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Brand Ambassadors vs. Influencers—Which Best Suits Your Brand?

Social Media, Strategy

Attract new customers and expand your brand’s reach with brand ambassador or influencer marketing. These relatively newer marketing tactics have staying power, not to mention a serious amount of clout with consumers. A 2020 consumer survey by Matter Communications found that 61% of consumers trust recommendations from friends, family members or influencers on social media compared to only 38% who reported being likely to trust a brand on social media.

This consumer trust trend applies to all types of businesses, even healthcare providers. We recently conducted research with a healthcare client that showed similar results. We asked service area patients which sources they used to find out about area hospitals or health systems. 50% of respondents said from their friends and families with the brand’s advertising methods like TV and social media only garnering 14% or less of responses, respectively.

When looking to invest in this word-of-mouth advertising, there are two main avenues: brand ambassadors or influencers. The job of these two groups is fairly similar, so it can be easy to mix up which is which. Let’s break down the roles of a brand ambassador and an influencer and discuss which might be the best fit for your brand.

What Is a Brand Ambassador?

A brand ambassador is someone who loves your brand and your products, who is eager to share about your offering on social media because your brand has already become a fixture in their life. These people aren’t celebrities and typically don’t have a large following on social media, but they are often established in your brand’s industry, as they were already a customer. For example, a chef is a natural ambassador for the cookware brand they swear by or a fitness instructor for their go-to activewear brand.

As loyal, excited customers, brand ambassadors often promote products and services free of charge, simply to share their favorite brands with a like-minded community. Although, some brands do establish brand ambassador programs that reward ambassadors with discount codes, insider information, early access to new releases and free product for their promotional efforts. In fact, being invited to join an ambassador program can be seen as a reward for your best and most loyal customers.

What Is an Influencer?

An influencer is an individual who has a charismatic personality and has built an engaged follower base, often on a certain social media platform. Typically, influencers are career content-creators and have social media audiences ranging from 1,000 to 1 million plus followers. Influencers work with brands in short-term partnerships (think 1-2 posts about your product or service per engagement) and are paid for their posts. In addition to providing your product or service at no-charge to the influencer, they’re also compensated with a monetary fee that comes with stipulations on the types of content you will receive (in-feed posts, stories, reels, etc.) and the duration / location approved for usage.

Influencers show their followers how they would incorporate your product into their everyday lives, inspiring others to do the same. Typically, influencers have a large audience with overlapping interests, which can be ideal for introducing a newer brand or new product and may bring in large numbers of direct leads to your website or social media profile. According to the Digital Marketing Institute, almost half of consumers depend on influencer recommendations to determine which products to purchase.

Which Is Right for You?

When it comes down to deciding whether to invest in brand ambassadors or influencers for your brand, you’ll want to evaluate what your goals for the partnership are. Do you want to generate an influx of short-term traffic or are you trying to build a strong community among your existing customers? Influencers tend to be better at providing short term site traffic boosts, increases in impressions or generating brand awareness. Brand ambassadors, on the other hand, are more of a long-term, community-building asset for companies with a strong brand identity.

Are you hoping to target certain social networks? You might select an ambassador program or even a specific influencer over another based on where their strengths and followings are. Additionally, you’ll want to think about your budget. Influencers with large audiences are going to be more expensive than a micro-influencer with a smaller, niche following or a brand ambassador, who could likely be compensated in products or discounts.

Another consideration is where your marketing resources lie. Starting a brand ambassador program can be time consuming, so you might want to consider if you have the time and human resources to devote to one. If you have budget, but time is at a premium, utilizing an influencer might be a better choice as they are professionals who will work independently. If you have a smaller budget but the time to manage a brand ambassador program, then that route could be a great fit. You can always try a pilot program and grow it from a small group of your most interested brand advocates, developing longer-term relationships with the pilot’s highest performers.

With consumers continually shifting their trust from established institutions to word-of-mouth recommendations from friends, family members and influencers on social media, it’s worth evaluating your brand’s standing in this online conversation. If you’re interested in exploring brand ambassador or influencer marketing, let’s start a conversation!