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How To Marry Affiliate And Influencer Marketing To Boost Sales

Affiliate and Influencer Marketing used to be regarded as two completely different marketing tools. However, more and more companies are realizing how powerful a combination of both tools can be.


Many marketers haven’t realized yet, that you don’t need to choose between direct revenue tracking that comes with Affiliate Marketing and the brand awareness that is served with Influencer Marketing anymore.

Integrating both tactics can not only reach a broader audience, but also result in better return on investment in the long run.

Affiliate Marketing - Get what you pay for

Affiliate Marketing is purely performance-based, allowing companies to directly compensate their affiliates for each sale or lead generated. This is usually practiced by using individual links for each affiliate, that take whoever clicks directly to a product.

If somebody clicks an affiliate’s link and ends up buying the promoted product, said affiliate receives some sort of compensation.

Affiliate Marketing became popular for a reason: it’s a very low-risk tool from a budget perspective.

Companies can directly track sales for each campaign and compensate their affiliates only for actual leads or sales - basically a guaranteed return on investment. (1) The downside of Affiliate Marketing is that companies give away control over their message, have little to no influence on how their brand is represented or where their links show-up. 

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An example for this negative side-effect are affiliate links being used by bloggers promoting several products e.g. when showing their outfit. They often include several affiliate links, potentially sending their viewers to a direct competitor - a common problem in the ecommerce space.

Other challenges of Affiliate Marketing include finding the right affiliates and staying away from cheap-looking banner marketing.

Influencer Marketing - Spread the word

Influencer Marketing refers to the process of identifying key individuals who have a strong online presence and leveraging them to “influence” their followers or subscribers to purchase a product or service. (2)

Anyone with a big online following can be an Influencer.

However, valuable influencers typically have a strong online presence viewed by a certain type of consumer group, a broad website audience and a substantial social media footprint, built trust with their audience or are perceived as an expert in a certain field.

By partnering with influencers companies hope to not only boost engagement around their products, but also create an emotional bond with their consumers to increase awareness and retention.

As influencers have a high credibility around certain products, brands often leverage off this trust between influencer and consumer, boosting their own credibility. In short, when done effectively,

Influencer Marketing can be used to promote offers, share content, build buzz (or even a hype) around any campaign.

Of course Influencer Marketing also has its disadvantages. The biggest one being that it can be very expensive.

Influencers usually get payed a large flat-fee to advertise a product or brand. This fee tends to be unrelated to the return on investment. (3)

Other disadvantages include the risk of picking an inappropiate Influencer, which could lead to damaging a brand and less credibility. In general, Influencer Marketing is a big investment that is difficult to track - one of the reasons many companies are turning towards Micro-Influencers.


Their differences and how to use them

In Affiliate Marketing, a merchant partners with affiliates to promote products or offers. Affiliates’ compensation is directly related to the revenue they generate. This type of compensation is the reason why Affiliate Marketing is considered a very cost-effective acquisition channel. (1)

In Influencer Marketing, an Influencer is payed a flat-fee, usually based on their reach and size of their following, to promote a brand or product. The promotion can be done in different ways (e.g. editorial, Youtube) and on one or several channels. 

The differences between these two marketing tactics make Affiliate Marketing best for new customer acquisition and direct revenue growth, whereas Influencer Marketing is often used to build brand awareness, credibility and as a tool for emotional branding.

How do you measure Affiliate and Influencer Marketing success?

Influencer Marketing uses the publisher’s social analytics to track efforts and measure conversions.

This can include:

  • Potential Reach vs Total Audience (e.g. followers, comments)
  • Social Engagement (e.g. views, likes)
  • Social Sharing 
  • Forms (e.g. Giveaway entries or Newsletter sign-ups)
  • Follower gain
  • CPM (Cost Per Impression)

Affiliate Marketing uses tracking cookies to track and measure advertising.  
These metrics are tangible and manifest in a reliable ROI for the company.  

Metrics may include:

  • Sales
  • Conversion Rate
  • New vs Returning customer
  • Average Order Value
  • Cost Per Acquisition (CPA)
  • Customer Lifetime Value (CLV)

Where the magic happens - Influencers + Affiliates

Due to technological advancements within Digital Marketing, companies can now take advantage of both Affiliate Marketing and Influencer Marketing within a single campaign. 

Custom affiliate links can be generated using e.g. an influencer platform, while marketers can choose to add commission to collaborations. This means that companies can benefit from the awareness and personal messaging of a pure Influencer Marketing campaign, while at the same time being able to track the direct revenue that comes with Affiliate Marketing campaigns.

As this structure makes Influencer Marketing more cost-effective, it allows companies to test out different Influencers without spending a huge chunk of their marketing budget.

This means that it’s a great way to activate multiple Micro-Influencers, instead of spending the budget on one major Influencer. This means companies can easily test out different audiences, reach new customer groups and build awareness.

So how do you add affiliate links to your influencer collaborations? 

Try to follow these steps:

  1. Decide on a clear objective - What do you want to achieve? (e.g. generating leads or tracking influencer collaboration results)
  2. If you choose to drive awareness as a goal, you should put in some research into finding appropriate influencers and attracting them. On the other hand, if you choose to drive sales, finding influencers with high following is important.
  3. Decide on the commission structure. Do you only want to base the commission on generated revenue or do you want to combine it with gifts or other forms of compensation? This will depend on the influencers you choose and, again, on your goal.

A popular way to pay influencers that work with affiliate links it by giving them a link-based commission rate combined with a flat payment for sponsored content. This tends to drive both awareness and sales. 

Success Story - High Street Store Topshop

Topshop, a UK based High Street chain with shops in over 30 countries, recently invested in aligning its acquisition approach through the affiliate channel with both its internal PR and marketing departments.

This means that Topshop could ensure consistent conversations with influential fashion influencers. As part of the process, the store chain launched a “blogger hub” where bloggers could share content among each other.

Additionally, Topshop ran events for bloggers with the purpose to give them more content.

Topshop was one of the first retailers to switch from flat-front influencer payments to an affiliate based approach.

However, to ensure that the last-click cost per acquisition model that has proven ineffective for many content websites didn’t ruin the approach, Topshop didn’t just supply influencers with affiliate links, but also a front-payment for their intent to drive sales - even if they didn’t convert. In other words, Topshop also payed influencers for being sales-enablers instead of just for their sales.

By changing their commercial model, Topshop was able to reward unengaged affiliates without wasting a big part of their budget. At the same time they could identify better converting sites and focus more budget there.

What made the model succesfull, however, is the fact that with this combination of Influencer and Affiliate Marketing, all types of influencers benefit: Micro-Influencers, major influencers, but also influencers who are more content-focussed.

Rethink your strategy

If you want to combine Affiliate with Influencer Marketing, you’ll need to rethink your strategy. Stop seeing them as two separate marketing tactics and try to find a way to get them to compliment each other.

Once you’ve had a look at the advantages and disadvantages of each tool, make sure to balance them out.

Think of the Topshop case, where the fact that affiliates performed badly on content-focussed websites was balanced out by using top-up payments popular in Influencer Marketing. Or realize that using affiliate links can help you track the sales success of your Influencers - ensuring investment and ROI add up in the end.


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April 20, 2017, Nicole Michaelis