Fact #1: Brand Ambassadorship, once a surefire strategy for brands seeking to capture the hearts (and pockets) of customers is in decline.
Three years ago, I was part of a team tasked with providing PR support to unveil brand ambassadors for a major client. About 20 of Nigeria’s A-list celebrities had already been signed on as flag bearers of the brand so you can understand that it was a significant event for the client. Back then, brand ambassadorship was the real deal. Brand Ambassadors, usually celebrities from Nigeria’s vibrant entertainment industry, were courted left, right and centre by brands seeking to ride on their ‘star power’ to push adoption and sales. Our client was no different. Expectedly, we went full throttle on PR, securing attendance from a full complement of prominent journalists and bloggers.
Fast forward to a year later and the client’s strategy had changed significantly. Only four of the 20 ambassadors were retained and there was no accompanying fanfare or buzz around this. To the best of my knowledge, efforts at leveraging the announcement were limited to a couple of press releases which we pitched to journalists and bloggers. Well, they chose to focus on the whittled down list of ambassadors. There was nothing we could do about that even though we would have preferred the narrative to be about the four ambassadors.
By the third year, though we were aware that talks were ongoing between our client and one or two celebrities to fly the brand’s kite, we never got the go-ahead to do the any PR razzmatazz. We didn’t even issue a press release afterwards.
This scenario isn’t limited to this client. Other brands are taking a cue and dropping their brand ambassadors in droves. Going by happenings in the Nigerian marketing scene, there are still odd pockets of ambassadorship deals being signed here and there but these are becoming increasingly fewer and more far between.
Fact #2: Faced With shrinking budgets, brands are doing away with brand ambassadors and going the influencer marketing route.
While my agency was still adjusting to the diminishing allure of brand ambassadors, we noticed a corresponding increase in demand for influencer marketers. True, Influencer Management has always been a part of the standard offering we pitched to clients but in the case of this client already mentioned, we decided to exploit the brand’s ambassadors rather than expend budget on social media influencers. While both the brand ambassadors and social media influencers commanded massive online following and it would have made sense to leverage on both, the increasing budget slash mandated that we pick one. We opted for the brand ambassadors considering that it would cost almost nothing working with them since they were already contractually obligated to represent the brand anyway. In any case, brand ambassadors are influencers in their own rights and it seemed like the cost effective thing to do, right? Well, we were forced to a quick rethink when the client started dropping most of its brand ambassadors.
I believe most marketing managers are faced with the same dilemma today. In the face of visceral budget cuts, should they expend the budget on brand ambassadors or recruit the services of influencers? The new reality is that brand managers will rather deploy resources to recruit influencers than co-opt brand ambassadors to push their brands. It kinda makes sense: why go the whole nine yards to sign celebrities that not only cost an arm and a leg and but are one scandal away from tainting your brand’s image when you can cut out all the drama by engaging influencers?
Fact #3: Influencer marketing has come to stay (at least for now).
The Next Web, a prominent tech blog in its article; 7 Influencer Marketing Trends That Will Dominate 2018 states that “interest in influencer marketing as a concept grew 90 times from 2013 to 2016 and doubled in the first nine months of 2017. In another article, the same blog reports that, “the interest companies have in influencer marketing has increased by approximately 900% since 2013.” Mind-boggling isn’t it?
What started out as a pastime for a few internet enthusiasts (internet junkies, a friend of mine calls them) has spiralled into a huge multi-million dollar industry. Little did the early influencers know the full extent to which the online space would thrust them into the epicentre of today’s technology driven marketing ecosystem. Undoubtedly, influencers have become a mainstay of modern day marketing. Ignore them at your own peril!
Fact #4: The Internet didn’t create influencer marketing. It only amplified it.
And while the world continues to ooh and aah in response to influencer marketing’s seeming stranglehold on the marketing landscape, let’s consider a small caveat: the concept didn’t just begin today (or with the explosion of the internet either). Influencer Marketing has been around for as long as we can care to imagine. Think about the ICT reporter of your local newspaper that breaks the news about a revolutionary technology. How about the Automobile correspondent that reviewed the new BMW series, sparking your interest in the car? Or the stock market expert who you depend on his insights to take a decision on where to put your money? Not forgetting your favourite columnist and the TV talkshow host whose opinions have shaped or reinforced your perspective on issues. They are influencers too and have built credibility and trust over the years to command a loyal audience who take their word as sacred truth. Of course, smart brands are also latching on their influence to push their products and services. However, it must be said that the coming and subsequent eruption of the online space gave new meaning to the concept of influencers. And presently, they are changing the dynamics of marketing as we know it.
Fact #5: Brand Ambassadorship and Influencer Marketing are two different things
Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions people have is that brand ambassadorship and influencer marketing is one and the same. Wrong! Even though they may play very similar roles, they are two different concepts. For instance, both brand ambassadors and social media influencers boast huge following which is the reason d’être for their relationship with brands. Brands want them to leverage their influence to convert prospective customers to ambassadors. So, both are geared towards influencing consumer behaviour and attitude towards a brand.
Still that doesn’t mean they are the same. Without going into the boring nitty-gritty of definitions, here’s my take on why brand ambassadors are different from influencers. A brand ambassador is retained by a brand, usually for a specified period, to represent the brand in an agreed capacity. Due to their celebrity status, most brand ambassadors have an emotional and aspirational hold on their fans which they are expected to leverage to the advantage of the brand. It stands to reason that since their legion of fans love them, are emotionally connected to them and aspire to be like them, ambassadors can more readily use their influence on their fans to benefit the brands they represent.
This is somewhat different from what influencers bring to the table. First, it must be noted that there are two types of social media influencers. One, comprises those that have carved a reputation for themselves as experts in a certain area. Their opinions are valued not necessarily because they are loved and adored but for the simple reason that over time, they have displayed remarkable knowledge in a given field. They are essentially the go-to people for information in their designated areas such as fashion accessories, beauty, cars, foods, phones, you name it. They are, quite simply, kings in their fields.
Then, there are influencers who have built a massive following via consistent engagement with people. Their contents more often than not dwell on a variety of topical societal issues and they are usually laced with humour, gossips, and all of the usual ingredients necessary to attract and build a viral community. Unlike the first category, they are not regarded as experts in any given area. Whether they are experts or just great content creators, influencers have a captive audience to whom they can sell a brand’s virtues. However, unlike brand ambassadors, the relationship is more transactional. They pass on the brand message and move on. In most cases, brand influencers are more credible and believable, and can guarantee more engagement than brand ambassadors.
Fact #6: Brand Ambassadorship is not dead…Yet
Before someone calls the police, I didn’t say brand ambassadorship was dead. I only believe that it is in decline. Granted that influencer marketing may be muscling into brand ambassadorship’s territory, this does not necessarily signal the death knell for the latter. I think that brand ambassadorship will always go for aspirational marketing especially for brands with premium offerings. Think Helmes. Think Rolex. Two renowned brands who have forged solid reputation on their ‘premiumness’ or better still, luxury offerings. Their core target market, the upscale echelon of society, are happy to splash the cash, safe in the knowledge that they belong to an exclusive group. What better way can brands in this category fuel the vanity of their customers and reassure them of their pride of place in the exclusive premium universe than by co-opting established big names to endorse them?