Influencer Marketing vs. Affiliate Marketing: Everything You Need to Know

GRIN also recommends this free guide: How to Get ROI from Influencer Marketing.

affiliate marketing vs influencer marketing

Influencer marketing allows direct-to-consumer brands to collaborate with social media influencers and produce truly authentic content. Influencers curate online communities of people with a common lifestyle. These social media power users earn trust from their followers because they’ve established their authority and knowledge in their respective fields.

In contrast, affiliate marketing is not restricted to influencer-brand relationships and involves commission payments to those promoting a brand or product. Additionally, affiliate relationships exist not just in the B2C sector, but they are also active among B2B brands and distributors.

Both influencer and affiliate marketing have their place and can be effective when done well. But many marketers confuse the two. More importantly, it can leave brands wondering which model is a better fit for them.

Understanding the similarities and differences of these two marketing techniques will help you execute the right strategy for your brand. Additionally, understanding the following concepts can enhance your approach to both strategies:

  • How brands can determine which approach is best
  • What are the leading strategies for affiliate marketing
  • What are the leading strategies for influencer marketing
  • How to integrate influencers into your affiliate network

What’s the Difference Between Affiliate Marketing and Influencer Marketing?

The line between affiliate marketing and influencer marketing is often blurred due to the common practice of revenue sharing. But just because they both offer a commission doesn’t mean that the compensation models work the same.

Additionally, affiliate marketing almost exclusively drives traffic to a brand’s website to complete a transaction. This compensation model mimics the pay-per-click model. Brands don’t pay affiliates for brand awareness, increased web traffic or cold lead generation. Due to this payment setup, affiliates must be motivated and work constantly to boost their conversion rates.

That said, one of the benefits of affiliate marketing is that it’s cost-effective. Nearly 81% of the brands that use affiliate marketing recognize this and assume this model intentionally. 

In influencer marketing, social media personalities power the “machine,” and marketers establish more long-term KPIs, such as CTRs, user-generated content, and increased SEO. The influencer model focuses on content creation when promoting brands, products, or services.

A recent study showed that nearly 40% of respondents made a purchase because they saw their favorite social media influencer promote a brand/product/service. Marketers partner with influencers for credibility, authenticity, and sustainable inbound traffic. As a result, influencer compensation includes commission, perks (such as free product), flat rate fees, or a combination of all three.

How Should a Brand Determine Whether to Use Affiliate Marketing or Influencer Marketing?

Pros & Cons of Incorporating Affiliate Marketing into Your Marketing Strategy

 

Pros Cons
There’s no limit to how many affiliates or affiliate networks you can work with. Results are inconsistent.
This is a low-risk marketing model. However, experts still advise brands to monitor affiliate activity to protect brand reputation. Some affiliates use questionable tactics like spamming email lists, false advertising, consumer data privacy non-compliance, etc. 
Affiliate marketing requires minimal investment – $0 upfront. Affiliate marketing is prone to fraud:

  • Use of bots or scripts
  • Cookie stuffing on website visitors
  • Performing transactions with stolen information
  • Fake email lists
Affiliate programs are flexible. The most common compensation models are:

  • Pay per (warm) lead
  • Pay per sale
You have limited control over affiliate content.
You can choose which affiliates to work with.

 

Pros & Cons of Incorporating Influencer Marketing into Your Marketing Strategy

Pros Cons
You have the ability to reach larger, look-alike audiences shared by influencers. Working with the wrong influencers can hurt your brand. Successful influencer programs spend a lot of time and energy vetting their influencers.
You reach relevant, enthusiastic audiences. Without the right tools, it can be difficult to track results.
Influencers will help you build trust and credibility, further enhancing your brand awareness.

 

Top Marketing Strategies for Affiliate Marketing

Choose Affiliates Carefully

The best affiliates have a well-established audience. They also are conscientious about how they present your brand and are upfront about their affiliate relationships. You should also note:

  • Affiliates with strong audience rapport (positive post comments, shares, etc.)
  • Following size, engagement, SERP ranking, and domain authority
  • Industry relevance
  • Compatibility with your market niche

Build a Robust Affiliate Network

Initially, it’s exciting to examine different affiliate networks. As you scale your affiliate program, you’ll want to select members of your affiliate network carefully. 

Optimize Product Page

Most brands expect affiliates to drive sales – plain and simple. However, experienced affiliate marketers don’t rely solely on their affiliates to drive sales. 

To drive consistent revenue, you need to provide a good customer experience. That means optimizing your product page, offering customized support, and maintaining minimal friction for those visiting your web/product pages. 

Top Marketing Strategies for Influencer Marketing

Involve Influencers During Product Launches

Influencers do some of their greatest work when supporting product launches. During the Star Wars Battlefront launch in 2015, EA worked with various influencers, namely Sniper Wolf, and Matthew Patrick to promote the new game.

By the end of the influencer campaign, Star Wars Battlefront achieved the top position among the best-selling games in the United Kingdom. 

The best way to leverage influencers is to develop genuine, long-term relationships with them. Influencers that love the brands they work with will create more authentic and creative content, and fans take notice. 

Work with Influencers with Audiences Relevant to Your Niche

Influencer marketing is most successful when your influencers love your products. The same is true for audience alignment: the best influencers connect with audiences that most resemble yours. The difference is that your audience feels more connected to their favorite influencers than they do to a brand.

Working with influencers relevant to your industry and niche provides you the opportunity to target your campaigns with specific messages and promotions. This audience-specific content will result in much higher conversion rates.

A great example of this approach occurred when Airbnb partnered with Mariah Carey after noticing she booked an Airbnb property. They asked her to post pictures of her stay at an Airbnb beach house. Her post garnered 45,000+ likes and countless meaningful engagements.

Promote Creativity

Influencer marketing is all about creativity and authenticity. When onboarding new influencers, inform them of your campaign objectives and branding guidelines. After providing adequate direction, allow your influencers to make their own creative decisions.

According to a Crowdtap study, over 3/4 of influencers surveyed said that they loved working with brands that promoted creative freedom. Micromanaging your influencers can have a negative impact on campaign results.

How to Leverage Influencers with Affiliate Marketing

When incorporating influencers into your affiliate marketing program, you must find the influencers that have demonstrated strong performance before introducing an affiliate commission structure. 

To start, you can try a product seeding campaign (sending the influencer free product) to help the influencer become familiar with your brand, products, or services. Once they feel comfortable and start posting, spend a little time reviewing their content and post performance. 

What you’re looking for is meaningful engagement between the influencer and their followers. It’s important to remember that likes and views are less meaningful than are positive post comments and shares.  

After enjoying success with a particular influencer, feel free to present an affiliate partnership to them. This approach can be especially effective with blogger influencers.

Whether using influencers in your affiliate or influencer campaigns, the most critical factor is consumer trust and content authenticity. Buyers can usually tell when an influencer or affiliate is not genuine or merely trying to make money from the brand that hired them.

Instead, focus on those influencers that love your products/services. These influencers are the ones with whom you can nurture deep, long-term connections to increase their genuine excitement. An influencer’s enthusiasm will overflow onto their fans and make your campaigns successful.

Conclusion

Determining which strategy – influencer, affiliate, or both – is ideal for your brand depends on your goals and bandwidth. Both will enhance your ROI when executed well or diminish your ROI when managed poorly. 

After gaining experience and positive results from both methods, you can further increase results by adding influencers to your affiliate network. These two marketing approaches work well together if you understand your audience, choose your influencers/affiliates carefully, and track results.

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Additional Resources

What the best brands are doing to drive revenue from influencer marketing

Whether you are just getting started with influencer marketing or already have your program in place, this guide gives you the tools to get the return on investment your C-level will love. 

How to get ROI from influencer marketing

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