For some time I have been arguing that what brands need is advocates not influencers. Somehow this meme has recently gathered steam in the marketing discussion (see great post here from Jeremy Epstein – influencers vs. fans)
I don’t think fans is quite the right word for what brands or movements need, what they need is advocates. Advocates are different than fans because they will do something. They will recommend you to a friend, they will tell someone else to buy your car. They are taking positive action. Moreover, they don’t do this because they are “influential” or because they are being paid by the post or enticed to write nice things b/c they are getting free stuff. They are telling their friends (online and off) to do something, because they believe.
I have studied Brand Advocacy in some detail and I am confident in saying that increasing levels of advocacy (online and off) are correlated to increasing sales or share. We have studied this in automotive, food, cellular, spirits and other markets with some variability (how much of the change in share or sales are explained by the change in advocacy; time lag) but always with a strong positive correlation.
When we work with brands, key questions are how many advocates do you have (compared to your competition) is the number increasing or decreasing and why? Also, we examine what your advocates love about you most, and figure out how to leverage these things to grow advocacy.
Contrast this approach with Influencer marketing. With adovocacy research and marketing we are trying to discover why your authentic brand fans love y0u most and how to make more advocates. With influencer marketing you are trying to find those few people who will influence lots of other to do something. Now like most things this works great if you get the right influencer, on the right topic. Clearly Oprah Winfrey recommending a book to her audience is a guarantee of a NYT best seller. Every other influencer works less well than that.
The other day I had a tweet with Guy Kawasaki about this very subject. Guy has somehow wrangled a Corvette from GM to drive and tweet about as an “influencer”. I respect Guy for lots of things, but is opinion is irrelevant to me as a car guy. (Though Guy did confirm that it is fun for him!) This is but one of many, many influencer strategies being deployed by big companies, and some of them will work. But to me it feels more like Viral Marketing than anything else. Rather than engaging your REAL brand users on the level of their personal brand experience, you are looking for a few influencers who will tell the rest of us sheep what to do.
What if instead of giving Guy (and I’m assuming a bunch of other “influencers”) a Corvette GM spent the resources engaging with the people over at the non-GM owned Corvette Forums which has 30 million posts from some 223,000 members? Those are the Corvette advocates, and the care and feeding of the Corvette advocates (even if they aren’t famous) should be the #1 job of the Corvette PR and Marketing teams.