What Is Affiliate Marketing, and How Do I Use It?

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Influencer and affiliate marketing use the power of online communities to build brand awareness and drive sales. Though these two strategies have different methods of measuring success, your team can and should take advantage of both. 

This article discusses affiliate marketing, how it differs from influencer marketing, and best practices for how in-house marketing teams can get started.

What is affiliate marketing?

Of all performance-based marketing, affiliate marketing is one of the more affordable and complementary disciplines to influencer marketing. So how does it work? A brand pays someone a commission to promote their products through selected channels.

This person could be an individual consumer or an influencer (someone with significant followers). It’s important to note that while someone can be both an affiliate and an ambassador, these roles are not synonymous.

  • Affiliates operate on a digital-only level. They use specialized links shared on their platforms to earn a commission. 
  • Ambassadors can operate either online or offline and usually have a deeper partnership with the brand in the form of a retainer. They don’t always use specialized links, and their goal could be to build brand awareness or drive sales. 

As a brand, there are multiple benefits to engaging in affiliate marketing. It’s a great source of passive income and it mutually benefits both the brand and the affiliate. 

Check out these Truelist stats from 2022: 

  • More than 80% of brands have affiliate programs.
  • Almost 65% of affiliate marketers generate traffic by blogging.
  • Advertisers generate between 15% and 30% of all sales from affiliate programs.
  • Affiliate marketing makes up 16% of global eCommerce sales.

How affiliate and influencer marketing work together

Given that affiliate and influencer marketing both rely on individual partnerships and social media, they work best in conversation

Affiliate marketing is undoubtedly a bottom-of-funnel discipline, as its main goal is to get folks to drive sales through their specialized links or codes. On the other hand, influencer marketing has been traditionally seen as a top-of-funnel discipline, or something that helps build brand awareness. Layering these two disciplines can give  marketers a full-funnel digital/social media strategy. 

That being said, the role of influencer marketing is quickly changing. A 6,000-respondent study found that approximately one third of shoppers turn to social media influencers to learn about products. This shift in consumer behavior has moved influencer marketing from top-of-funnel, to full-funnel and brought about the advent of social commerce. In short, influencers now have the power to build awareness for your brand, impact consumers’ evaluation of your product, and drive actual sales.

What this means is that influencer and affiliate marketing are even more closely related than before. They are no longer just complimentary — they’re integrated.

In fact, a lot of small brands dip their toes into paid influencer marketing campaigns with affiliates. Since these brands often have smaller budgets, traditional sponsored content isn’t affordable. Affiliates, on the other hand, can cost less because their fee is covered by true sales and they have more incentive/obligation to post than the average influencer who receives gifted products. 

Getting started with affiliate marketing

Now that you know what affiliate marketing is and how it complements influencer marketing, here are some tips for getting started:

  1. Pick the right partners. If you’re just getting started, it might be best to start by signing some of your existing influencers and customers as affiliates. If you don’t have solid leads there, you can use social listening or influencer marketing tools to search to find people who have organically mentioned your brand. Tip: You can use Traackr’s discovery and vetting tool to discover influencers already working as affiliates for other brands! Search past content for affiliate keywords like “affiliate,” “my code,” “specialized link,” and “link in bio.” Then view influencer performance metrics to make sure they’re effective partners.
  1. Use a performance-based compensation strategy. Avoid centering compensation around things like audience size, and instead base it on results-oriented metrics like engagement or sales. You could also use a cost per action (CPA) model, where affiliates get a commission each time a customer completes an action. The action could be clicking on a custom link or it could be purchasing a specific product.
  1. Choose an affiliate network or influencer marketing software. This will help you use your time efficiently by automating certain processes. For example, Traackr’s social commerce/affiliate feature, helps you find and vet new partners, define attribution models and commission structures, calculate and send payments, track performance, and more. 
  1. Define your key performance indicators (KPIs). If you are combining influencer and affiliate marketing, you need to approach KPIs with a full-funnel mindset. While sales are the ultimate goal, there is also a product discovery and consideration aspect. Set yourself up to measure your campaigns from awareness, to consideration, to sales. 

Learn more influencer marketing best practices here.

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