Over the last couple of years, affiliate marketing and influencer marketing have become synonymous as brands learn the value and possibilities of combining brand awareness with trackable ROI. While affiliate marketing has been around for decades, many industry experts believe influencer marketing to still be in its infancy, giving everyday people the opportunity to become overnight successes. But when it comes to marketing your business, what is the best strategy? In this post, we will look at the similarities between affiliate marketing and influencer marketing, how they differ, and most importantly, how they can boost your overall revenue.
Here at Apogee, we often talk about the “marriage” of affiliate marketing and traditional PR. In the last 15 years, the lines between straight affiliate marketing and PR—including big media placements, product reviews, and influencer campaigns—have nearly disappeared. PR and affiliate management agencies are seeing the power of affiliate-influencer marketing partnerships and adopting this new strategy as best practices for working with brand partners.
In the past, affiliate marketers were mainly web and design experts who would churn out content about specific topics that drove massive traffic to a merchant’s website to generate sales and earn commissions. They studied trends, targeted the customer journey, and found potential customers who were ready to make a purchase. Their content dominated the search engines and covered virtually every topic, from skincare to car parts. Betting on a formula of conversion rates and commission rate, professional affiliates had their content creation down to a science that could run virtually hands-free while making passive income around the clock. Tens of thousands of dollars could be made with the right content, strategy, and affiliate program structure.
However, a courtship began when brands started working with bloggers in the early 2000s, and the savvier bloggers started seeing how affiliate marketing works. Suddenly these online personalities with loyal followings were starting to join affiliate programs for their favorite brands and creating an entirely new income stream for their online presence. Affiliate marketing platforms like ShareASale and CJ made it easy for bloggers to connect with brands, join their affiliate marketing program, and promote the products to their audience — much the same way that original affiliate marketers did, but on a more personal level. These original brand ambassadors were carving a path by “influencing” their audience and turning them into new customers for various brands.
Then came the rise of social media, which helped fuel this courtship even more. Everyday individuals can start a single social media account and gain millions of new followers and incredible exposure by sharing their life, opinions, or humor that resonates with the masses. Moreover, social media posts can go viral almost the instant they’re published, seen by millions of people worldwide. As a result, social media personalities started becoming the most influential people in the world and guided trends and social movements on a global scale.
It didn’t take long for word to get out that influencer marketing works. Bloggers and social media stars were flooded with complementary products from brands looking to gain exposure to these captive and loyal audiences. It was no secret that if you could get the right product in the hands of the right influencers at the right time, you could virtually sell out of anything in a matter of minutes.
Once PR professionals started offering those same bloggers and social media influencers their own tracking link and promo code to share with their audiences, the courtship was finalized, giving every influencer marketing campaign the ability to be a form of affiliate marketing. As a result, what once were two completely different types of marketing can become one big piece of your marketing strategy — bringing together the best of both worlds.
Affiliates and Influencers share similar goals with their content creation. While it may not be as forward with Influencers as with affiliates, every content creator has a purpose for what they create. Sometimes the content inspires, sometimes entertains, and sometimes helps people’s lives be just a little bit easier. Sometimes that includes sharing products that help make that happen. This is where even the smallest of influencers can use affiliate marketing to add a direct income stream to their content on their blog or social media platforms.
Both affiliates and influencers create quality content for their audiences; they are just distributed in different ways. Both affiliates and influencers do these three things:
These three core similarities make working with influencers and affiliates one of the most powerful ways to grow your online business. Whether you call them hybrid campaigns, partner campaigns, or ambassador programs, aligning yourself with influencers and affiliates and allowing them to share your brand will help catapult you toward your long-term goals.
The key differences between affiliate marketing and influencer marketing have to do with how they are traditionally paid. Or rather, what their pay is based on.
Affiliate marketers earn income by promoting your brand and earning commissions based on sales generated from those promotions. Simply put, affiliates ONLY get paid if there is a sale; their entire content strategy is based on driving sales. Whether it is to a landing page or specific products on a brand’s site, every piece of content is geared towards direct sales of goods and services.
On the other hand, influencer marketers have entirely different performance metrics that include KPIs such as impressions and engagement. Influencers are paid for the content they produce, whether they make a sale or not. Their content is built around the concept of community and connection, and brands and services are often shared authentically via blog posts or their social media presence.
By blending these two digital marketing strategies, a brand can offer influencer affiliates a lower flat fee with an enhanced commission and receive the best of both worlds. For instance, if the influencer affiliate usually charges $500 for a dedicated blog post and your average commission is $25, you can offer a flat fee of $250 with a VIP commission of $50. A good content creator will know that they can more than make up the difference in the fee with the enhanced commission and even far surpass the flat fee by continuing to promote the products to their audience.
Unpopular opinion: If you find influencers who refuse to work on a hybrid model that includes a performance metric, they may be the wrong influencers for you. Only creators who know they do not convert will refuse this opportunity. Why even pay the flat fee if they do not convert ANY sales? While any content produced contributes to brand exposure, ultimately, the goal for any campaign should have an ROI component.
“A good affiliate marketer does not have to be an Influencer… but a good Influencer should be an affiliate marketer.”
Absolutely, but why would you? Running an influencer campaign that gives each participant their own trackable links or promo codes to include in their content is the best way to not only get the brand awareness and exposure you are looking for but is also an excellent way for you to track ROI and the true impact of these marketing strategies on your revenue.
Running a hybrid influencer affiliate campaign allows you to work with a broader number of influencers at a lesser cost and with higher brand engagement. As a result, your campaign results can offer more than just an exposure metric and can give insights into customer behavior and audience preferences. In addition, influencer affiliate marketing can expand your marketing efforts beyond just views which leads to insight about additional marketing methods to promote your brand.
Again yes—but why would you want to? Offering the influencer component to your affiliate campaigns will allow you to work with better creators with larger, more engaged audiences and who often create better content.
Good content creators find themselves inundated with opportunities daily, and they always prioritize sponsored campaigns, ambassadorships, and other guaranteed paid options. Affiliate-only opportunities drop to the bottom of the priority list. It isn’t always a matter of content creators not wanting to work with affiliate-only offers as much as simply not having the time or space in their content calendar as it is already packed with contractually obligated (paid) campaigns.
By offering the hybrid approach, you can be prioritized on the creator’s schedule for possibly a lesser fee and added value of performance metrics and incentives.
The first step to running an Influencer Affiliate Campaign is, of course, to have an affiliate program. Getting your program up and running on an affiliate network can be tricky, but with the help of an affiliate marketing agency, you can be up and running in a matter of a few days.
Next, lay out what you want your campaign to include. You must have all the details finalized before launching the campaign. Ask yourself these questions:
Once you have finalized the campaign details, the next step is to find and invite potential influencers into your Influencer Affiliate Campaign. You want to search for content creators whose audience is the right fit for the product you want them to promote. Their number of followers is not as important as their audience relevancy and engagement. You can gauge these things manually or use one of the various influencer marketing platforms available.
Your invitation should clearly explain the goals and requirements of the campaign, along with explaining the product and how much money is guaranteed once the deliverables have been completed. You will also want to explain the affiliate component and invite them to join your program. If you are inviting a large number of creators (recommended), then you can create a simple Google form for them to fill out to apply to the campaign. You will then choose from the applicants which ones you want to work with.
Make sure each participant for the campaign joins the affiliate program before sending them products to review. Clearly explain that each piece of content they create should include affiliate links or their exclusive code, if applicable. Additionally, you can assign a hashtag to the campaign that you can track on all your social media channels to see engagement and engage as the brand with the creators and their audience.
While it is not a requirement, executing a contract between you and each campaign participant is standard practice for these types of campaigns. This protects you and your influencer affiliate during the term of the campaign. Once both parties have signed, you will ship the products needed to create the content and then follow up and answer any questions as they arise.
At the conclusion of the campaign, all content links must be reported before you send the payment for the campaign. This ensures you receive all of the deliverables before making the payment. Another bonus to running hybrid campaigns is paying participants via the affiliate marketing network, eliminating the need for tax paperwork and end-of-year filings with individual participants.
Lastly, it is highly encouraged that you keep in touch with your influencer affiliates as they can continue to earn commissions as long as you have an active affiliate program. This includes communicating sales, new product launches, and promotions that your influencer affiliates may choose to promote for affiliate sales. The more often you share these opportunities with your affiliates, the more content they will create—giving you even more brand exposure and affiliate sales.
Shameless plug: Influencer-affiliate campaign management is a part of Apogee’s management strategy. If this all seems overwhelming, book time with us to chat about how we can help you.
Whether you choose to do strictly influencer marketing, affiliate marketing, or a hybrid of both, it is important to keep a few things in mind.
First, affiliate marketing in any capacity is a long-term game. The first goal is to get in front of your target audience, introduce them to your product or service, and convert them into customers. If you are a new brand or a brand with very little brand awareness, it will take quite some time before you see sales coming from any type of campaign. This is widely due to customer journey and behavior. While working with influencers whose audience “knows, likes, and trusts” them can shorten the customer journey, the span from introduction to purchase will take some time.
Additionally, all content created is at the mercy of search engine crawls, algorithms, and other factors beyond any one person’s control. An influencer/affiliate hybrid campaign may initially give you the same metrics as a stand-alone influencer campaign (impressions, engagement, etc.). Over time, however, it will also be able to show revenue growth as audiences continue to be exposed to your brand and make their way through the customer journey.
Second, affiliate and influencer marketing work alongside your other marketing channels to keep your products in front of your potential customers as much as possible. Even hybrid campaigns are just one type of marketing and do not replace other channels such as display ads, email marketing, and paid search. The success of your affiliate marketing campaign will increase your overall website sales through every marketing channel.
Lastly, neither influencer nor affiliate will ever be 1:1 with sales. You must look at influencers and affiliates as a part of your overall online marketing strategy. Influence and sales do not track 100% through the affiliate channel because of customer behavior (example: potential customer sees influencers’ content on their smartphone but then purchases their desktop), but brand awareness and exposure play a significant part in achieving those sales. Without utilizing that influencer’s audience, it is possible that customer would never have known you existed, much less placed an order. This is why it is crucial to use sales from a campaign as only one KPI for overall success.
As stated before, every campaign run for your business should include transparent ROI — and a hybrid campaign is no different.
For a Hybrid campaign, you want to measure:
When it comes to affiliate marketing vs. influencer marketing, the choice is both. Whether you choose to run these marketing initiatives on your own or hire Apogee to manage them for you, there is no question that one of the most effective ways to grow your DTC website is with Influencer marketing blended with affiliate marketing.