Why Brand Advocacy Beats Influencer Marketing

November 7, 2023

Both brand advocacy and influencer marketing have been making headlines in recent years. So, which method is more effective?

As most brands seek a way to reach vast audiences at a low cost, influencer marketing has grown in popularity. A report by Linqia found that 86% of marketers use influencer marketing to power their content marketing strategies.

However, while there are multiple benefits to using influencers, it is a mistake to assume this method offers the highest return on marketing investment. When looking at the entire picture, we find that brand advocacy beats influencer marketing.

Here is why.

Brand advocacy is cheaper than influencer marketing.

It is true that influencers cost less than some other marketing methods. According to the same Linqia report, professional content production is on average 2.6 times as costly as the same asset when created by influencers.

But why pay when you do not have to? Most advocates are willing to discuss your brand free of charge, and influencers with the most expansive audiences have the heftiest fees.

Moreover, advocates are everywhere. About 70% of customers are willing to leave a review for a brand if asked, expecting nothing in return. In addition to customers, you can find advocates in your employees, vendors, and business partner communities—many of whom may also be influencers with large followings.

Take advantage of this free, abundant, and authentic source of marketing, instead of letting it go to waste.

Brand advocates are more powerful than influencers.

Influencers have already earned the trust of their followers, you would argue? Wrong! According to Forrester Research, just 18% of people trust influencers when they are advertising a brand.

Why such a low number? It is connected to credibility. Most online audiences know influencers get paid to promote brands and products. It is, after all, their business model. Influencer messages are therefore perceived as insincere.

What about advocates? This is where an immense difference is apparent.

According to research from Nielsen, 92% of consumers trust brand advocates. Not only do audiences seem to understand that advocates typically are not driven by monetary compensation, but also, advocates tend to be more concrete and comprehensive when discussing positive experiences with the brand, adding to their credibility.

How important is this element of trusted recommendations for purchase decisions? It is crucial.

Brand advocacy generates 6 trillion dollars in annual customer spending. While influencers offer some benefit for the money, advocates provide a large, and practically free, dividend.

Brand advocates beat influencers for reach.

It has long been held that the advantage of influencers over advocates is their ability to reach larger numbers of potential customers. But this is not quite so straightforward.

In real terms, as stated above, influencer messages are only reaching 18% of their followers. But when looking further, we need to ask how many of those 18% are actually looking to make a purchasing decision right now, how many are potential customers, and how many are interested in your products or brand.

Ultimately, the much-heralded ‘reach’ of influencers can be surprisingly small. Compare this to advocates.

According to LinkedIn, 84% of B2B buyers begin the purchasing process with a referral. While advocate networks may be smaller, there is a much higher likelihood that they will include potential customers, because their networks will contain peers with the same decision-making authority, working in the same industry, and who are interested in the same products and services.

While influencers can be useful to invoke consumer awareness of a brand, advocates are far more likely to invoke consumer action and sway purchasing decisions. It’s the difference between a message seen by thousands who may never need your products and a message seen by dozens who are about to choose between your brand and your competitor’s.

A brand advocate may therefore be able to reach more would-be customers than an influencer. Moreover, you are likely to have many more advocates than influencers in your database.

When multiplying the above considerations by the number of your advocates, the actual reach of your advocates will far exceed that of the influencers.

Brand advocacy beats influencer marketing

Brand advocates beat influencers for loyalty.

Influencers can be useful for quick, short-term collaboration. But the more you work with them, the more it will cost.

If you are seeking to create long-term trust with your prospective customers, then brand advocates are the much better choice. Not only are they increasingly cost-effective as time passes, but your most loyal advocates will continue to be a steady source of positive reviews for many years to come, even outside of advertising campaigns.

Will your influencers keep on promoting your brand in their free time when they are not paid to do so? That is unlikely.

Moreover, word-of-mouth marketing is as crucial as ever, with 85% of social media users saying that they trust it more than branded content. Word of mouth is not achieved by one or two influencers endorsing your brand on one or two occasions. It is achieved by numerous credible defenders promoting your brand consistently for an extended period.

Therefore, your network of devoted allies will generate way more worth for you in the long haul. They are, essentially, walking talking additions to your retail and marketing divisions.

The final score.

The effects of high-quality influencers should not be ignored, and in many cases, they can and should be a part of your larger marketing strategy—but not if it means overlooking your advocates.

A report in the Harvard Business School Press showed that just a 12% increase in customer advocacy results in an average two-fold increase in revenue. Even with the best will in the world, it’s unlikely that your influencers can come close to matching this.

When it comes to matters of trust, cost, impact, engagement, longevity, reach, and return on investment, brand advocacy beats influencer marketing hands down.