How Brands Win: Influencers Are Out. Advocates Are In.

lady with brown hair shouting into megaphone, advocating for a brand

Today, there are over 250 million active creators, a number that has nearly tripled in size since 2021.

With the creator industry booming, we decided as an agency to no longer partner with influencers. Instead, we believe advocates can truly connect with their audience for winning campaigns.

You may be thinking: “Aren’t these the same thing?”

To level-set, the term “creator” is the most general way to address an individual who intentionally curates niche content to attract attention from a specific group of people. An “influencer” is a professional creator with a strong personal brand and a hyper-engaged audience waiting to see what they’ll post next. They may or may not have an affinity for a brand before choosing to partner with it.

But an “advocate” is inherently a brand fan (or soon-to-be one) as it personally aligns with their values. Because of this authentic connection, they can set brands apart in a world vying for audience attention.

When we began to focus on advocates over influencers, we quadrupled KPI goals for our brand partners.

But how do you identify an advocate? Let’s break down three signs.

Advocates prioritize engagement over followers.

Once brands are armed with a campaign idea and strategy, reaching the right audience comes next. A smart communicator looks past a creator’s reach (known as the follower count) and analyzes engagement by asking:

  • Who are they speaking to?
  • Who is interacting with their content?
  • What are they advocating for?

Remember, followers can be bought. And while influencers have status and reach, an advocate has cultivated an engaged community. Brands are finding the most ROI from advocates in the micro-influencer and nano-influencer tiers; they have consistently boasted higher engagement rates, deliver on conversion and are cost-effective.

Advocates bring an authentic POV to their audiences.

In a digital world saturated with content, it is difficult to identify which creators will provide the best ROI. The most underrated and valued criterion is authenticity—the creator’s ability to deliver a transparent message that rings true to themselves and resonates with their followers, helping them stand out from others. This authenticity keeps viewers engaged long enough to watch an entire video, click a link, enter a giveaway, buy a product, share with friends and more.

In a pet product campaign targeted over several months, we asked the advocate how they planned to feature the product and show progress as a real user. They delivered a creative concept that represented how much the product and brand meant to them (and their pet). Their authentic testimonial went viral, amassing over 1 million views on social media and quadrupling the KPIs.

Different from an influencer collecting checks and gaining new followers every day, advocates genuinely care about the brand and demonstrate a real point-of-view on a product or service.

Advocates provide opportunities to lean into the non-obvious.

Don’t be afraid to go niche. Every advocate has a personal story to tell that can put a twist on the original campaign idea or message, taking their content to the next level. A non-obvious choice may even perform better because of their unique perspective.

For example, soap and lotion company Jergens spotlighted a ceramic artist in a social campaign. The objective was to reach an untapped audience that needed hand lotion. It makes perfect sense—an artist’s hands get roughed up, too. An influencer reaches a mass audience, but an advocate hones in on the messaging and storytelling, which resonates more profoundly with the end consumer.

Today, consumers are constantly being pitched and sold products—and they know it. Brands win when they focus on identifying who their real advocates are and collaborate to achieve the most relatable, authentic and engaging content for a target audience.

Aixa Bellido de Luna is Account Supervisor, Advocate and Account Services, at Carve Communications, Inc.