There is nothing new about brands using celebrities and if done well, this makes for an intelligent partnership. In the past, life was simple... a celebrity would come on TV and tell you why she prefers a particular brand of barbecue sauce. Within weeks, all the stores would run out of stock and women would be fighting over the last bottle.
Digital has made life difficult for brands; these days people tend to use Google, stalk people for ideas, talk about them on social forums and share their experiences. With this two-way communication, companies have a huge opportunity to use their brand ambassadors to interact with their consumers in a meaningful way. However, as not all word of mouth is created equal, it is important to understand how they differ and when, where and how to use each type of influence.
Advocates are fans who love the brand so much that they will recommend it to their friends and family. The best thing about them is that they are not paid to do so; they do it for the love of the brand. They may not have a great sphere of influence but their recommendations are powerful because they are personal. Someone’s best friend recommending a brand is different from a celebrity saying he uses it. Most people assume that a brand needs to be fairly well-established to reach such levels of fandom (Coke’s ‘Share the Happiness’ wrapper campaign was primarily driven by advocates on social media), yet the reality is that any brand, even a small one, can develop ardent advocates if the offering is good. A great local example of this is The Saucy Mistress. Although the lady operates from her kitchen, her social media fan following has driven her brand forward consistently.
Influencers in the making is the best way to describe bloggers. They usually work for some compensation, but it does not have to be monetary. Many bloggers in Pakistan will be content with just being invited to a brand’s event. Different digital experts define bloggers differently. In my opinion, bloggers are different from influencers because they usually do not have a huge following and their influence beyond their immediate friends and family circle is limited – mainly because they have not established themselves as experts on a subject yet. I have always found bloggers to be extremely useful because of the value they bring versus the investment required. Bloggers are great for FMCG products because such products do not require expert opinion and instead a simple recommendation will do the trick.
Once a blogger has established himself as an expert on a subject and people follow him because of this, he (or she) then becomes an influencer. They are also different from celebrities because the latter only bring a fan following and are not experts on the subject under review. Influencers are great for products that require expert opinion; a car, a smartphone or a gadget, all require a degree of research before purchase and a lot of people prefer to read an influencer’s review rather than go through the hassle of research. Influencers are professionals and they charge a pretty penny for their recommendation. Some influencers become so huge that they turn into web celebrities and their cost of acquisition goes even higher. This is why I never recommend them for simple products as the investment in influencers for non-technical products usually does not justify the return. Many bloggers have given me great results for FMCG products – and at half the cost.
Unlike influencers, celebrity endorsers have a great fan following and are not experts on the subject. They are usually media stars and bring with them huge numbers. They have influence on their fans, especially if the product is not very technical – fashion and style-based brands benefit immensely from them. However, be prepared to negotiate with them on the basis of a percentage of your annual budget rather than just a simple payment.
Brand ambassadors are either influencers or celebrity endorsers. What differentiates them is that they are hired for a long-term period to represent brands rather than a one-off campaign. Since they represent the brand and become its face to the public, their selection is rigorous. For example, you would not care if an influencer has political views and expresses them on social media because although he is recommending a brand he is not directly associated with it. This is not the case for brand ambassadors and even their personal issues will impact a brand. However, when selected correctly, brand ambassadors can drive huge numbers to a brand.
When I develop a digital propagation plan, I usually use a mix of different types of brand advocacy. A plan might include bloggers and a couple of influencers or advocates and a single celebrity endorser – and many factors will dictate the mix, including the campaign KPIs, campaign duration, reach required, complexity of the product, and sometimes something as simple as who is trending. Whatever the combination, it is certainly more potent than celebrity endorsement on traditional channels as it brings a human touch. Promoting your brand through influence and engagement is far more effective than a banner somewhere on the edge of a screen.
I would love to hear about how marketers are using different kinds of influence on digital media. If you would like to share your experiences and if you have a different view on the subject please email me.
Syed Amir Haleem is CEO, KueBall Digital. firstname.lastname@example.org
(Illustrations by Creative Unit.)