Influencers versus Brand Advocates

I am a raving brand advocate for a multitude of brands. My friends know this about me and typically when they're looking for a new "thing" to try -- be it a hike, a farm to table restaurant, a show in Vegas, or a nautical sweater -- they will come to me and see if I have any recos. [BTW If you find yourself in Vegas and delight in the inappropriate you need to check out Absinthe. I can't remember the last time I laughed that hard and that includes both Hangover movies as well as every animated gif about living in Oakland].

When I can rope someone into a conversation about one of my beloved brands or favorite experiences I can talk for hours.  And hours. And hours. I am probably single handedly responsible for the sale of at least 10 Ford Fiestas. And 2 unicorn mounts.

Unicorn Mount

Why does it matter that I'm a brand advocate? It matters because as someone who works in social media I have realized that many brand managers don't understand the difference between activating influencers and activating brand advocates. Then I stumbled upon Jay Baer's blog post Social Media Influencers versus Brand Advocates Infographic and it made me happy. Finally a social media thought leader is getting the message out.

In case you're not a link clicker I can explain with a quick case study. Let's talk Patagonia.

It's as simple as this: Give a YouTube "celebrity" a Patagonia jacket to wear in one of her videos and the item will get a ton of reach and impressions, but will it drive sales? If the person has the right following maybe it will. Or maybe it won't. Most likely the jacket will go into the back of a closet when the video is over and the influencer will move onto the next freebie. I'm the counter-example. On any given day I can be found wearing 1-2 Patagonia items and I will naturally strike up conversations about the brand. Including the story of my sister who walked into the Boston Patagonia store and was asked by an employee how she liked the Patagonia fleece she was wearing. She was honest and said that the cut was a bit off. The employee insisted that my sister pick out a new jacket. Right there on the spot. Price didn't matter. Even though my sister admitted her fleece was 5 years old and that she wore it despite the boxiness, it didn't matter to the employee. He wanted her to have a Patagonia jacket that she loved: a jacket worth advocating. Influencers might be able to discuss the features of a product, but they won't be able to tell stories like that. Brand advocates, however, will. And you don't need to give them freebies to get them to do it; you just need to mobilize them. 

Quoting Jay:

True influence requires two things: audience and advocacy. Advocacy is driven by the depth of conviction, and influencers typically are less committed to the product or company than are actual customer advocates.

Here's where I bring it back to the business I am in -- the business of unleashing advocates through social media. As a wild and crazy Rubio's fangirl I once took a flight to San Diego *JUST* to visit their Test Kitchen. And if they ever tested a vegetarian protein burrito I would do it again. But Rubio's doesn't know I visited their Test Kitchen, they don't know how far I flew to do it, and they don't know that if I was invited to exclusive Test Kitchen events I would be even more apt to talk about promote them on social networks. I wouldn't even need the food to be free -- I would go just to meet other Rubio's lovers and feel like I was part of a community. 

Influencer marketing is important, no doubt, but I would argue that unleashing the power of brand advocates is even more critical when it comes to driving awareness, trial, and word of mouth. It happens on a smaller scale, but the authenticity makes it far more impactful and when brand advocates feel like they are creating value for other people it typically strengthens their ties to whatever it is they are advocating.

Ford shines as a brand that has done an amazing job creating advocates with their Fiesta Movement (Disclaimer: I was Agent #14 during the original Movement). I've always loved Fords. Something about the Ford brand just SCREAMS Americana to me. It's right up there with Willie Nelson, Levi's, Route 66, and John Deere. I drove an Escape until I moved to Boston and could survive on public transit. 

Bye Escape! I loved you hard.

Then I scored a coveted spot in the first Fiesta Movement and won a Fiesta!

While Ford did choose a lot of influencers to take part in their campaign they also picked yuppies like myself: people who might not have 2,000 Facebook friends, but who love Ford and love telling stories through words and images. As far as I know, I'm not the only one who ended up buying a Fiesta when the Movement drew to a close. I'm pretty sure Ford created advocates out of all 100+ of us.

I'm such an advocate that I'm applying to be an agent for a second time, but this time I'm applying as a team. My teammate happens to have a design degree, do electronic media stuff for work, have mastery of Final Cut Pro, and be incredibly anal retentive re: quality control. In other word, he is a great check and balance system for me and my content just got a MEGA upgrade. <3

Wish us luck, but know that even if we don't win a 2014 Fiesta we will remain advocates of Ford, Fiesta, and of Sam De La Garza -- the hippest Ford Brand Manager I've ever met and my secret P&G soul brother. The company knows how to do social, and it knows how to do it well. Now if only they made a car with Patagonia upholstery and burrito holders...