Brand Marketing
8 min read

Affiliate vs. Ambassador Programs: What's the Difference?

Learn the difference between affiliate and ambassador programs. Find out how these programs work and which one is best for your business.
Image of author Nick Cotter

By Nick Cotter
Updated Jan 10, 2024

Affiliate vs. Ambassador Programs: What's the Difference?
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You may have heard the terms "affiliate marketing program" or "ambassador programs" quite a bit.

Perhaps you've even tried your hand at creating one for your brand.

Or perhaps you're looking to identify the critical differences between the two programs to weigh which is a better (or both) option for your brand.

Before we dive into the differences between the two programs, we're going to start with what each program is, how they work, and how to create one. From there, we'll lay out the key differences and share which program may better fit your business.

Let's get into it!

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Overview of Affiliate Programs.

What is an affiliate program?

An affiliate program is a partnership between two or more parties, where one party (the affiliate) agrees to promote another party's (the brand) products/services to their audience in exchange for a commission on the sale.

Typically, affiliates have built up an audience a brand wants to get their products or services in front of – Whether that's in the form of a blog, social media, email marketing, etc.

So, in the case of an affiliate program, there are three parties involved:

  1. The service/product provider (provides)
  2. The affiliate (promotes)
  3. The end consumer (purchases)

How do affiliate programs work?

Affiliate programs are an excellent way for companies with products or services they want to promote to reach new audiences. They allow people with an audience—like bloggers—to promote those products or services in exchange for a commission on sales.

The service/product provider typically runs affiliate programs through an affiliate tracking software or network. These platforms act as the middleman between the service provider and affiliate, providing them a way to track traffic, conversions, sales, commission, etc.

Let's explain it in a few simple steps:

  1. The brand hosts an affiliate program on tracking software or network
  2. Affiliate joins the brand's affiliate program
  3. The brand provides affiliates with a tracking link
  4. Affiliate shares tracking links on the blog, social media, email, etc.
  5. The consumer clicks through the tracking link and purchases on the brand's website
  6. Conversions are tracked in the affiliate software or network
  7. The brand pays out the affiliate a % of the sale defined in the initial agreement

How do I start an affiliate program?

If you're considering starting an affiliate program, you're heading in the right direction. 

Affiliate programs are an excellent marketing channel you can leverage to help increase brand awareness and profitably grow your business.

But, you need to follow these steps to start an affiliate program properly:

  1. New business? Don't lead with affiliate marketing.
  2. Set up affiliate channel KPIs.
  3. Build out an attractive commission structure.
  4. Decide between an affiliate software or network.
  5. Set up an affiliate program launch plan.
  6. Review your program terms & conditions.
  7. Build an affiliate onboarding program.
  8. Recruit and build strong relationships with affiliates.
  9. Leverage data and optimize the channel.

For more in-depth details about launching an affiliate program for your business, check out this step-by-step guide to launching your affiliate program.

Overview of Ambassador Programs.

What is an ambassador program?

Generally speaking, an ambassador program is a system for incentivizing brand ambassadors to promote your business. These ambassadors are typically influencers who have built up large followings on social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, or other social platforms. 

The program provides these influencers with exclusive content, discount codes, special events, and other promotional opportunities that they can use to drive traffic back to your website or store.

How do ambassador programs work?

Ambassadors are people who have been chosen by a brand to represent their products and services. They can be employees or consumers and have strong connections with the brands they represent. 

Ambassadors play an essential role in marketing strategies for many companies because they build relationships between your company and your customers. These programs also give consumers opportunities to interact with other like-minded people, try new products, and receive rewards for doing so.

Here are a few ways in which ambassador programs work:

1. They help companies engage with consumers online and in person.

Ambassador programs can be an excellent way for companies to reach out to customers, get feedback, and reach new markets. Ambassadors are often loyal customers who have a strong relationship with the brand. They are often willing to help promote your products or services by providing information about what you do on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. They may also offer other marketing support such as hosting events where they connect with potential buyers and spread awareness about your products or services. The more engagement an ambassador has with your company's audience, the more likely they will convince others to buy from you!

2. They can establish brand loyalty with consumers.

Another benefit of ambassador programs is that they can establish brand loyalty with consumers. People who are loyal to a brand are more likely to buy from the brand, and they're also more likely to recommend it to others. Nielsen found that 65% of consumers prefer brands that have an ambassador/influencer program because they feel a personal connection with them. This makes it easier for companies to grow their business.

The bottom line is this: ambassador programs can help companies get more exposure for their products or services without spending as much money on advertising campaigns and marketing strategies like paid ads on social media platforms like Instagram or Facebook (which can be expensive).

3. They help companies build stronger relationships with their customers.

Ambassador programs can help companies build stronger relationships with their customers. Instead of simply launching a new product, companies can get people excited about it and encourage them to try it by giving them opportunities. This helps establish brand loyalty, which can be helpful in the long run.

Ambassador programs also allow you to engage with consumers online and in person. When someone uses social media or attends an event as part of their program duties, they're likelier to share content from your company than if they had no connection. This results in more eyes on your products—and hopefully, sales!

4. They give people opportunities to try new or exciting products.

As an ambassador, you'll get to try new or exciting products before they are released to the public. You can then share your experience with others via social media and even review the products on your site. If you're a blogger, this means having another outlet for content that can help boost traffic to your site. As an ambassador, you may influence the company's product development based on how people react to the product after trying it out!

5. Ambassador programs help companies better serve their customers.

Ambassador programs are an excellent way for companies to build stronger customer relationships. They can also help companies build brand loyalty, as ambassadors are usually very enthusiastic about the brands they support. Ambassadors talk about their favorite products or services, help drive sales and increase website traffic.

When companies implement ambassador programs, they usually provide their ambassadors with special perks related to the promoted product or service. For example, an ambassador might receive free samples of a new product before it's released in stores. They can share photos on social media and recommend them to friends and family members who might be interested in trying them out. This can help spread awareness of new products while increasing sales through word-of-mouth advertising efforts.

How do I start an ambassador program?

Ambassador programs are a great way to build a community of customers and advocates for your brand. They can help you spread the word about your product, build loyalty with current customers, and even help make new sales by recommending products or services.

In addition to building up a loyal community of ambassadors who will spread the word about your business, you'll also gain valuable insight into what makes these people tick. 

This information can refine and improve your products or services and develop new ones that appeal more directly to their needs—and ultimately boost revenue!

Five steps to start building your ambassador program:

  1. First, start small and then grow the program.
  2. Make sure they're the right ambassadors that embody your brand.
  3. Set clear expectations and goals with your ambassadors.
  4. Give them a purpose — why they're doing what they're doing — and a voice so they can spread their love of your brand to others.
  5. Track the performance of your ambassadors' impact on the brand, traffic, and sales.

Differences Between Ambassador Programs and Affiliate Programs.

Now that we've gone into an overview of affiliate and ambassador programs, that's dive into some of the key differences between the two programs.

1. Promotion Efforts.

Affiliates: When it comes to promotional efforts, affiliates almost all the time promote your products/services online. Whether sharing their affiliate tracking links through their blog, social media accounts, email subscribers, or advertising campaigns.

Ambassadors: Ambassadors promote your brand through online and offline channels, but they don't typically have an affiliate sales tracking link for online promotion. Regarding offline promotion, ambassadors will help elevate the brand through community events, store openings, sporting events, trade shows, and more.

2. Compensation and Rewards.

Another difference between ambassadors and affiliates is how the company pays out each.

Affiliates: Affiliates are typically paid a commission on the sales they drive through their unique tracking links. So, for instance, if you payout affiliates 20% of a sale and your affiliate partner went $100 in sales for a given month, you would pay them $20. You can get a bit creative with how else you incentive affiliates, but for the most part, affiliates are paid based on commission.

Ambassadors: When it comes to compensation for ambassadors, most are paid some form of salary or an hourly wage due to the nature of their promotion efforts. Some companies offer additional commissions, depending on the organization and their sales processes.

3. Brand Embodiment.

One last significant difference between ambassadors and affiliates is how each embodies and represents your brand.

Affiliates: Most affiliates don't attach as much to your brand as ambassadors do. Many affiliates promote several brands across their entities, sometimes even hundreds, so your brand can get lost in the noise.

Ambassadors: When you hire ambassadors for your brand, you can trust they are only promoting your brand (or maybe one other). They typically believe deeply in your brand's values, mission, and product offerings and want to share them with the rest of the world.

Should You Launch an Affiliate Program?

First, answer this question:

Do you want to drive incremental sales and grow your brand online?

If the answer is yes, you should research starting an affiliate program for your business.

You can attempt to start one yourself, but we'd recommend hiring an affiliate marketing agency to help you. These companies will help you minimize risks and mistakes, saving you time and money.

Just note that not all industries are going to work well when it comes to running an affiliate program. Do your research and consult with others before jumping in.

Should You Launch an Ambassador Program?

You may not like this answer, but…

It depends.

We won't say ambassador programs work for all types of organizations because that's not true. 

The most successful ambassador programs come from brands with a passionate customer base who genuinely believe the in the product and mission. This may not be the best fit for your business if you're a small accounting firm with a few customers.

Take a step back, look at your current customer base, and analyze whether you believe the ambassador program is the right fit for your brand.

Wrapping it all up

So there you have it.

We've gone through all of the ins and outs of affiliate and ambassador programs. At this point, you should know that each is as important as the other in driving business growth differently. Yes, there are many similarities between the two programs, but we hope the differences we brought to light explain them a bit more clearly.

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Nick Cotter

Nick Cotter

Founder & CEO

With over 7 years navigating the intricate realms of marketing, and specifically B2B partner marketing, Nick has forged collaborations with top-tier tech brands, prominent agencies, and some of the industry's foremost B2B publishers and content creators. His deep immersion in both marketing landscapes showcases a trajectory of expertise and innovation. Identifying a significant void in specialized resources, he founded Growann.The aspiration? Deliver unparalleled insights and guidance, carving out a dedicated space where the broader marketing and B2B partner marketing communities can flourish.