Oftentimes, I hear marketers say, “We need an influencer outreach strategy,” and my usual response, either under my breath or out loud, is, “No, you need a customer advocacy strategy.” Many think they are one and the same but they are actually very different.

An influencer is someone with significant social capital. They may have several thousand Twitter followers, RSS subscribers and Facebook “likes” and they are frequently retweeted, quoted, interviewed, invited to speak at conferences and may even have written a book or two.

Influencers have a considerable amount of reach, hence all the attention that big brands give to them by seeding them with products before they hit the market or giving them insight into the product roadmap. The relationship between a brand and influencers is usually built upon incentives.

An advocate is different. They may only have a few hundred followers, may not even blog and many won’t know what an RSS feed is. The main difference is that advocates don’t need or want incentives. They will talk and talk and talk about the brands they care about even if the brand completely ignores them. They are vocal, passionate and always give a brand praise both on and offline.

When comparing the reach of an influencer to an advocate, the influencer clearly has an advantage. But I would argue that if you take the collective reach of all your advocates and compare it to the reach of influencers, the numbers will show that the advocates’ reach is much wider.

Imagine for a second what the impact would be if a brand paid just a little attention to its advocates. Most advocates are very easy to approach. While influencers consider themselves influencers, advocates don’t really care to label themselves. And that makes a brand’s job so much easier.

Identifying advocates is really not that hard to do. If you spend enough time in on Facebook, you will begin to see which fans stand out based on how they interact with your content (share, comment, like, etc.). There are tools like Syncapse that are building this capability into their product roadmap.

Zuberance is a great tool that identifies advocates already living in your brand’s ecosystem and empowers them to share reviews and content about your product with their social circles. RowFeeder is an exceptional tool that pulls data directly from Twitter and Facebook, and allows you to easily see who is referencing your brand and how often.

I have never studied the psychology of a consumer’s purchase behaviour. But what I am confident about is that there is a strong emotional connection between a brand and its advocates.  I call it emotional equity. It’s the reason why I only buy one kind of television, Sony. It’s not out of habit, convenience or price because Sony is actually pretty expensive.

I grew up with Sony, from the Walkman, to the Playstation to the television in my house. Sony has always been a part of my family. That equity can stem from just about anything: a personal experience like mine, the value the product brings to someone’s life or the fact that it simply kicks ass.

When a brand actually spends time nurturing its advocates and connecting on a human level, its emotional equity will grow exponentially. And that’s a hard bond to break.