In today’s marketing world, brands chase after influencers, tastemakers, and celebrities to tout their brand and increase awareness. As the trend of influencer marketing has increased, subcategories such as ambassadors, advocates, and nano-influencers have emerged. So, what’s the difference between these categories, and how can brands engage?
The first thing to understand about influencer marketing is that essentially everyone falls into one of these paradigms. Everyone has a brand they care about. Millennials and Gen Z are more vocal about this and are comfortable identifying as “I’m a Glossier girl” or “I’m a SoulCycle girl,” for example. For the first time ever, people are associating their own identities with the brands they love, and marketers are able to activate these people in a grassroots way.
Here’s a brief breakdown of influencers, ambassadors and advocates.
These individuals have the power to affect purchase decisions and often have a following in a particular niche and can therefore influence. Some influencers are often paid partners who are compensated to post about things they might not necessarily purchase on their own. For example, celebrities like Kylie Jenner would perhaps never buy a Michael Kors bag but Michael Kors would pay her to wear one. Celebrities, industry experts, micro-influencers and bloggers can fall under this category. Micro-influencers and bloggers tend to have the most authentic audience. Both large and small brands seek influencers for promotion.
Nano-influencers and ambassadors
Nano-influencers tend to be people with small follower count, typically 500-5000 on Instagram but much higher engagement. Many people also refer to this as “paid word-of-mouth.” Ambassadors or nano-influencers are either offered a small amount for posting about a product or are given a free product. Because they mostly have an engaged following, they are more discerning about what they promote as they don’t want to be seen as inauthentic.
When brands engage with ambassadors or nano-influencers, they’re actually building a relationship with that ambassador, not just their followers, so investing in nanos is as much of a CRM play as it is an awareness one. For good marketers, the real goal of engaging nano is increasing the lifetime value of their customers or introducing their brand to people who are “lookalikes” for their customers.
These are real people who are everyday brand enthusiasts. They organically post about products because they genuinely like them. In speaking about these products on social media, they receive social currency for being ahead of the trend. Organic advocates happen easily for brands like Glossier, or for very niche brands, but for most companies, it’s a major challenge to foster this type of extreme brand loyalty, which is becoming more desirable with marketers.
How you can engage with the above?
Each category is different. For influencers, brands should reach out to their management or agent. It’s rare that you will work with an influencer with 1 million+ followers in a one-on-one capacity. There are influencer search databases you can access but the process of negotiating process and payment is extremely cumbersome. For ambassadors, brands can connect on social media via comments or DMs, and you’ll find that they’re traditionally delighted to be noticed and acknowledged. You’ll find, however, that to make this type of outreach scalable, you’ll most likely need a software platform to successfully run a large influencer-style campaign or loyalty program. For organic advocates, brands should like and comment on any relevant content. Brands can also work to transfer these enthusiasts to ambassadors.
Historically, it’s been an incredibly manual process to engage with ambassadors and organic advocates, and brands have worked predominantly with influencers because of the scale issue. Many brands feel that it’s easier to work with ten to 20 influencers with a large follower count than it is to achieve the same reach with 500-1000 nano-influencers. If you’re doing everything manually, that’s certainly true. However, there are now tools that exist that enable you to easily run campaigns with nanos, which can result in higher engagement, more conversions, and an enhanced relationship with your customer base.
Additionally, as influencer marketing becomes more prevalent, consumers are becoming smarter. Millennial and Gen Z know that influencers are paid to promote products, and don’t genuinely care about their products, so they now disregard those posts as “fake.” Research shows that people are 90% more likely to trust their friends over influencers. Because of the trust factor, ambassadors and organic advocates will actually draw in higher engagement for brands than influencers, resulting in strong business results overall.
Over the past few years, there’s been a spike in the production of technology to help brands manage these types of campaigns. Companies now offer services to scale influencer-style campaigns to run programmatically – both generating large campaigns for awareness and matching brands with like-minded ambassadors for authentic, highly engaging content. This strategic approach has been successful for brands like Bose, Goop, and Drybar.
Elevate your brand to the next level
With influencers, ambassadors and organic advocates, you might ask – when is it appropriate to work with a celebrity? In truth, influencers are the new celebrity. Brands are treating influencers the same way they’ve historically partnered with celebrities, i.e. Cindy Crawford in the 90s. However, the shift in celebrity partnerships has changed.
Today, brands should partner with celebrities when they’re ready to put a face to a brand and want consumers to feel connected to a specific person or personality. When done right, celebrity partnerships can help elevate and define a brand. But if brands truly want to connect with millennials and Gen Z, they’ll understand how to harness the power of their ambassadors, activating armies of authentic loyalists to drive their message and elevate their brand to the next level.