The terms ‘brand ambassador’, ‘brand spokesperson’ and ‘influencers’ are used almost interchangeably these days, so let’s talk about how each group is different. Once you understand the differences, you will have a much better idea of how to use each in your marketing strategies.
A brand ambassador is a person who works to promote and represent a brand in its marketplace. Brand ambassadors are often current customers who were already advocating for brands before they started working with them. Brand ambassadors have a working relationship with the brands they represent, and are given instruction on how to interact with customers in the marketplace, based on the business goals for that brand. Typically, a brand will have multiple ambassadors, and their involvement with the brand is organized and executed via a formal brand ambassador program.
A brand spokesperson is a person who works to promote and represent a brand in its marketplace. Brand spokespeople are typically chosen because they have a following either online or offline. Often, these people are viewed as ‘celebrities’ and are often known outside the industry where the brand exists. The term influencer is used almost interchangeably here with brand spokesperson. An influencer is more often someone who has built a following online, whereas a spokesperson is more often someone who has built a following offline. In either case, whether a brand is working with a spokesperson or influencer, there is typically a financial relationship in place. In short, the spokesperson or influencer will leverage their following to promote the brand and drive attention to the brand.
How to Select and Work With Brand Ambassadors
In my experience working with companies to help them create brand ambassador programs and in talking to companies that have launched their own efforts, the ultimate success of the brand ambassador program is typically impacted by the selection process for the ambassadors. Your brand ambassador program will be more successful, all other things being equal, if the people you choose as ambassadors for your brand are currently fans of your brand. Existing brand advocates make the best brand ambassadors. Brand advocates have a higher level of understanding and passion for your brand. They are already actively promoting your brand to other customers, you are simply going to better organize and empower their efforts by making them part of a formal brand ambassador program.
Another option is the so-called ‘open cattle call’ approach to finding brand ambassadors. Typically, anyone is accepted (first come, first served), and the incentives offered are a chance to make money or get free products, etc. Often, it can be positioned as a chance to get free products from major brands, and maybe even be paid for creating content that promotes the brand.
The problem with the ‘open cattle call’ approach is obvious. That person’s prime motivation for wanting to become an ‘ambassador’ for a particular brand is to get free products and to be paid for creating content that promotes the brand. Basically, they aren’t participating because they love the brand, they are participating because they love getting paid.
When money is the primary motivation for being involved in a brand ambassador program, it changes the behavior of that person. The ‘ambassador’ will typically create content that isn’t authentic and based on actual opinions, but instead will focus on creating promotional content that the person feels the brand will pay them for. And readers of the content can easily see the disconnect, it would be odd if I suddenly started blogging about how amazing Luv diapers are (as someone who has no kids), and noted at the end of my post that I was paid to write said post.
On the other hand, existing brand advocates want to become ambassadors for your brand because their motivation is based on seeing your brand succeed. They literally LOVE your brand and will usually jump at the chance to work with it to better connect with customers and help move the brand forward. Although compensation is involved with them as well, brand advocates usually prefer more direct access to the brand and maybe advance access to upcoming products versus simply getting paid. Brand advocates prefer access over cash in most cases.
So if your company is thinking about creating a brand ambassador program, carefully consider who you want to be involved as ambassadors for your brand. Do you want to bring in existing customers that love your brand, or ‘brand spokespeople’ that have little to no natural affinity for your brand? The smart bet is on your existing customers that love your brand and want to see it succeed just as much as you do.
How to Select and Work With Brand Spokespeople and Influencers
Over the last 15 years, I’ve worked with many companies on their influencer and spokesperson campaigns. In fact, I’m in a bit of a unique position as I have ample experience working with brands to help them create and launch influencer programs, and I’ve also worked with brands AS an influencer in their influencer programs. So I can speak to this topic from both the brand and influencer perspective.
The biggest mistake I see brands make in choosing an influencer to work with, is the brand only looks at the size of the influencer’s following. The second biggest mistake I see brands make when choosing influencers is to ignore how much engagement the influencer can create around their content. These two areas work in tandem, because it is very difficult for an influencer to have personal interactions with their followers once the influencer’s following reaches a certain level. The influencers ability to connect individually does not scale very well. (Note: the one exception to this rule seems to be Twitch streamers. They have found a very unique way to reach a mass audience, at scale.)
When I work with companies to select and vet influencers to work with, I tell them to focus on the following:
- Always select influencers who are actual customers of your brand. The importance of this cannot be overstated, as you want to work with influencers that already use and love your products if at all possilble.
- The influencer’s ability to drive engagement is always more important than their following. What is influence? It’s a person’s ability to create a change of behavior in someone else. If an influencer can’t create engagement around their content, then they likely don’t have much influence over their network. In other words, their ability to create engagement is a great indicator of their ability to influence others.
- When possible, select influencers who have a long history of working with brands. These influencers are more familiar with the process and more likely to understand what the brand wants from the arrangement.
The Key Differences Between Brand Ambassadors and Brand Spokespeople/Influencers
- Compensation: An influencer will typically be compensated financially. An ambassador can be compensated financially, or with other perks such as products or early access to new products, access to key executives at the brand, etc.
- A brand ambassador is typically a current customer of the brand, an influencer often is not.
- Brand ambassadors often have a long-time working relationship with the brand that’s organized via a formal brand ambassador program. Most brands work with influencers on a more limited or specific amount of time.
Hopefully this helps you understand the differences from the brand’s perspective when it comes to working with ambassadors, spokespeople, and influencers.