When it comes to influencer marketing and partnership marketing (AKA affiliate marketing), it is safe to say that there are some overlapping similarities, but also a few huge differences. Affiliate marketing means working with partners who are generally paid a commission after linking your products directly on their platforms and channels. In contrast, influencers are more typically paid a flat fee to create content that promotes your brand or product.
First and foremost, affiliate marketing is best known for its ability to drive conversions, cheap clicks, and affordable traffic to the website through networking, the use of custom links, and a competitive commission structure. With the rise of the blogger and influencer, the affiliate marketing channel has taken a particular liking to these types of affiliates.
So the question is, why wouldn’t you merge your two strategies?
To do so, however, we have to go back to the basics.
What are the Key Components of Affiliate Marketing?
When you give individuals and companies an incentive to help sell your products or services, they can take on a substantial share of the responsibility for creating effective marketing. This lowers your risks and your advertising costs. At the same time, it’s a boon to publishers who are seeking to monetize their audience.
There’s a reason why affiliate marketing spending is forecasted to hit 6.8 billion this year: it’s a cost-effective model for improving your brand’s visibility, and when done effectively, boosts your sales and your profits. Let’s take a look at the benefits and structure of affiliate marketing:
- Revenue Driving – since 2016, affiliate marketing has grown 10% each year, and now, affiliate links produce as many sales as email promotions. Some estimates suggest that affiliate marketing also generates three times the leads as traditional advertising. In addition, working with affiliates may be significantly more than running a traditional campaign.
- Commission Structure – When you partner with affiliates, it is possible to structure payment such that they receive a commission only when they make a sale. This means that you’re not spending money on ineffective marketing: every dollar spent is associated with a positive CVR value. Depending on your industry, your affiliates might receive between 10% and 40% of a given sale. However, the lifetime value of new customers may well exceed the cost of any single affiliate payout.
- Multiple Affiliate Partners – With traditional advertising, you’re often limited to one campaign strategy. After investing in its creation, you’re locked in until it succeeds—or fails. However, you can partner with more than one affiliate, and different affiliates may have very different audiences, strategies, and results. Using data analytics, you can easily see which partners generate the most value over time. Tiered commissions can reward the most effective partners, giving them a greater incentive to promote your brand and products.
- Low-Cost Platforms – There are a number of affiliate marketing platforms that make it easy to find publishers, track sales, and pay affiliates. Costs for affiliate services can begin at just $29 a month (plus affiliate payouts), and you may be able to use some software without a subscription simply by meeting the minimum advertising budget.
- Affordable Traffic + Clicks – When it comes to affiliate marketing, many commission structures will only pay for sales, not for leads. This means that you’ll rarely pay anything for traffic, clicks, and brand awareness. That’s just one reason why affiliate marketing is so affordable. However, if your main goal is to increase visibility, you can further incentive affiliates by paying a flat fee for posts, or basing your commission structure on traffic rather than sales.
As you can see, affiliate marketing is a powerful way to tap into publishers’ networks and the deep trust they’ve created with their audiences in order to drive traffic, sell goods and services, and save money, too.
Next, we’ll compare influencer marketing to affiliate marketing.
What are the key components of Influencer Marketing?
Influencer marketing is similar to affiliate marketing, although you’re more often partnering with an independent blogger, vlogger, or social media personality. Like affiliate marketing, influencer marketing allows you to tap into someone else’s network with minimal risk to your bottom line.
The main components of influencer marketing include:
- Brand Awareness – when you work with influencers, you’re on the lookout for individuals whose brands align with your own. Selling a new organic cosmetic line? You’re looking for vloggers with a focus on clean beauty. Offering accounting services for creative professionals? You’re looking for up-and-coming artists and musicians who regularly post about the tools that make it possible to make a living off their work. When you partner with the right individual, you tap into their network of followers, creating awareness of your brand among the audience you’re targeting.
- Content Creation – like affiliates, influencers are responsible for promoting your company and product. Their methods can vary, and may include product reviews, tutorials, or simply images featuring your brand. The responsibility and the cost of content creation is in the influencer’s hands.
- Multiple Influencer partners – as with affiliate marketing, partnering with multiple influencers will enable the creation of content as unique as the individuals you partner with. Different influencers might create content with a different tone and style, and for different audiences.
- Messaging and CTAs – When you work with an influencer, you can, of course, specify what you’d like to see in their content to make sure it aligns with your messaging and includes a clear CTA. Providing influencers with unique referral links allows you to track the effectiveness of an influencer’s incorporation of a CTA, deciding whether it is cost-effective to partner with that individual in the future.
How Are They Similar?
Maybe you already see some of the similarities between these two distinct ways of partnering with other individuals and brands to generate clicks and sales. However, let’s lay out some of the additional similarities that make it enticing to merge your two strategies:
- Top of funnel channels – both influencer and affiliate marketing have the potential to create a positive CVR value. However, one of their main benefits is generating visibility for your brand and getting eyes on your solutions.
- PR Value – effective influencer and affiliate partnerships associate your brand with publishers, websites, and individuals that your target audience already trusts and likes. Your brand and solutions can be strengthened, bolstered, and even further specified through the partnerships you choose. When you find the right partners, your audience grows.
- Process + Networking – the process of working with influences and affiliates is similar: you begin by looking for partners who align with your brand and connect with your audience. This can involve networking within your industry, as well as researching your audience’s other interests and passions. Once you’ve found the right people to work with, you work out a payment structure, as well as incentives. Next, you brief your partner on any specifics, and finally, you let them create the content.
- Similar KPIs – not only is the process of working with influences and affiliates similar, but so are the measurables that you can use to determine whether or not a given partnership is effective. With each group, you can measure effectiveness through:
- Sessions – the number of clicks on the website
- New Users to Website
- CVR – the numbers of leads that become sales
- Revenue generated through your partnership
As you can see, there are so many similarities in the processes of working with influencers and affiliates that it makes sense to merge your two strategies.
Now that We Covered the Basics, How Can We Marry the Two?
If you already have separate influencer and affiliate strategies in place, you might notice many dissimilarities in the way you recruit and interact with these two groups.
Perhaps you let affiliates find you, while you scout out influencers. Perhaps you pay them differently. And perhaps you evaluate them differently, expecting different results from the two platforms, which can make it difficult to track their effectiveness and develop appropriate incentives.
But it doesn’t have to be that way: it is possible—even easy—to merge your two strategies.
- Hybrid partnerships – when working with both influencers and affiliates, adopt the same payment structure. Offer a discounted flat rate for posts and content as well as an affiliate commission based on your targeted outcome.
- Increase product trade and offers to affiliates – you may already give influencers free products and/or discounts in exchange for promotions. When working with affiliates, try adopting the same strategy in addition to offering commissions. You’ll still get the traffic and clicks, as well as create further incentives for effective content.
- Increase outreach to micro-influencers to onboard for affiliate – the best partner isn’t always someone with a huge readership or following. As you seek out micro-influencers with follower counts in the thousands rather than hundred-thousands or millions, you create the potential to promote their career, create a long term partnership, and grow as they grow. Look for micro-influencers whose voice and audience align with your brand’s, even if their follower count is low. An added benefit is the lower cost of working with these individuals.
- Increased commission structure and product trade monthly to incentivize – reward influencers and affiliates who promote your company month after month. For them to best promote your product, they need a true familiarity with it, and a true connection to your company. Rather than thinking of a partnership as a one-time transaction, incentivize your longest-lasting and most-effective partnerships with increases to commission and product trade.
As you can see, merging your affiliate and influencer strategy solves several problems: it simplifies your business, promotes and strengthens your brand, creates clear incentives for affiliates and influencers, and allows you to experience the best that both marketing worlds have to offer.
- Business insider. The Affiliate Marketing Report. https://www.businessinsider.com/the-affiliate-marketing-report-how-mainstream-publishers-are-turning-performance-based-marketing-into-a-fine-art-2015-11
- eMarketer. U.S. Affiliate Market Spending, 2015-2020. https://www.emarketer.com/chart/198481/us-affiliate-marketing-spending-2015-2020-billions
- Finances Online. 20 Best Affiliate Marketing Software Solutions of 2020. https://financesonline.com/top-20-affiliate-marketing-software-solutions/