Affiliate vs Influencer – What’s Best For My Brand?
By brian • February 5th, 2018
It’s 2018, and no matter the industry, you’re likely to start hearing more about influencer marketing as an online channel you should be exploring. New influencer platforms seem to be appearing on a daily basis, each with a slightly different spin.
Some focus on monetizing and tracking the influence of brand ambassadors and athletes, while other focus purely on brand awareness through social media campaigns. This isn’t a new concept. In fact, we (Clique) have been doing this for years through affiliate marketing programs by creating subset athlete/ambassador and gear review programs. We used to call this “core affiliate marketing”, which meant partnering with affiliate websites that target the same communities as the brands/clients we represent.
With the emergence of influencer marketing, we’ve found that brands and retailers are having trouble distinguishing the terms “influencer” and “affiliate”. Before we highlight the differences and benefits of each, it’s very important to set goals for what you’d like to accomplish. Are you looking for more sales? New customers? Brand awareness? Increased site traffic? Once you have an established set of goals, you can begin to determine which channel will deliver your desired results.
Affiliate is a performance marketing channel, meaning you only pay when a desired action occurs. In most cases that desired action is a sale. This makes the channel very cost effective when comparing to other online channels.
Top affiliate marketers understand technology and marketing, which helps them create campaigns specifically for converting sales. Successful affiliates know how to sell.
Through the affiliate channel, brands can partner with almost any business vertical, allowing you to reach new online communities. There are sites that focus on content, deals, loyalty, technology, social media, paid search, shopping comparison engines and more.
Affiliate marketing is no longer bound to the last-click attribution model, which is inherently flawed. Using advanced analytic platforms like AvantMetics, we can now create attribution models that allow brands to customize how they pay out their commission. For instance, with last-click attribution, the last affiliate in the click stream (usually a shopping cart influencer) receives the full commission. Using an attribution model, brands can reward affiliates that are at the beginning of the conversion funnel (Introducers) and/or that fall anywhere in the middle of the clickstream (Influencers). For more on this read our write-up on AvantMetrics attribution modeling
Free branding. Who doesn’t like free?! Our clients see upwards of 1MM free brand impression on endemic websites every year. For example, in the outdoor industry you may pay $10 per thousand impressions for a display marketing campaign. Affiliate is performance based, so you’ll see no cost for those same brand impressions unless a sale/action occurs.
Most affiliate networks have a robust suite of tools which allows for diversification of how affiliates market your brand. There are tools built for monetizing existing content, creating a marketplace, daily deals, product display ads and more. In addition, every major affiliate network provides granular reporting which allows for a deep analysis of customer interaction with your website.
Building a successful affiliate marketing program takes time and expertise. Successful affiliate marketing programs almost always require hiring a qualified and dedicated Affiliate Manager (like Clique Affiliate Marketing!) While this may sound like great news for us, many smaller brands struggle to allocate their limited resources toward hiring an affiliate manager or outsourcing to an agency.
There are known cases of affiliates using click bait, cookie stuffing technology and malicious software intended to generate sales, clicks and commissions. While these instances occur less frequently today, past instances have left a mark on the reputation of this channel. It’s important to note, the industry has self-regulated and policed these issues to where they’re almost non-existent now. With the emergence of advanced technology and analytics, it’s now much easier to detect and remove rogue affiliates from your program.
Influencer marketing can be approached from many angles and there are platforms that cater to each. Popular applications include ambassador, employee and customer advocacy, social media, offline to online, content creation and more. Better yet, both small and large brands can be successful in this channel.
Influencer marketing is designed to be simple. Links tend to be short and very easy to create (unlike some affiliate links.). For example, we work with a platform called Fervora that uses a hashtag system for link creation. Through this platform, I simply add #brian to any brand website URL that I’ve partnered with – http://www.jensenusa.com/#brian. This allows the influencer to do what they do best without having to worry about complicated tracking links.
If you’re working with a limited budget, influencer marketing can be even more cost effective than affiliate. We’ve found most platforms have a monthly service fee and small commission.
Influencers have authority. When an influencer recommends a product or brand there’s a certain level of clout that comes with that recommendation. Unlike the most successful affiliates, influencers are less likely to need discounts and coupons to convert sales. This results in a higher return on ad spend for the brand/retailer.
Generally speaking, influencers are exceptionally good at generating brand awareness and referring qualified traffic. Once potential shoppers gather the required information to make a purchasing decision, they’re likely to search for brand and product discounts. This behavior caters to affiliate marketers that specialize in closing sales. That said, influencer marketing is great for traffic generation (new customers) and branding, while affiliate is best for closing sales.
While influencer marketing platforms give you many options to compensate/reward your influencers, that also comes with cost risks as pay per post is the most common model. Risk comes with the upfront payment and unknown of whether an influencer can execute a successful campaign. Thankfully, there are other less risky models like pay per sale, pay per click, free product exchanges and pay per engagement. As with affiliate, it’s important to thoroughly vet influencers, as large social communities don’t always translate to campaign success.
As you’ve likely gathered, affiliate and influencer marketing both have a time and place. At Clique, we specialize in both, and can help you determine the best fit for your brand.