thank them for their support, by commenting, and contacting them.
  4. Create some form of recognition system, which could be through informal meetings with other advocates, writing and tanking them, early briefing and sharing of new news and products, give them access to a senior member of management.
  5. Create a way to showcase what they are doing through your social media or sites, and within the company.
  6. Give them products or offers that they can share with their networks.
  7. Invite them to your factory and behind scenes activities, and ask their thoughts.

What do you think? Add your comment on the posting, and share on your favourite social media platform using the sharing buttons at end of the post.

Some suggested further reading:

Infographics on Influencers and Brand Advocates:

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Gary Bembridge
30 years of marketing experience managing and building brands globally for companies like Unilever and Johnson & Johnson, as a Global Vice President Global Marketing. Now a freelance marketing consultant, blogger and podcaster. The podcast has won awards in the European Podcast Awards (Business) the last 2 years.


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