Once considered a complement to digital marketing portfolios, influencer marketing has morphed from a nice-to-have into a must-have. At inception, influencer marketing success relied entirely on vanity metrics. Big brands would reach out to influencers (primarily celebrities at the time), hand over big money, and hope to see their needle move — a model akin to yesterday's media buy. Similar to old-school media buys, much of the structure came directly from advertisers. Brands dictated exactly what and when influencers posted and how they were compensated.
Over the years, influencer marketing evolved, transforming into a table stake in the performance-based marketing mix. Furthermore, the affiliate channel has emerged as the ideal landscape for influencers and brands to engage, track metrics, and get paid.
Influencers in this space work in conjunction (for the most part) with affiliate networks and are paid by the brand only if a sale occurs, just like traditional publishers. The influencers choose which brands to promote, craft their own content to share on their personal channels, and are awarded commission for their work. While most influencers have an in-depth understanding of their followers, performance-based influencers working within an affiliate model have more flexibility in how they communicate with their followers, leveraging real-time metrics to curate and deliver more effective content.
So is it the old-school approach or the affiliate network opportunity that's best for advertisers looking to maximize influencer outreach? Both, of course. The path you take depends on your brand's unique ambitions.
Brand Influencer or Affiliate Influencer: Which is Best for Your Brand?
Success is within reach for both methods of influencer partnerships. The direction you take should be predicated on your desired outcome: What, exactly, are you trying to achieve?
If your goal is to create awareness or to bring a new brand to market, then a brand-play approach to influencer marketing is for you. In this scenario, a brand develops a carefully crafted message, chooses influencers who will share that message, and pays those influencers to deploy the approved content on their personal channels.
Moving the sales needle for an established brand or product requires a different strategy — a performance-based affiliate influencer approach. In this scenario, a brand shares general guidelines for influencer partnerships with its affiliate network. Associated influencers can then choose to promote that brand or product based on relevance to their followers. Influencers craft customized messages they feel will best resonate with their audience, and are rewarded only if a sale is made.
These approaches also vary in brand-to-influencer payment models. The brand influencer approach requires advertisers to allocate a budget that isn’t directly tied to campaign performance. The affiliate influencer model doesn't require advertisers to allocate budget ahead of time, but it doesn’t offer complete control over how the brand or product is positioned.
Understanding the difference between these two approaches will help determine which course is best for your brand. It’s also important to understand that an influencer can be both a brand influencer and an affiliate influencer. How you work with them will be determined by your desired outcome.
Making the Most of Any Influencer Approach
Influencer campaigns are far from "one size fits all," with different influencer collaborations yielding unique results. Regardless of your approach, these three tips can help you make the most of your influencer marketing collaborations:
Analyze metrics from every angle.
Whether you're talking about likes, clickthroughs or conversions, you should consider numerous ways to track your success with influencers. This information can help you figure out which influencers are suited for different situations. For example, one influencer might be perfect for a product launch, and another might be better for your holiday campaign. Weigh metrics proportionally to campaign goals, which will allow you to create a composite score that reflects the real value of each influencer partnership. Focus on the quality of content an influencer provides, as well as the recency of engagements.
Balance out micro and macro.
Macro influencers are great for reach, but volume doesn't necessarily provide the engagement that a micro influencer is capable of driving. Test campaigns with influencers of all sizes to determine the success of various tactics. At every stage, keep influencer fees in mind. Macro influencers might command flat rates for access to their large followings and engagement, but micro influencers might be willing to accept free products or commission in exchange for any conversions they’re able to generate.
Experiment with different formats and tools.
Varying ad formats and the use of attribution tools in campaigns will significantly affect your results. Use sound marketing science, including control groups and single variables, to isolate successes in order to replicate wins and eliminate nonfactors for future collaborations. Consider sharing an exclusive promotional code in one influencer campaign and testing content alone in another, and then compare the return on investment of the two campaigns. Leesa, a direct-to-consumer mattress company, was able to generate 100,000 clicks to its website and 400 sales by offering influencers a promo code to accompany their unbiased insights on the company's mattresses.
Influencers have become an integral part of every marketer's tool kit. Whether you're going with a brand-play or performance-based approach, you can find success by thinking strategically. With a strong grasp on your end goal, you’ll be able to identify a niche segment of influencers who are capable of achieving your goals, helping to build mutually beneficial relationships.
Greg Shepard is the CTO/CSO of Pepperjam, an affiliate marketing company redefining its industry through innovative technology and service.
Greg Shepard is the CTO/CSO of Pepperjam, an affiliate marketing company redefining its industry through innovative technology and service. Greg is passionate about building sustainable growth businesses with performance-based influencer and attribution strategies. Pepperjam is committed to empowering marketers by enabling the profitable acquisition of high-value customers while protecting brand safety.