As social commerce solidifies its central position in influencer marketing, more brands are using affiliate marketing strategies to leverage the power of the creator economy. Affiliate marketing is a type of influencer marketing that helps brands accurately gauge the impact of creators at large, as well as their return on investment. Though affiliate is often viewed as a low-lift strategy, it takes time and iteration to implement effectively.
In our latest webinar, CreatorIQ spoke with leading affiliate strategists about the benefits of incorporating an affiliate strategy into your influencer marketing program, and the best practices for doing so. Moderated by Jason Sharma, CreatorIQ's VP of Product, our panel also included:
- Adrine Harutyunyan, Associate Director of Influencer Marketing at Acceleration Partners
- Gabrielle Pajer, Director of Influencer Marketing at CJ Affiliate
What's the Difference between Affiliate Marketing and Influencer Marketing?
Though affiliate marketing is often viewed as a strategy to entice influencers while paying them commission on sales, affiliate marketing can also be used to benchmark your brand’s overall performance. Affiliate marketing offers many tools to help brands gain a more granular view on the effectiveness of individual influencers.
"We use the affiliate channel more for a performance measuring system—so understanding the consumer's journey...How many people are actually going to the brand's website? What channel is working for that influencer? We're not necessarily looking at it as, hey, this is a way to pay you. It's a way to truly understand how that influencer is performing, and how it's impacting the overall business."
What are the Benefits of Affiliate Marketing? Why Add It to Your Influencer Marketing Program?
One challenge that brands face with influencer marketing programs is figuring out how to measure ROI. Adding an affiliate strategy to your influencer marketing program is a more reliable way to understand the performance and overall effectiveness of your program—particularly when combined with a SaaS program like CreatorIQ.
"I think leveraging affiliate tracking and attribution is hugely valuable. It enables brands to get more granular with those lower funnel conversion metrics to measure return on a creator level and on a program level. Brands can utilize the same reliable attribution logic that's in place for their affiliate program to appropriately compensate their creators."
How Do You Build an Affiliate Program?
Although influencer marketing has been proven effective, sometimes brands begin affiliate programs without understanding how this strategy fits into their broader marketing strategy. To build an affiliate program, you have to first understand why you're using creators, and uncover your existing connections with creators who engage with your product or service.
It's important to understand your brand’s ideal outcomes, objectives, and target market. It's also important to consider other factors, including geographic regions, creator tiers, social platforms, desired number of partnerships, and budget considerations.
"It's really important to understand the brand's positioning in their industry. What are their key differentiators? Who are their key competitors? Are they really promotional through affiliate? What's the typical purchase cycle for their customers? Because that's going to really heavily inform our content strategy with influencers, too."
How Should You Approach ROI for Affiliate Marketing?
"The first time you work with an influencer, you're gonna get brand awareness. The second time, maybe it's more engagement. The third time, that's when you get to conversion."
It takes time to understand whether a creator is going to move from the top of the funnel to the bottom of the funnel. You can use distinct strategies to optimize for influencers who will drive conversion, and those who will produce assets that build awareness.
While content creators have different capabilities, what matters is whether they're willing to work with you to grow into other competencies, like conversion. Because affiliate strategy is not a one-size-fits-all model, your brand should take time to figure out what works.
Finding the Right Creators for Your Affiliate Strategy
Finding the right influencer partner takes iteration, but best practices can help steer you toward the right fit:
- Look for creators who will be invested in a long-term partnership.
- Investigate what demographics a creator comes from, and where they fall in a customer's journey.
- Source your current customers for influencer partners, because they might already be fans and have an understanding of your product.
Furthermore, it always helps to be flexible with your criteria: what's happening on social media doesn't always correspond with revenue. Some creators own a personalized space—such as a website, a newsletter, or a private Facebook group—where they can reach a large community. More general creators can also be successful in a niche category, so it's important to invest in exploring different influencer segments.
After identifying what's happening organically via affiliate, run the data through a software like CreatorIQ, where you can view it in greater detail.
"Not every influencer is fit for affiliate. There is a certain type of creator that really fits that mold. So you can't just say, okay, look at this beautiful influencer and all their great pictures, they're gonna sell all these products. I'm gonna give them an affiliate link, let's go. It's not that simple."
How Do Brands Educate Gen Z and New Creators about Monetizing their Content?
More and more, brands are interested in working with micro and nano influencers. It's common for some up-and-coming influencers to not understand affiliate, or even to be unaware of it as a possibility.
For example, when managing relationships with Gen Z influencers, you have to help them understand why they might be a great creator for a particular campaign, and show them how it would be beneficial for their career. Educate the creators you'd like to work with about what brands are looking for, and how they can pitch themselves to potential partners.
"We would leverage all of our tactics as a campaign manager and give them that inside detail, and advocate for really speaking the language of this industry, which is data first. Sell yourself, point to your success stories, speak the same language, explain to them what your conversion rates are, what your potential is—not just the surface level social metrics that they probably can access on you anyway."
Let creators know you're interested by reaching out to them with specific stats and following up when those stats change. That way, creators will understand the depth of your investment, and how they can use that data in their own strategy.
How Can You Balance Internal Affiliate Programs With Major Influencer Networks Like ShopStyle and LTK?
Influencer networks are great for gauging the value of partnerships and scaling your strategy accordingly. When you don't own your own network, it's hard to segment, optimize, and get detailed data about conversion, so it's often better to supplement with targeted, niche partnerships.
"When you operate on a 1-1 level with creators, you can start to really tailor your strategy to different performance tiers and optimize for each partner efficiently and effectively. You also have inherently more control over the content and the performance outcomes that way."
Working directly with creators allows you to develop a deeper rapport with them. The more you understand the specific goals of particular creators, the stronger your relationships with these creators will be.
Be patient as you build out your affiliate strategy. Brands often underestimate the time it takes to work through the logistics of getting links prepared and sending products to creators—it can sometimes take six months simply to test and learn from your partnerships. Make sure to build in the time to find out what works.
Affiliate is just one piece of your holistic influencer marketing strategy, but the advantage it poses is clear: invest in your creators by educating them on the industry and providing opportunities, and they'll invest in long-term partnerships with you.