Are your influencers really influencing?

The notion of few key influencers and Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) has been around for a while. Influencer outreach as it is nowadays called – is a post-modern version of celebrity endorsement.

And this discipline has gained significance particularly with the advent of social media (twitter & FB followers). Typically these influencers are identified on the basis of their profile and fit with the target group for the brand or product in question and they are selected on their potential reach and followers largely to create - awareness & social chatter to create short-term buzz for your brand.

But if you are looking for behavior change to drive action – then advocate marketing is more sustainable and tenable.

Here’s why.

The biggest issue in leveraging KOLs - is that we tend to confuse audience with influence. Having a large Twitter or blog following, doesn’t inherently make a person influential. It gives you the ability to drive awareness – not action.

And in most cases, there would be one or two posts or tweets to drive home the message in question – before the influencer moves onto the next brand - as more often than not, influencers have their own agenda and multiple ones at that.

The other issue is passion. Advocacy is driven by the depth of conviction, and influencers typically are less committed to the product or company. Most influencers are not really loyal users - you should be happy – if they are even passive users.

Brand Advocates on the other hand are a sustainable marketing force. They crave engagement from your brand. Unlike influencers, they are eager to support, promote and defend your brand on a long-term basis. Plus, their trusted recommendations affect each part of the purchase funnel, thereby driving business results.

Call them Brand Opinion Leaders or Peer-to-Peer influencers or simply Brand advocates – they are increasingly gaining traction as an area of attention for marketers. For the cynics and particularly the reach-obsessed marketers – the argument is simple.

Brand advocates are making up for their lack of reach – with quality of influence and ‘always-on’ engagement. Apart from the inherent ‘Advocacy’ itself - brands can harness, empower and incentivise these advocates as:

  • Content-Creators (genuine authentic content – not staged)
  • Product reviewers (you’ll be surprised how so many products especially FMCG ones – don’t have a single user review)
  • Mystery shoppers (providing valuable on-the-ground- intel)
  • Co-creators forPD initiatives (providing valuable  insights that could help shape the success of the launch)
  • Idea generators for ideas on new consumer usage and recipes (especially if you are Maggi or Knorr)
  • Real talent - featured in upcoming ad campaigns
  • And importantly to even stand up for it in times of a crisis.

And the best part? It doesn’t cost a lot to tap them – once they have been identified and engaged.

So if you believe in leveraging influencers for your brand – it’s time to re-think what kind. Brand Advocates maybe a more viable alternative for you.

The writer is Mahesh Neelakantan, chief operating officer of Advocacy