If you’re thinking about starting an advocate or ambassador program, you’re probably wondering what the difference is between the two. When is the right time to use each term, and which one will best suit your business? Are “advocate” and “ambassador” interchangable terms? And are there other types of programs that might work better?

Often, companies decide which referral program term best suits them, including what terms to use for their customers (advocates, ambassadors, superfans, rock-stars, etc.).  So, chances are you’ve heard a company call their customers one of these many terms used when discussing customers who create positive word of mouth for their brand. Some of the most common include ambassadors, influencers, and advocates – which are all related terms in the marketing world. But each term actually relates to a specific, different type of marketing strategy.

Let’s compare advocate vs. ambassador marketing, plus explore how they’re different from influencer marketing, relationship marketing, and referral marketing.

advocate marketing

Advocate marketing

ambassador marketing

Ambassador marketing

influencer marketing

Influencer marketing

relationship marketing

Relationship marketing

Advocate marketing

You probably have heard of brand advocates. You may even see countless advocates talking about specific brands and retailers on social media. Perhaps you have even done it yourself, advocated for a brand you love. Advocate marketing often happens naturally because people like sharing good things with their friends.

What is advocacy or advocate marketing?

Advocacy marketing is a type of marketing that encourages existing customers to create a buzz for a company. It’s the megaphone of word-of-mouth marketing – which means your happy customers help to promote your company for you.

It encourages passionate customers and uses them to spread the word about a brand or a specific product. Advocates will typically share or motivate others purely by how excited they are about the brand or product. An advocate can really be anyone who loves your brand.

Brand advocates vs. ambassadors

“Brand advocate” often refers to anyone who actively promotes your product, including ambassadors. But while brand ambassadors are formal, official representatives of your brand, advocates are your informal promoters.

Brand advocates aren’t bound by a contract like ambassadors are. And unlike ambassadors, advocates aren’t required to promote you a specific amount of times, or represent you officially for a given period. Rather, advocates can promote you as often as they like. Still, advocates are highly motivated, and will promote your brand reliably.

Why use customer advocacy marketing?

Why does brand advocacy work? Well, to start off, most advocates will share you without anything in return, building brand awareness for you for free. Typically, an advocate will share because they genuinely like the brand or product. Usually, the advocate who is sharing is largely respected in their community or network. Because of this, the followers trust the advocate’s opinion. They are intrigued to try the brand or product for themselves, and may also see how they can benefit from it.

Let’s take a look at this in the perspective of an advocate. Perhaps the person has a blog or a website that caters to a certain type of individual. Typically the individuals who follow the blog are in a similar boat or seek guidance, ideas, and advice from the blog owner (advocate). The advocate will mention this product to their followers. Then the followers will then know about the product and perhaps may try the product since someone they trust has spoken highly of it.

The thing is, people, search for reviews before committing to a product. Whether it be a software, electronic or even a type of beauty cream. People watch and read reviews online, on top of getting advice from their friends and family. We’ve heard many times that people tend to trust their friends and family the most. In a study by Nielsen, it was suggested that a whopping 66% of people trust the opinions of consumers found online. Meaning, advocate marketing can definitely drive new customers. In fact, a lack of customer advocacy could result in lackluster consequences.

How do you find brand advocates?

Because customer advocacy marketing is based on trust, it can seriously benefit a company. The best news is that advocacy marketing is actually quite inexpensive. It’s not based on influencers having a vast amount of social media followers, it’s more about having someone who actually likes your brand. In fact, it’s also the easiest to use, because it uses the people who are already promoting you.

Think of advocacy like peer to peer marketing. You’re having customers engage other customers in buying your products. Buyers simply trust other people in their situation, or friends and family. This is the exact reason peer to peer marketing and customer advocacy marketing work so well.

Well, it’s actually pretty easy to find a few people who already love you.

  1. Social media: Look at who is talking about you on the web, whether it be social media or a positive review on a listing site. These people are already talking highly of you, and creating valuable user-generated content. So, it makes sense to make them an advocate.
  2. Email correspondence: You may have had a few pleasant emails come in. Think about it, those who want to provide you with a testimonial make great brand advocates.
  3. NPS scores: Perhaps you sent out a recent survey, turns out these people basically told you that they would recommend your brand to others.
  4. Recent interactions: Think of recent phone calls or face to face interaction where the customer expressed gratitude or excitement for your brand. These customers are also great advocates.

As you can see, these people who are praising your business may not have the most followers on social media but what they do have is a passion for your brand. These are the people who will support you and help you because they believe in your business and love your product.

Provide them with an extra reason to share

Advocate marketing isn’t based on spreading the word because someone was provoked by an incentive. However, this type of marketing can’t be a one-sided relationship either. This doesn’t mean incentives have to be as clear-cut as in a referral marketing program, but brand advocates need to be shown appreciation too.

Whether it be a physical reward or a little bit of recognition, it can go a long way. This could mean sending the advocate a t-shirt for adding a link to your website. It could also mean expressing how awesome they are via a Tweet or a Facebook post. This type of appreciation doesn’t need to occur all the time, but frequently enough so that they want to continually promote you.

As you can probably tell by now, advocate marketing basically occurs on its own as word of mouth. It takes people who are already promoting you and gives them a reason to continually support you, making it an inexpensive marketing alternative.

A referral program can help you harness the power of customer-advocates in a way that you can track, and instantly reward customers when their recommendations result in purchases. So, it’s a reliable way to encourage brand advocacy.

Ambassador marketing

Ambassadors are actually very helpful when it comes to spreading the word about your business. Not to be redundant, but word of mouth is very effective. What makes an ambassador different is that they encourage people to use your product or do business with you because they are a trusted person.

This person formally represents your brand and is able to discuss your brand to the public, both online and offline. They are basically seen as a brand expert. An ambassador will promote your product authentically, without being salesy or pushy. They regularly use the product themselves, and share why they love it and how they genuinely use it.

Who is a brand ambassador?

Brand ambassadors are real-life humans who use your product and believe in what your brand is doing. This could mean an ambassador is an employee, it could also mean it’s a partner or even a customer. These people are working for you to help spread your message via social media, trade shows, events and just by networking for you.

Why? Because they love you. They’re just like you and they want to see the business do well. Talk about top-notch cheerleaders.

Think of a brand ambassador as your spokesperson – someone who was hired to actively promote the brand, without being too stuffy. Rather than having a formal press release or speaking based on a script (though there may be a few guidelines to follow), these people like to get right in the action and talk to people one on one. As mentioned earlier they aren’t trying to push anything, they are rather expressing their fondness while being informative about the product/brand. They are the people who put a face to the product.

Why are ambassadors important?

Because of the viral nature of the web and word of mouth, brand ambassadors can easily become your online and in-person brand representation (can you say ‘cost-effective’?). They give new customers a reason to trust you. Not only do they send new customers your way, but they usually end up as a lifelong customer. It should be noted that brand ambassadors can, and should, earn incentives. Ambassadors are motivated to promote you out of love for your brand, and are willing to do so without compensation. But they should still receive rewards as thanks for their hard work during the ambassadorship.

Check out all the reasons why you should start a brand ambassador program.

Influencer marketing

Influencer marketing is when someone who is considered an ‘expert’ in the field, and has a high reputation, markets your product. These people may also be considered popular in certain markets and may then be seen as a knowledgeable source. Influencers typically have a sway over the things their followers buy. They influence by example, more so than using word of mouth to explain why someone should buy the product.

What does it mean to use influence over word of mouth? Well, it means that these people are not strictly saying “you have to try this,””you’d like this,” “you need this.” Instead, they are simply showing off how they use the product. You may notice when certain celebrities or other people who have a large following promote a certain brand’s products on social media. This is sort of like a celebrity endorsement.

Who is an influencer?

As mentioned above, celebrities are big influencers. They are not the only ones, though. Bloggers, Instagrammers, Youtubers, and other social media stars can be very influential to people. These people are seen as having valuable opinions to their followers. Their influence is more genuine and authentic to their followers.

Unlike ambassadors, influencers promote a brand during short-term marketing campaigns. They also focus on creating online content, and usually don’t represent a brand offline.

Learn more on how to identify influencers for your business.

The ups and downs of influencer marketing

There are plenty of awesome things associated with influencer marketing. For smaller brand influencers (nano- and micro-influencers), the only things you may spend money on is providing some sort of incentive. Usually, this is a free product or store credits. Or, you may choose to supply the influencer with some inventory to give out to people.

For example, a makeup artist may receive a sample of makeup to show off in a tutorial, and they may receive a few other samples to give to their followers. Just as an athlete may receive some sports drinks to hand out to fans. Depending on how much product you give to the influencer, things could get expensive. But, overall, it’s a less expensive way to market your product in general.

Larger influencers, however, expect to be compensated in cash for their work (often, before an assignment is even completed). So, finding and working with bigger names can be challenging and costly, especially if your brand is smaller.

Another downside could be the unpredictability of the influencers. Unlike traditional marketing, it’s hard to predict the actions of an influencer. If the influencer is going through some sort of hardship or has a downfall it may impact how potential customers view your product. A business must be prepared if damage control is needed after a negative fallout with an influencer.

Relationship marketing

You’ve heard of a lot of different types of marketing. We have email, referral, affiliate, inbound, you get the point. One type that you may know about but often flies under the radar is relationship marketing. So what is relationship marketing?

What is relationship marketing?

Relationship marketing is related to customer relationship management. The purpose of it is to produce long-term customer engagement. Or better yet, the purpose is to create loyal customers (hence the word relationship). This loyalty not only produces return customers, it feeds into other marketing types like word-of-mouth marketing. To sum it up, it’s all about creating a great relationship with your customers and using that to move your business forward.

Why relationship marketing?

So, why relationship marketing? Relationship marketing focuses on increasing the number of sales per customer. How is this different than typical marketing? Well, it takes the steps to create repeat buyers versus creating new buyers. It instead works as a way to enhance customer experience and interactions. This, in turn, can help create more advocates because people can’t help but share their stellar experience with others.

Examples of relationship marketing

Relationship marketing means creating a good flow of business. The idea is, the easier you make it for the customer to shop with you, the more likely they are to do so. This is where tracking customer information and interactions come into play. You may need to track what merchandise is in a customer’s cart so that you can send a reminder to complete the sale. It’s also helpful to store and organize customer information. When a customer creates an account and is able to store their information it makes future sales a breeze.

Not only do you need to make it easy for customers to use you, you need to make it easy for them to reach you. communication is key. When you have stored information it allows for further communication of similar items. Making it convenient for you since you know the customer likes and their information. It also makes it nice for the customer because shopping with you again would be easy. Note: a good CRM can come in handy for tracking all this customer information.

Examples include:

  • Birthday messages from businesses
  • Listening to customer requests & implementing change
  • Let customers create profiles
  • Or better yet, create an account with their Facebook profile
  • Rewards program – think of Starbucks or airline programs
  • Multi-channel marketing – reach customer via email, social media, flyers, etc.
  • Communication – but not too much or too little.
  • Make their ‘job’ easy – whether it be checking out or sending a referral. (This is why some people love eCommerce, they can keep their credit cards on file, and make quick purchases).

Here’s more on relationship marketing examples.

How do these different marketing terms relate?

As previously stated, these types of marketing have been used interchangeably. A lot of businesses name their referral programs with the term ambassador or advocate in the headline. It doesn’t necessarily mean that is a true ambassador or advocate program. Most referrers in a referral program are called an influencer, advocate or ambassador more often than not.