The way consumers do their shopping is changing. The move from offline to online has been going on for a while now, and has even further accelerated in the wake of the pandemic. But going from physical to digital is not the only change happening – consumer behaviors online are evolving in more ways than one. And as our social contacts in the real world went down to zero during lockdowns and social distancing, social shopping has gone through the roof.
Social commerce is here to stay, and it’s booming. And now, brands of all sizes are doing their best to keep up with the rapid evolution of channels and tactics it involves. The big social platforms are making substantial investments into social commerce solutions as they compete for advertisers and audiences. From TikTok Commerce to Instagram Checkout, social media platforms work hard to innovate and build the channels that will get their users to stay and spend their money in-app.
One of the core pillars of this social commerce revolution is influencer marketing and brand ambassadors. Why so? Well, because traditional advertising on social platforms is not what wins the hearts of today’s shoppers.
Long gone are the days when glossy ads and slick commercials were driving conversions. Instead, today’s consumers want to hear about your brand from real people who they trust. They want to watch people use your products, and they want to hear honest opinions about that experience. These people can be peers, but they can also be celebrities, social media influencers, or brand ambassadors.
Influencer marketing has become such an integral part of social ecommerce that Shopify has even integrated an app with their platform to enable brands to connect directly with ambassadors and influencers. Through the ecommerce platform, Shopify is making the TVPage Ambassador Storefront app available to create a seamless way to network with brand ambassadors.
In this article, we’ll dive deeper into the dynamics of social commerce, and more specifically, we’ll explore the difference between influencer marketing and brand ambassadors. How are they different, and why are brands leaning increasingly towards the latter?
Related reading: What is Social Commerce? Strategy & Tactics for 2022
What is the Difference Between Brand Ambassadors and Social Media Influencers?
When planning your brand’s social media marketing, you need to consider what strategy will best help your unique product gain social traction. And as we’ve already concluded, traditional ads are rarely a sufficient strategy. Enter social media influencers and brand ambassadors, allowing you to leverage their already existing audiences to grow your fanbase.
So, what’s the difference between the two? Well, while influencer marketing can be a winning kickstart for emerging brands, brand ambassadorship is based on a much deeper and more collaborative approach to social media marketing. The whole idea of brand ambassadorship is to develop long-term relationships with individuals who are already engaging with your products and setting them up for continued success.
The main distinction between brand ambassadors and influencers is that ambassadors are formally engaged with your brand or product over a more extended period. While social media influencers usually charge per post, which can be great to create quick spikes in traffic, they’re generally not a financially viable, nor the most efficient, option in the long run.
Engaging with a brand ambassador, on the other hand, is done on a deeper level. It’s about building a mutually beneficial partnership that most often is not solely about money. Instead, you want to find ambassadors whose personal brands complement yours, where they will benefit from the collaboration beyond the pay-check. Finding and investing in these win-win relationships can often cut costs substantially, compared to influencer marketing, while getting you more value from the partnership.
“Working with brand ambassadors can allow a brand to create a trusted community which in turn helps build a true connection between the consumer and brand. What is most important is ensuring that you truly understand your customer, prior to working with a brand ambassador, so that you can ensure topics and conversations that your customer cares about are being conveyed within your brand ambassador’s messaging. Truly learning about your customer by utilizing your ecommerce tools and immersing yourself into what they love is so key.”
Strategic Agency Partnerships Manager, Klaviyo
Brand ambassadors are often connoisseurs of a product category, and ideally, they already use and enjoy your brand organically. This means they’re already embedded in the value community of your brand and have much higher credibility within your target audience. They may also appreciate other types of compensation beyond monetary remuneration, such as becoming members of an exclusive brand community.
Further down in this article, we’ll explore how three big brands have successfully created these types of attractive communities and ambassadorships.
Related reading: How to Use Influencer Strategies in Your Ecommerce Marketing
Are Brand Ambassadors Replacing Influencers?
While there is certainly room for both business models, some would argue that the trend is starting to tip over in favor of long-term relationships with brand ambassadors rather than short-term influencer campaigns.
Social media marketing can help you build brand awareness and spread your message through people that your target audience trusts, admires, and likes – without the use of traditional ads. And with the brand ambassador model, you remain in control of the social content over time and can reap the exponential gains of a long-term association with your ambassadors. The brand ambassador model allows you to build more genuine collaborations that will seem (and be!) a lot more authentic than one-off deals with influencers.
And this matters because it’s not just screen time, social media, and ecommerce that is up – consumer expectations are up too. And if there’s one thing that matters more than anything else in today’s marketing landscape, it’s authenticity.
Creators who become an extension of the brands they represent and who live and breathe the brand ethos will have a much higher engagement rate than more generic influencers – however huge their following. Because while influencers may have more followers by the numbers, their credibility is often much lower. Ambassadors with a genuine passion for your brand, on the other hand, have a unique vantage point and can influence their audiences at a whole different level.
Related reading: Top 10 Ecommerce Future Trends
3 Brands with Winning Brand Ambassador Strategies
Brand ambassadors are actually not a new marketing strategy. It’s not even a digital one, initially. The OG brand ambassadors didn’t come about with social media. In fact, already in the 1950s, Jack Daniels leveraged the power of community and brand ambassadors as a clever way to damage control when at one point, they were faced with a shortage of their famous whiskey.
The lack of shippable products prompted consumers to write to the distillery searching for their favorite beverage. And while the distillery couldn’t provide these fans with the product, they used the touchpoint as an opportunity to build even stronger brand loyalty.
Each writer was rewarded with the deed to a square inch plot of land on the Jack Daniels distillery ground, making them a part-owner of the distillery and giving them a life-long membership to an exclusive club known as the Tennessee Squires. A community that continues to thrive even to this day.
The squires maintain a high level of exclusivity by only allowing for one nomination per member, keeping the club a coveted VIP experience for fans to aspire to. Members receive special, limited edition JD swag annually, ranging from members-only glassware, limited whiskey editions, documented stories about the animals that visit their plot, poker chips, and holiday ornaments.
The squire was and remains a brilliant marketing move and a way to use brand ambassadors to create loyalty and buzz that paid advertising could never replicate––for the mere cost of some corporate swag.
The well-known athleisure brand Lululemon has used brand ambassadors to build and launch a community model to match and enhance their brand philosophy and corporate values.
Lululemon offers their brand ambassadors the opportunity to use their company assets to develop their own marketing and success while at the same time organically inserting the brand’s products into their local communities of like-minded fitness enthusiasts.
For example, Lululemon allows its ambassadors to use their local physical spaces and retail stores to host classes, events, and educational sessions. This way, Lululemon has managed to foster loyalty and drive sales while also maintaining an image of a generous commitment to helping everyone find a healthy lifestyle – dressed in the famous lululemon leggings, of course!
They also provide their brand ambassadors with the resources to advance their own careers and thus increase the trust level that their followers have in them while also rewarding them with things like early product access, discounts, and events.
Xbox by Microsoft
Another brilliant real-world example of the brand ambassador model is the marketing of Xbox by Microsoft. The Xbox, being a versatile gadget, does not just cater to gamers. It also enables streaming, streaming, browsing, and movies. This has led Microsoft to adopt a twofold approach to brand ambassadorship, as they aim to attract both a younger audience (the gamers) and the mainstream crowd (the parents).
The Xbox also faces competition in both spaces, meaning Microsoft needs all the differentiation they can create. And one way they’ve achieved this is by leveraging the passionate network of Xbox enthusiasts as brand ambassadors.
Microsoft noticed early on that loyal users seemed to enjoy sharing their knowledge of the platform, so the Xbox team decided to incentivize this behavior. They created The Xbox Community to gamify the membership to players, who were attracted to the community for the same reasons they love the product.
Knowledge-sharing is rewarded with the unlocking of perks like secret games, early drops, swag, and access to exclusive competitions. The community is so robust that there is now a dedicated portal for the brand ambassadors, where they can take part in product development and get early upgrade access and help with QA for new games.
How Vaimo Can Help
When it’s time to build out your social commerce strategy, it is essential to look for a solution and setup that will be both coherent from a customer perspective––and easy for you to manage and scale. Vaimo helps brands optimize their social commerce and tap into social shopping.
Our team of experts offers ecommerce design and development to help you create outstanding omnichannel journeys. From ecommerce development to building data-driven strategies, we can help you grow in 2022 and beyond. Get in touch to learn more about how your brand can grow with social shopping and ecommerce.