Looking for ways to move your target consumers beyond awareness, consideration, and activation and down the marketing funnel to conversion? Pairing affiliate marketing with Influencer Marketing is your golden ticket.
At its simplest, affiliate marketing can help turn your brand partners—social media gurus, bloggers, and Pinterest proficients—into brand evangelists. The question is, though, did you know that coupling affiliate marketing with Influencer Marketing drives even greater results? If you’re wondering how to get started, then let our playbook be your guide.
What Is Affiliate Marketing vs. Influencer Marketing?
Before giving you the step-by-step process on how to successfully pair affiliate marketing and Influencer Marketing, let’s dive into the differences between the two.
Affiliate marketing is like the traditional sales model. A salesperson helps to sell an item and gets a commission from that sale. Similarly, affiliate campaigns are primarily designed for new customer acquisition and incremental revenue growth. They are defined by these elements or processes:
- An affiliate, who may or may not be an influencer, joins your affiliate program. Either that or they join a third-party affiliate network (see below for those definitions). Some affiliates may be specialty websites, rather than particular people, looking to build an affiliate revenue stream. In the process of creating and promoting their content, they may accrue a following. Joining the program or network is free for them, but they must meet whatever criteria is set to join.
- Affiliates decide which of your brand’s products they want to promote which are typically in line with their niche.
- They create promotions for those products in blog posts, videos, or social posts. In their promotional content, they’ll include a customized link obtained from the program or network. The brand usually allows the affiliate partners the freedom to promote as often and in whatever ways the person chooses.
- A potential buyer clicks on that link, taking them to the seller’s website. Depending on the program or network, the source of that click-through will be connected to the affiliate. This can be done either through the link itself or via a cookie.
- The buyer makes a purchase. Through the link or cookie, the program or network credits the affiliate with the sale.
- At an agreed-upon time, either pre-, mid-, or post-campaign, the seller pays the affiliate commission at a previously-agreed-upon rate.
- A brand vets influencers on their own or through an agency like ours to connect with the right influencers.
- The brand or the agency will negotiate rates and define content needs, including brand messaging and other requirements.
- Influencers—people who have already established an online presence, a reputation, and rapport with their audience—promote the brand’s product. Their promotions usually include first-person accounts (stories) of product sneak peeks, reviews, experiences, or the buying or unboxing process. The purpose of this type of promotion is to raise awareness, drive consideration (interest), and generate intent through activation.
- Metrics and other reports are typically provided by the influencer. This is unless a trackable link, coupon, or unique code has been provided by the brand, which they track directly.
- This reporting may involve an expanded list of metrics, speaking to different parts of the marketing funnel besides sales. Since Influencer Marketing tends to be more focused on top-of–the-funnel marketing activations, these statistics could include:
- Potential reach/total audience (subscribers, social following, blog traffic/site visits)
- Social engagement (views, likes, clicks on links, comments, social sentiment)
- Social sharing (shares, embeds)
- Giveaway entries or newsletter sign-ups
- New social media followers
- CPM (Cost Per Impression)
The influencer gets paid a flat fee to promote the brand. They might also accept free products in return for their endorsement, depending on the tier.
Affiliate Marketing + Influencer Marketing Playbook
Because not every influencer’s audience is primed to make purchases, and not every affiliate has a large presence across social media, it may seem like Influencer Marketing and affiliate marketing can’t be paired successfully. The good news is that isn’t the case. In fact, when brands take key actions like those in our playbook, they are likely to see huge ROI from partnership marketing.
Getting the Ball Rolling
Step 1: Pick the right influencers.
Choosing the right partners is the first step of any successful Influencer Marketing campaign. The same holds true when you’re pairing affiliate marketing and Influencer Marketing. An influencer might have a large following and might even have great engagement rates, but not every influencer’s audience is primed to purchase. Furthermore, depending on the influencer’s niche, their audience may only prefer lower-priced or deal items while others’ might prefer only high-ticket or luxury items. When searching for the perfect influencer partners, add the following criteria to your list of requirements for influencers and affiliates:
- Find creators who actually know how to sell. Do they have a proven track record of working with agencies and brands and proving ROI? Ask them: “What is your affiliate link conversion rate? Would you please share your top affiliate campaign case studies that best highlight how you drive sales?”
- Vet influencers based on their following’s propensity to click on links and make purchases. Ask them: “Have your followers clicked on your affiliate links and purchased products or services in the past? What price point and types of goods and services generate the most interest and action from them?” This can be measured by click-throughs to product pages, shown in the influencer’s Google Analytics Acquisition numbers, and/or purchases.
- Search for brand evangelists who will go the extra mile to promote your products. Ask them: “What types of tactics do you use to drive interest, consideration, and conversions on your affiliate links? How long and in what ways do you continue to publicize a brand’s products past the initial promotion? How do you turn around a campaign to drive results when you’re not getting traction on a specific affiliate link?”
- Look for partners who are a member of one or more of the affiliate networks you’re a member of. Ask them: “Will you share the affiliate networks you work with? Do any stand out as your favorites in terms of driving the best results for you?”
- Add influencers to your list who are already brand enthusiasts or have expressed brand loyalty in some way and who have a following that matches your target market. Research their social channels and their blogs or video posts. Or, watch your brand’s hashtag and list influencers that resonate with your brand’s vibe in their earned media/user-generated content.
Not all influencers are affiliates and vice versa. For this pairing to work, your chosen influencers must also be affiliates. They can be members of more than one affiliate network. This provides them with a larger list of brands and products they can promote. However, they need to be an affiliate in your network so they’ll get the proper links and you can track their success. Additionally, they must be influential. This means having a following that engages with their content and completes calls to action, including clicking on affiliate links.
Step 2: Research and sign up for affiliate networks.
If your brand wants to set up its own affiliate program, skip ahead to step 3. If you’re not looking to set up your own affiliate program, where you manage everything, affiliate networks are a great route to consider. These plug-and-play, third-party options take care of the following:
- Setting the terms and conditions and guidelines for content
- Recruiting affiliates and promoting affiliate opportunities
- Tracking metrics to determine commission rates per affiliate
- Paying affiliates, adhering to all applicable tax laws
A quick Google search will help you find an affiliate network that is perfect for your brand. To get you started, some of the biggest networks brands use for their affiliate programs are ShareASale, Rakuten Advertising, and Commission Junction, or CJ. If your brand sells products on Amazon, don’t forget about their affiliate program, which tops the list of affiliate networks.
Joining an already established affiliate network as a brand requires researching which affiliate network is right for you. Does it offer a wide selection of affiliates that publish content related to your brand’s products or services? If you’re a travel-related brand, search “travel” to get a list of affiliates who publish travel-related content. Click through to their various social media channels to see if they have the kind of followers that are in line with your goals.
Also, ask yourself:
- How many affiliates does this network have in your brand’s niche or related niches?
- Do they make suggestions for you of which affiliates to partner with, based on data?
- How easy is their brand dashboard to navigate?
- What is the cost and is it within your brand’s budget?
- What are the network’s terms and do they work for your brand?
Step 3: Research and set up your brand’s own affiliate program.
For those brands looking to set up their own affiliate program, setting up an in-house affiliate program can be as easy as creating a branded app or landing page, with basic data-gathering and reporting capabilities, according to Forbes. If you want to create your own brand affiliate program, you could:
- Create an affiliate portal that gives affiliates referral links, coupon codes, and everything they need to promote your brand’s products or services.. Additionally, ensure it provides affiliate payment options to make receiving affiliate payouts fast and easy.
- Determine and build into your affiliate program what your commission rates will be. Specifically, identify whether you’ll pay per product or per affiliate. Also, decide if commission will be paid out during campaigns or just at the end.
- Design multiple real-time tracking methods so that you can track affiliate conversions by the link or code they used, instantaneously.
- Make sure you have a link-generating tool that seamlessly shares across social, email, and blog posts.
Designing Your Campaign/Play
Step 4: Determine which stage of the marketing funnel you want to focus on.
For a partnership marketing campaign to be successful, you need to complete steps 1-3 above. Then, look at your marketing funnel. Since different marketing funnel phases require different activations, ask yourself the following questions for each phase:
- Awareness. What tactics should we use to get the word out about our brand’s product, services, or cause? How will we measure success?
- Consideration. What activations will best drive interest and help our target market want to learn more about us? What metrics will prove ROI?
- Activation. What steps can we take to lead our consumers to engage more with our brand and express their intent? In what ways will we track results?
- Conversion. What tactics and tools can we use to prompt customers to make a purchase? How will we track our success?
- Retention. What next steps should we take to ensure repeat business and loyalty sign ups? How will we measure hitting our goals?
- Referral. What activations will best convert consumers into brand evangelists? Not just the kind who’ll share positive ratings and reviews but also recommendations with friends, family, and followers? How will we track their activity?
In short, what specific incentives do you want to offer to move consumers through the marketing funnel? If you’ve honed in on your just-right set of affiliate influencers and what you want their followers to do, the incentives might become obvious. For example, say you have a foodie affiliate influencer and you’re a consumer goods company that sells dishware. You’ve done your research and know that this influencer has an excellent track record for driving sales. You may have even worked with them before on an Influencer Marketing campaign. You know their audience is beyond the awareness and consideration stage. Focus on tactics for the activation phase, then, such as these:
Find out the objectives and tactics for each phase of the customer journey in our comprehensive post.
To drive consumers further along the customer journey using both affiliate and Influencer Marketing, consider offering different payment models to partnering affiliate influencers:
- Hybrid (affiliate commission based on sales plus cash or in-kind compensation for the Influencer Marketing promotion)
- Higher than normal affiliate payout on affiliate sales
- Cash or in-kind compensation only
If the influencer has primed their audience to purchase, they’ll be more likely to accept the commission or a hybrid option. “Primed to purchase” means they’ve done campaigns that have resulted in sales. If they’ve primarily partnered with brands and aren’t used to selling to their followers (or incentivizing them to make a purchase), they will likely demand cash compensation.
Keep in mind that influencers who don’t have audiences primed to purchase don’t typically do well with affiliate programs. Influencers are used to promoting once, completing their assigned contractual responsibilities, and collecting payment for their work. Therefore, they may want to stick to what they know (cash compensation) or risk it but for a higher-than-normal payout. If you’ve got an influencer you think’s a perfect fit but who doesn’t have a proven track record, you have two options. These are: 1) educate them by sharing best practices and help them learn how to drive affiliate sales, 2) Oofer them cash compensation or a higher-than-average affiliate commission and take a risk on them.
Step 5: Learn how different platforms do affiliate marketing.
An influencer can talk about your product or service on any social media platform they want, but some platforms are better than others for affiliate marketing. Instagram, for instance, offers an in-app affiliate program where affiliates can go to any brand’s IG shop, select the products they want to promote, and save them to a wishlist. Then, when creating their feed or story posts, they’ll tag the products they’ve saved. Their final posts will contain a special disclosure and an affiliate link in the bio.
In most other platforms, influencers can provide links, limited-time offers, or discount codes in their posts or profiles. The key for your brand is to identify the platforms on which you want affiliates to promote your products or services. Then learn what affiliate options they have available, and ask your partnering influencers to use said tools. Encourage seasoned affiliates to rely on their own best practices for driving sales and give them latitude to do what generates the greatest results. Let them work their magic as you watch the sales increase.
Step 6: Design your campaign!
You’ve made it to the campaign design phase! Consider asking yourself these questions before executing your campaign:
- Has your brand negotiated influencer contracts, either on your own or through an influencer network?
- Are your campaign objectives clearly outlined?
- Do you know what you will measure to prove success on your campaign and show that you hit your target goals?
- Do you have specific Influencer Marketing and affiliate marketing tactics in mind to move consumers through the customer journey? This could look like blog posts, videos, or podcasts, and promotion of those across the influencer’s social channels, with the influencer providing their affiliate link across all platforms to drive sales.
- Have you generated or obtained unique affiliate links for each affiliate influencer?
- Have you set up your payment system? Remember! Paired campaigns could entail part cash compensation for the affiliate influencer and part payouts from your own affiliate program or from an affiliate network.
With answers to these questions, your brand is in great shape to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and create a detailed scope of work and finalize influencer contracts.
Rolling That Ball
Step 7: Launch your campaign.
With a scope of work and influencer agreements in place, your brand is ready to press Go! on the campaign. Shorter-term campaigns (1-2-week-long activations) simply require influencers to perform the “asks” as outlined in their contract. Campaigns that run longer, however, offer you the opportunity to measure, tweak, and adjust as needed. Tools like Voluum can help you monitor parameters such as referral links, browser versions, devices, etc. In-network metrics reports, which are continuously updated, depending on the network, can provide you with data about which affiliate influencer is driving the most sales at any one point. Knowing that can help you analyze how affiliate’s performance differs so you can offer suggestions for improvement and best practices to other influencers.
Step 8: Gather the data.
Whether your campaign is short or long, gathering metrics mid-campaign and after is vital, not only to measuring its success, but also in predicting future success and campaign decisions. Whereas an after-campaign report for a strictly Influencer Marketing campaign might only measure reach or impressions, the report for the paired campaign would also measure referrals and purchases.
Step 9: Report out.
Your client or boss is going to want to know whether the campaign was successful. Did it generate enough awareness, interest, activation, and sales (revenue)—to justify doing another campaign? With the campaign’s metrics in hand, you are in a good position to create a campaign report, spotlighting it’s success. Follow these steps to wow your team:
- Showcase the ways in which the campaign moved the needle for your brand’s business.
- Call out key campaign elements that deserve extra attention (e.g., specific statistics that prove ROI on any campaign objective).
- Share what the team and partnering influencers got right—actions that would be worth repeating in future campaigns.
- Sandwich in any learning and areas for improvement—ways to improve and drive even greater success on future campaigns.
- Show that because of the results (i.e., best stats), you recommend a follow-up campaign. You suggest the budget, inclusions, the things you’ll keep the same and do differently, and the results you predict).
Wrapping It Up
Partnership marketing (pairing affiliate marketing with Influencer Marketing) may look like it involves more work than you’re willing to do or able to accomplish due to bandwidth. After all, there’s picking the absolute, end-all-be-all set of influencers, deciding to start your own affiliate program or join an affiliate network, determining what phase of the marketing funnel you want to focus on, choosing which social media platform and/or other channel you want to focus on, designing your campaign, launching it, and gathering and reporting out on the data to prove ROI.
Really, though, it can be as complicated or as simple as you want it to be. Either way, know that by combining the two models, you’re setting up your brand to experience the benefits of both:. Score!