Several weeks ago, I published a post about the new Instagram update introducing in-app checkout. In this post, we take a deeper look at influencer marketing and some strategies brands are using. We hope to share which strategies are working and which ones could use some improvement.
Several people I know tell me about small businesses – particularly in fashion, specifically boutiques – reaching out via Instagram and asking them to post a picture with/of the store’s product in exchange for a discount.
One person I spoke with told me this: The boutique contacted her asking if she was interested in becoming a “brand ambassador,” offering 30% off any product asking her in return to post a picture wearing the product on her Instagram account. I write “brand ambassador” in quotations here because the context of the term seems incorrectly used here; I’ll explain why in a moment as I dissect this business model.
Ambassador vs. Influencer vs. Affiliate vs. Sponsorships
Brand Ambassador (or Product Ambassador)
First and foremost, a “brand ambassador” is generally someone who consistently lives by the brand. This would be, for example, a traveler who is an ambassador for a travel brand. The brand wants to promote products for travelers, so they ask a traveler to advertise – ideally to their following of other travelers.
An influencer on the other hand is someone who has a lot of influence who might persuade others to do/buy something. An ambassador with a lot of influence (or who is an influencer) is more valuable to a business than someone with little to no influence. If Michael Phelps were to endorse or promote any swimwear product, people would likely flock to purchasing that product because Michael Phelps has a lot of influence and authority with other swimmers.
You don’t have to be the Michael Phelps of your industry/hobby/sport/profession/etc. to be an influencer though. As IM Hub words it, “Influencers, unlike celebrities, can be anywhere. They can be anyone.” Generally, when searching for a valuable influencer, businesses should be looking primarily for (1) Follower count and (2) Engagement rates.
Affiliate marketing is like having a salesperson who is not officially employed by your company. For example, I am an affiliate for multiple companies. When I convince another person or business to purchase a product, I get a percentage of the revenue from the sale. CJ Affiliate describes affiliate marketing as “the only marketing channel that engages consumers both online and offline at every point of the customer journey, worldwide. Watch this video to see how you can harness the power of affiliate marketing to grow your business.”
Sponsorships are a bit different from the other options. Generally, the sponsoring company will offer merchandise to an individual, team, or other entity, either free or at a discounted rate. Sometimes, rather than offering merchandise, the sponsoring organization may simply offer financial support. In exchange, the entity is usually expected to promote that organization. In some cases, the sponsoring organization may expect the team to only use the products they provide (and not products from competitors), and in other cases, it could be as simple as displaying a sticker, patch, or other form of logo.
Doing It Right
Let’s look at the case from the beginning of this article. The person who was asked to be an ambassador did purchase a product for 30% off… but has yet to post a picture with the product. So, the company who sold the product made a sale at 70% of their normal profit but got no publicity so far for the discount.
Here is how I believe this could have been approached differently:
For starters, an ambassador should not be a one-and-done deal. An ambassador is someone who continuously represents your brand and can consistently promote your product. In this situation, the company should have been looking for an influencer. While an effective influencer may certainly be an excellent resource to revisit, utilizing an influencer only once, or once in a while is acceptable.
The 30% off discount is an insult to any influencer worth advertising your product. Most companies will offer 30% off their product at some point or another to any customer. If you are asking someone to do you a favor by advertising your product and posting on social media, you should be giving the product for free. At the very least, have the influencer purchase the product initially, and refund them once the post is made.