Have you ever played one of those "spot the difference" games? You stare at two pictures that are almost the same and try to figure out what slight differences were made. Maddening isn't it? Almost as maddening as trying to keep all these new and evolving marketing terms straight. Terms like ambassadors, influencers, affiliates, and advocates. They're so similar, and you might be tempted to believe they're all just slight variations of the same thing. But there are some pretty important differences.
Master the differences and decide which strategy is right for your brand with our free, on-demand masterclass: Ambassadors and Influencers and Affiliates - Oh My!
All of these forms of brand representation serve a purpose, and one may be better than the other for you depending on your brand's needs. Each one has a unique way of bringing your brand success in the form of brand awareness, sales, social buzz, and more! Many brands find that using a combination of representatives works best for them.
So buckle up as we dive into the difference between influencers, affiliates, brand advocates, and brand ambassadors and which may benefit your brand best.
Which Outreach Marketing Strategy is Right for You?
What is an Influencer?
This has been the hot-ticket term over the last few years. An influencer is a well-known figure, usually someone with large social media followings that enters into partnerships with brands. These partnerships are usually short-lived transactional relationships, though some influencers do work with brands on a long-term basis. Brands provide payment in order to be featured by the influencer. Payments can be set rates (which are becoming more common), commission-based, free products, or other incentives like free trips.
Influencers usually collaborate regularly with multiple brands. As influencing rises in popularity, it has become its own career path. Many influencers receive a significant portion of their income from brand partnerships, so they are sometimes viewed as "gigs". Influencers are starting to be in high demand, meaning you as a brand often have to approach them to promote your products or services. Some influencers still approach brands for partnerships, especially when they're just getting started. Some influencers only work with brands they know and vouch for personally, while others may have never heard of a brand prior to being approached for a partnership.
Learn more about influencer marketing in 2023 in our guide!
Pros of Using Influencers
- Having a large number of followers means a lot of potential for exposure.
- Ethical and genuine influencers lend your brand credibility.
- Depending on the compensation agreed upon, you may end up reaching more people for less cost than ads.
- If the influencer is willing to grant you use of the content they create, you may end up with user-generated content from influencers that can be used in future posts.
Cons of Using Influencers
- Influencer marketing is getting more expensive.
- Audiences are beginning to see through less genuine influencers and distrust for influencers as a whole is growing.
- Influencers who regularly promote different brands only once or twice lose authenticity.
- With particularly high-profile influencers, you must agree to the influencer's terms, rather than the influencer agreeing to your terms.
- High-profile influencers usually mean you as the brand must approach them. Though some influencers will approach brands that they want to partner with.
- Large followings don't guarantee high engagement rates.
Influencers May Be Right for Your Brand If...
- You are a large company with the funds to invest in influencer marketing.
- Your brand already has a large following, making it enticing for the influencer to work with you. Bonus if you find influencers who have already heard of and are familiar with your product.
- You have the social authority to negotiate terms with the influencer, rather than having to solely accept their terms.
- Your marketing goal is targeted towards impressions rather than conversions.
What is an Affiliate?
This one's a little different. Brand affiliates are content creators who promote brands in exchange for a commission on any sales they make. Affiliates tend to use long-form content such as blogs and vlogs rather than short social media posts, though either can be used and more successful affiliates may use a combination of both. Affiliates promote your products or brand using special links that ensure any purchases made through their link grant the affiliate a commission. More often than not, affiliates find you. Sometimes, they have no personal contact with the brand.
Affiliates frequently promote dozens, if not hundreds, of products across their niche. They may find you via your website, or they may find your affiliate program through websites like Commission Junction that manage many brands. If you sell items on large sites like Amazon, those products may be promoted through Amazon's affiliate program.
Pros of Using Affiliates
- Affiliate marketing is less hands-on. Many affiliates get their link and use it where they choose. They often require little, if any, management.
- If your affiliates are good at what they do, there is the potential for huge numbers of sales.
- Apart from setup and maintenance fees, everything is commission based, so your affiliates shouldn't be costing you more than your return.
Cons of Using Affiliates
- You have less regulation over the quality and topic of content because you're not issuing marketing tasks.
- There is less control over who becomes an affiliate. Most programs just have a set of minimum requirements, and affiliates may also be partnered with your competitors.
- It may be difficult to obtain affiliates without campaigns bringing awareness to the program.
- Many industries aren't profitable for affiliates. If you only offer low-ticket items, affiliates may not join or stay with your program.
- Having a large number of affiliates doesn't guarantee they actually promote your brand.
- Affiliates may have never used your products or services themselves, despite promoting it.
Affiliates May Be Right for Your Brand If...
- You have a high-ticket product that pays a high commission.
- You are a well-known brand in your niche and your goal is to convert sales over competition rather than build awareness. Many affiliates use comparison articles, reviews, and "Best Of..." articles to capture customers that are near the end of the buyer's journey.
- You don't have or desire to spend the time and resources required to manage a community or plan campaigns.
What is a Brand Advocate?
Brand advocates are pure gold. A brand advocate is someone who loves your brand and posts about your products online or talks about your product in person with no incentive. None. They just love you! They are self-managed which means they may not provide regular content. They might only mention you once. But they mentioned you. Brand advocates are any consumers who are fans of your products. There is no minimum or maximum number of followers on social media. In fact, they might not have social media at all. They are not compensated. Brand advocates promote your brand on their own in the form of reviews, posts, promotions, or just talking up your brand with people they know.
Pros of Brand Advocates
- They promote your brand voluntarily with no incentives. It's free publicity!
- They are true fans who make genuine content.
- Because of their lack of compensation, they help to build trust and reputation for your brand, as they're often seen as unbiased.
- They are primed for you to invite to an ambassador program through an activation campaign.
- If your brand advocates happen to have large followings, they could improve your social reach and sales.
- Some will allow you to repost their user-generated content for your future marketing.
Cons of Brand Advocates
- You have no control over the quality or content of any posts made by brand advocates.
- Because you have little to no relationship with brand advocates, it's harder to influence the longevity of their advocacy. They are loyal to you now but may be pulled by a competitor later.
- It's much harder to track any statistics because you may not even know they exist.
Brand advocates aren't something you choose to have or not have. They occur naturally as your brand grows. However, if you can find your brand advocates, they are the perfect people to recruit as brand ambassadors through an activation campaign.
What is a Brand Ambassador?
This one's our favourite. A brand ambassador or brand rep is someone who loves your brand and would post about your products without incentive. Perhaps they even started out as a brand advocate! When loyal customers, followers, or fans join your official ambassador marketing community through an activation campaign or other recruitment strategy, they transform into brand ambassadors. This is when they begin receiving incentives for the content they create.
Generally, brand ambassadors are less expensive than influencers. You as the brand decide the incentive for creative marketing tasks and ambassadors choose whether or not to participate. Common rewards for marketing tasks are gift cards, freebies, points, or cash. Some campaigns pay per view, like, or comment.
Brand ambassadors have the potential to stay with brands long-term, building relationships between themselves and the brands they represent. They may be ambassadors for other brands as well, but generally, they promote fewer brands than influencers or affiliates. Often, brand ambassadors approach you, either directly or through campaigns and links on your website or social media profiles. But you can also recruit.
Many brand ambassadors are also known as micro-influencers. This is because they post similar content to influencers but often have a smaller follower base. However, micro-influencers are unique because the smaller follower numbers give them the opportunity to interact with their audience more through comments, likes, and following back. Many micro-influencers, therefore, have higher levels of engagement.
Pros of Using Brand Ambassadors
- Brand ambassadors produce a lot of user-generated content that you can use in your future marketing.
- Has the potential for a huge ROI.
- They operate on your terms.
- Because they are true fans and customers of your brand, their content is more genuine and may lead to higher rates of engagement and conversions than influencers.
- You are able to create specific marketing tasks, allowing you control over the content that is produced.
- You are able to track metrics to help you meet campaign goals.
- There is a lower cost per ambassador than influencers, allowing you to build a larger community.
- Relationships are long-term.
- An ambassador community can be scaled generously. There's no set limit of ambassadors for a community.
Cons of Using Brand Ambassadors
- An ambassador community requires a significant investment of time and money to fairly reward your ambassadors and encourage better results.
- Your brand needs a big enough following to attract ambassadors.
- If you're starting with a smaller following, it can take time for your ambassador marketing strategy to build up traction.
- Smaller followings for ambassadors means your brand needs more ambassadors to reach the same amount of people as an influencer.
- If you choose to manage your community manually, it can be a lot of work and take a lot of time to communicate with ambassadors, track metrics, and issue tasks and payments or rewards.
Brand Ambassadors May Be Right for Your Brand If...
- You're a mid-to-large-sized company looking to increase brand awareness, social engagements, and revenue from your existing community of consumers and fans.
- You have a team member who can dedicate the time to managing your community and creating exciting tasks. You might even want to consider having a dedicated app for your brand ambassadors.
- You're looking for a constant stream of organic user-generated content.
- You have the financial resources to invest in your ambassadors.
- You can find and identify customers, followers, and fans who are ready and willing to represent your brand.
Where To Next?
If your brand is smaller, you may want to focus your efforts on one of these popular forms of brand representation, to begin with. Taking a look at your resources (time, finances, and available staff) is a good place to start.
Larger brands find using a mix of brand ambassadors, affiliates, and influencers generates the most brand awareness and sales. As you grow, you may find it beneficial to build towards having all types of representatives for your brand.
UGC cover image: @daschabeu for NA-KD. Second image:@lyubamalinskaya for Byrokko. Third image: @beingvania for NA-KD.