Brand ambassadors vs. influencers: similarities and contrasts

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Brand ambassadors and influencers are everywhere these days. Just look around yourself and social media. People are now using digital platforms to promote everything from sleep aid pills to fitness training to clothing and fashion.

Apparently, influencer marketing is working: a recent study by Schlesinger Associates in May 2015 showed that 81 percent of companies that had hired an influencer campaign were quite satisfied with the results; however, one of the most crucial challenges was the selection of influencers.

This isn’t out of the ordinary, as many people are confused about the general terms used to define different categories of influencers. I have just read an article somewhere a couple of weeks back in which there was a statement claiming the real difference between brand influencers, ambassadors, and advocates are just “the functionality of the brand.”

That is simply not true. There are essential dissimilarities that need to be understood extensively.

If we were to compare different types of influencers to a football team, “farm teams” are influencers and bloggers trying to break into the major influencer league. They influence their local social circle. “Major leagues” are influencers who have made it and have signature moves. “All-star” teams are celebs and ambassadors who have acquired fame status. Eventually, advocates and fans are the people in the stadium cheering and rooting for the brand because they love it.

How are influencers different from ambassadors?

Influencers and ambassadors have defining characteristics that make them distinguishable.

But to cut it short, ambassadors are groups or individuals whose values align with your brand and tend to form long-term relationships to grow their brand alongside yours. They usually have a sort of attachment to your brand, creating it, manufacturing it, refining it, consuming it, or even selling its merchandise. An influencer, on the other hand, is a group or individual who possesses the following traits:

  • They have their own determined and engaged audience;
  • They have their own established channels and resources they benefit from;
  • They probably also work with other brands, possibly even competitors;
  • They create their own content; however, they are also featured within their feeds.
hannahleightripp Instagram

This fitness instructor is a Lululemon brand ambassador.

Ambassadors are also experts at promoting your products via WoM (word-of-mouth). They don’t always have to be a renowned celebrity or a popular influencer on social media. For example, a dentist would make a perfect brand ambassador for a mouthwash, or a hairstylist would be a reliable brand ambassador for a flat iron.

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A brand ambassador doesn’t have to be a considerable authority, either. As long as they’re committed to spreading the word about your brand, your best brand ambassadors could be your friends, customers, or coworkers, often known as peer advocates.

How do brand ambassadors promote your brand?

Since brand ambassadors are usually deployed for a longer period than your regular influencer marketing campaigns, they tend to publish posts, stories, and tweets about your brand repeatedly on social media and talk about it in their content and mention it at the events they attend. Rather than sticking to a pre-written script, they would likely talk to others organically and one-on-one, as if they’re having a conversation with their friend (although they might have a protocol to follow that you have already provided).

They might receive payment, dedicated coupons or discount codes, or freebies for the services they offer, but it’s not a requirement since their work is mostly in the form of collaboration. Often, brand ambassadors are quite happy to work with you without specific compensation – seeing your brand succeed is incentive enough.

The best part of having a brand ambassador is that they usually create content like posts, product images, reviews, and descriptions for you on their social media feed for free. They will use their unique perspective to talk about how your brand has helped them in their own way, and you wouldn’t have to worry about them making a genuine and authentic connection with their audience since they already know them best.

Who is an influencer?

Unlike brand ambassadors, your relationship with influencers is likely short-term. An influencer wouldn’t ideally promote a product more than once or twice.

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An influencer may not have used your product before, as well. Instead, you’ll choose an influencer for their reputation, reach, target audience, engagement rate, or simply popularity.

For instance:

  • A cosmetic product line might ask a YouTube beauty vlogger to promote a new lipstick.
  • A plant-based restaurant complex might ask a local vegan food enthusiast to review their experience at their place.
  • A fitness apparel company might ask a renowned trainer to share their products in their fitness tutorials.

Influencers usually expect some incentive to promote a product. It could be money, freebies for them and their fans, discount coupons, or all of the above.

Nevertheless, an influencer will likely only promote a product if they are interested in it, and they think it would fit in with their personal brand.

Remember that the right influencer doesn’t necessarily have a massive number of followers to be effective enough. In fact, influencers are classified into three distinct categories:

  • Celebrities: Social media stars with usually millions of followers. Celebrities have a vast audience reach but low engagement rates. They don’t reply to questions and comments very often.
  • Macro-influencers: These personalities usually have over a hundred thousand followers, but less than a million. They have a medium reach and medium engagement with their fans.
  • Micro-influencers: These influencers have fewer followers, usually in thousands or tens of thousands, so they have a low reach, but they have a much higher engagement rate and reliable authority in their niche, whatever it is – fitness, beauty, food, digital gadgets, or parenting. They have the benefit of talking to their followers like a circle of friends.
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The right influencer for you to choose depends on your brand’s desired reach and average engagement you’d like the influencer to have with their followers.

Should I work with a brand ambassador or an influencer to promote my brand?

Suppose you are looking for a one-time promotion of your brand by someone with quite a reputation, and you aren’t looking to grow your brand alongside a campaign with like-minded incentives. In that case, you might want to look into various influencer marketing campaigns.

On the other hand, if you would rather carry on a longer-term project with someone and more authentic reviews that benefit you both using WoM marketing, brand ambassadors might be your thing.

Here are a few main differences between brand ambassadors and general influencers you might want to look into before deciding on your marketing campaigns:

Brand ambassadors vs. influencers

Wrapping up

Your brand might hire ambassadors, influencers, bloggers, advocates, or even fans for various reasons. Brand ambassadors are already interested in your business, while influencers are chosen for direct audience reach, thus have to be “influenced” as well.

However, both brand ambassadors and influencers can be recruited to help meet your brand’s same objectives – to introduce products or services to their audience from their own perspective. Since they both have established a certain position within their fields, their recommendations can go a long way in attracting customers within your marketing campaigns.