A confused dog dress in clothes with human hands holding a phone - Confused concept
PHOTO: Shutterstock

Influencer marketing has gained traction recently, but many brands have unrealistic expectations about what influencers can actually achieve. According to Convince & Convert, 92% of consumers trust brand advocates, while only 18% trust influencers. Influencers may have an audience, but do they really have influence?

With this question in mind, we’ve asked B2B marketers to explain what B2B influencers are versus brand advocates, and why they can both advantageous for most B2B brands.

What is a B2B Influencer?

“A B2B influencer is a content creator that is significant in their field,” said Sarah Steinman, SEO and Content Writer at Lutz, FL-based Cape & Bay. B2B Influencers have a large audience in the corporate world that regularly consumes their content. “Their efficacy is measured by the amount of followers they have, but growing that audience is their main focus,” Steinman continued. She believes influencer marketing is comparable to endorsement marketing — where brands pay celebrities or other prominent individuals to promote their products or services — in the Internet age.

 

“B2B influencers are people that will promote your business on platforms like YouTube or Instagram,” added Frank Spear, Content Marketer at West Palm Beach, FL-based Awesome Motive Inc., “but they are not entirely invested in your brand.” A B2B influencer’s willingness to help your brand is generally transactional, and not because of a particular affinity for your product or service.

Related Article: The B2B App Boom Will Only Grow

What is a Brand Advocate?

“Brand advocates are people that use and believe in your product,” stated Spear. Advocates may or may not have a large audience, but they’re willing to promote your brand on social media because they’re passionate, not for financial gain. Leveraging brand advocates is one of the most effective ways for brands to pursue a word of mouth marketing strategy.

“Brand advocates can’t be bought,” Steinman agreed. Advocates enjoyed using your product or service so much that they recommend it to everyone they know. “As they are recommending [your brand] to people they know personally, rather than through an audience,” Steinman explained,  “they are far more effective.” Brand advocates generally have a smaller reach than influencers, but their conversion rate is often much higher as well.

Related Article: B2B Buyers Still Want the Human Touch – What’s a B2B Seller to Do?

Why B2B Brands Need Both

There’s a distinction between influencers and advocates, but most B2B brands can benefit from having both. A good balance of both ensures that brands have a far reach and better conversions than purely focusing on either one. That’s because the most significant difference between influencer and brand advocates is audience size and engagement.

Influencers Spread Awareness

”Influencers cultivate huge audiences and promote hundreds of products throughout their career,” Spear said. That means influencers are most effective for building brand awareness. “The benefit is you'll reach a massive number of people in a short time,” explained Spear. Since the focus isn’t as narrow, your brand still may not be a good fit for many people within the influencer’s audience. 

“B2B influencers can be an easy source of traffic for brand awareness,” agreed Deepak Shukla, Founder of London, U.K.-based Pearl Lemon. The main drawback he sees is that there’s more competition to be featured by influencers because their audience is so far-reaching, and that means it’s not cheap. “They can be expensive,” Shukla said, “although many people think they are well worth the money.”

Advocates Drive Conversions

In contrast, brand advocates usually have a much smaller audience, but they’re highly engaged and centered around a particular topic or niche. “The reason they see more engagement,” explained Spear, “is because they are communicating with people already invested in your industry or product.” Consumers trust someone that actually uses and enjoys a brand’s product or services much more than an individual that’s involved in sponsored promotions. That means brand advocates are speaking to qualified leads and can be a critical driver of sales for many brands.

“Brand Advocates should be generated passively by your business by simply having a great brand and products,” Shukla said. If you take the time to cultivate relationships with your existing customers, you can find advocates organically. "...they are most cost-effective when they spread your brand simply because they like it, for free,” he said.

Find The Right Balance

Both influencers and advocates have their place, but it’s different for each brand. You need to determine the right balance based on your budget, goals, and overall marketing strategy. Reggie Paquette, Head of Marketing at New York, N.Y.-based Revealbot concluded, “Every industry has influencers, but not every company has brand advocates.” You can always pay to promote your brand, but the most powerful individuals are intrinsically passionate about your brand