The value of getting real-world, peer-to-peer exposure for your product or service is undeniable. But how you do it (and with whom) takes several forms. Both influencer and practitioner marketing are effective ways to increase your share of voice and credibility within the market. But influencers are not always practitioners and vice versa. Nor is the approach the same.
The Differences Between the Two
Let’s first look at the differences between influencers and practitioners. Here are their key attributes:
- Have a substantial social following
- Can be brand supporters, but are not necessarily customers
- Have a job that may have no connection to your product
- Pitch a product
- Act as a content distribution mechanism
- Are specialists and active users of the product/service or related products and services; i.e., they have practical experience
- Are close to the customer because they are the customer
- May not have a social following
- Do not pitch a product/service
- Have a job that relates to the product/service
- Act as a content creation mechanism
In contrast to practitioners, influencers are best leveraged with consumer products where no prior expertise is required to buy and use them. Practitioners have practical experience, meaning intimate and specialized knowledge of the products or services being used.
As an example, consider workout clothes versus personal training certification. Both are products in the fitness market. But consumers buy workout clothes and do not need to learn about what that clothing does. Representing fitness clothing brands suits a famous athlete with a large following. However, that athlete may not be as credible in showing the benefits of a particular personal training program—unless they have gone through personal training certification. To understand clothing, all you ultimately need to know is how to dress yourself. But certification requires that the practitioner be credible in the personal training career path, which means they need to be a personal trainer.
It is less important that the personal trainer already has a social following, but it is beneficial if they do. What is important: their story and the content they contribute speak to the challenges of getting proper certification and the benefits of a good personal trainer.
How You Use Them
Practitioners can certainly be influencers. But they do not need to be influencers to provide value, which gets to the approach. You will leverage influencers for awareness only, but you will leverage practitioners for both awareness and credibility. Influencers will help you by leveraging their social media to mention and evangelize your product, whereas a practitioner’s primary benefit is producing content (such as blog posts) about what they know, and you are primarily responsible for distribution.
While both influencer and practitioner marketing are not new, they have only recently been established within marketing practices and this means that how they are used and measured is evolving. One thing to pay attention to during this process: In influencer marketing, in particular, there is some implied risk around legal representation of individuals and negative impact when the influencer is caught peddling a product without clearly letting their following know.
The Difference Between Spotting Talent in Influencers and Practitioners
Both influencers and practitioners need to be recruited, vetted, and managed. The effort in finding influencers is high, and the effort to manage them is low. Conversely, the effort to find practitioners is low, while the effort to manage them is high.
You can easily spot an influencer by their huge following, but that following means they will be hard to peg down and expensive. Yet once you have one, you don’t need to do much more than keep them current on offerings and events.
Finding and enticing a practitioner is easy. Often, LinkedIn is useful in finding individuals who work in the field and have a specific skill set. But to manage practitioners, you need to help them produce content if they are not already familiar with writing for a wider audience. It is also critical that whomever recruits the practitioners can speak their language and maintain credibility with them.
At Fixate, we center our products and services around practitioner marketing. A good portion of our practitioners are now influencers as well. Their rise to the status of influencer correlates directly to participating in our content creation services as practitioners.
If you are in the business of selling something more complex than yoga pants, you probably need to consider practitioner marketing over influencer marketing. We can be starstruck by influencers and believe that just a simple Tweet will double the sales number; this is rarely the case. Many products require that you establish more credibility, and credibility comes through high-quality, expert-authored content first—then distribution.
This post was originally published in October 2017 and updated in June 2021.