Marketing Briefing: Why marketers believe brand ambassadors alleviate influencer marketing concerns

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Marketers are looking to mitigate potential risks of influencer marketing by working with more brand ambassadors this year. 

Some see it as a lingering ripple effect of the Bud Light uproar — it’s just over a year after the backlash for the beer brand hit a fever pitch and marketers remain fearful of the potential damage a boycott to an influencer partnership can do to their brands. At the same time, it’s an election year in a fraught political climate that can make brand safety concerns more top of mind for marketers as they consider influencers now. 

By working with brand ambassadors, who are typically vetted more seriously and often have longer term contracts, marketers can assuage many of the worries they may have when considering influencer marketing. Influencer marketing shops have seen an anecdotal increase in requests for brand ambassador relationships in recent months and cite brand safety as well as exclusivity as key reasons marketers list for the increased interest. 

“There is a lot of fear right now about influencer marketing,” said Danielle Wiley, founder of influencer marketing shop Sway Group, in an email, noting that the Bud Light backlash has been cited as a remaining concern for some. “By engaging with a brand ambassador, you can mitigate the (perceived) risks of influencer marketing by aligning with a very small group of influencers that can be vetted more thoroughly.”

There’s been an “added layer of scrutiny” to influencer marketing over the last year, noted Mae Karwowski, CEO and founder of influencer marketing shop Obviously, adding that marketers want to know if an influencer is actively posting about the news, what they are saying and how they’re talking about it. As the election cycle gets closer, there’s a sense that marketers want to be certain they’re working with “trusted partners,” explained Karwowski, who also noted that the shop will brief creators on what brands are looking for when it comes to brand safety concerns. 

The shop has told creators, “‘Hey, here’s kind of what’s expected and if you want to [work with] with these types of brands, here are things that they’ll be looking for,’ just so that they have a heads up,” said Karwowski. “Obviously, they can post anything they want, we want them to themselves. [We just want them] to know if they want to work with [that] financial services brand, it’s important that they know XYZ about what they’re looking for and what they care about when it comes to their content. Then they can make an informed decision about whatever they post.” 

That’s not to say that all marketers are seeking to implement strict restrictions about what influencers can and can’t do but that those concerns have impacted some brands’ decision making. 

“What’s considered ‘brand safe’ is changing, though some brands remain more conservative than others,” said Grace Murray Vazquez, vp of strategy at influencer marketing shop Fohr, in an email. “Brands want to appeal to Gen Z and younger audiences, who are more socially-minded, outspoken and political than generations before; and morality clauses that prohibit ‘overtly political’ posts are becoming rarer.” 

Murray Vazquez continued: “Gen Z is also more comfortable with their bodies and sexuality, and the paradigms for professionalism and reputation are evolving as they step into the workplace. These rapid changes mean brand marketers need to define more precisely and transparently what is — and is not — OK when working with their ambassadors and influencers.” 

Brand safety concerns are just one reason marketers are more interested in brand ambassador relationships in recent months. As influencer marketing continues to mature with marketers spending more on the channel to reach people where they’re spending time and marketers continue to lose control of their brand narratives, there are also increased concerns around exclusivity with influencers as marketers don’t want to shell out top dollar for an influencer only to have that same influencer pitching their competitor a few months later. 

The potential savings of a brand ambassador relationship also, of course, appeal to marketers. “A big draw for ambassador programs is that economies of scale mean they tend to cost less and they bring in more money than paid advertising,” said Piet Southey, head of clients at influencer agency Billion Dollar Boy, in an email. “They also help improve brand image as ambassadors regularly interact with audiences unprompted, responding to comments and posting often about positive brand experiences.” 

Whether marketers work with brand ambassadors long-term, there is a sense that marketers will continue to look for ways to work with influencers that mitigate potential risk as they continue to lose control of their brand narratives. 

“Scaled media is losing its power and brands are losing control of their narrative, which means they need to rely on effective casting and partnerships more than ever before,” said Murray Vazquez, noting that while that may be the case the shop hasn’t seen an increase in brand ambassador requests this year the approach makes sense. “Consumers are more capable of tuning out and swiping past branded messaging than ever before. Brands are relying more heavily on implicit messages — like the ones communicated through ambassadors — to cut down on explicit messaging. If a picture can tell a thousand words, an ambassador can tell two thousand.”

3 Questions with Richard Yang, principle of growth marketing at Edward Jones

How is Edward Jones navigating today’s turbulent marketing landscape?

The best way to answer that is we are everywhere our clients are. Our strategy is less about what we want to say and where we want to push, and just like our brand, it’s: How do our clients want to engage with us? Where are they? Like the rest of the industry, we’ve evolved, moving … away from linear and more towards CTV. We’re in almost every channel available, both digital and non-digital. Anything you can think of and that’s all optimized on a daily basis — the addressable channels are optimized down to the minute. The non-addressable channels are optimized at, let’s call it, a higher level.

More brands seem to be investing in brand marketing as it gets harder to stand out online. How are you thinking about that? 

We likely lean more heavily into performance because of our branch network and the connectivity of what we’re doing digitally, what we’re doing from home office and what our branches are doing, connecting with their clients every day. We likely lean more into performance, but the impact is undeniable. We measure brand all over the country. It won’t surprise you that in those areas that we have a stronger brand, our performance is that much more efficient. 

Measurement is another pain point for marketers in this fragmented market. How is Edward Jones managing? 

Traditionally, audio is challenging because it’s hard to measure. So let’s say a podcast gets two million downloads. How many folks actually went and called a branch because they downloaded a podcast? We’ll never know that. That’s why the analysis–the ROI analysis–[and] taking a look at the media mix is so important. Measurement, channel-by-channel, has gotten so advanced and is, let’s call it fairly commoditized. From a marketing strategy perspective, we believe in playing offense, not defense. We don’t sit a lot of things out. We’re measuring across hundreds of assets at any given point, but we’re keeping a closer eye on our measurement.  — Kimeko McCoy

By the numbers

Advertisers are still figuring out use cases for generative AI. Meaning, that the chatter around AI is more about its potential than its current capabilities. However, it’s unlikely the industry will see the end of the AI hype cycle anytime soon. In fact, marketing and sales workers reportedly wish their organizations were more open to using AI, according to Grammarly and The Harris Poll’s third annual State of Business Communication report. See a breakdown of the report below:

  • Marketing and sales workers wish their organizations were more open to using AI (57%) and agree AI will enhance their work, not replace them (64%).
  • Using generative AI for communication saves a day a workweek in productivity; that’s over 46 working days or $16,455 per worker per year — or up to a potential $1.6 trillion in annual productivity savings across all U.S. knowledge workers.
  • Most workers still don’t know how to use AI effectively (52%) — and while 89% of leaders use generative AI for professional purposes, only 53% of workers do. — Kimeko McCoy

Quote of the week

“There’s not enough money to go around for this to be sustainable. Once you get past a certain point, the offerings start to blur together and the question becomes, why don’t I just invest in the [major players, like Amazon, Walmart, Target and Kroger].”

— Ethan Goodman, evp of digital commerce at The Mars Agency, when asked about the continued growth of the retail media landscape and how marketers view that growth

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