How Influencers Are Changing The Affiliate Marketing Game
The opportunity is now for both advertisers and their affiliate networks to embrace influencer marketing.
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While affiliate marketing has long been driven by a need to gain website clicks, this channel is now quickly evolving into a strategy that cultivates leads from social channels like Instagram and Facebook. Instrumental in this evolution are influencers: as social leaders with the ability to inspire conversions from their loyal followers, they are now forming an integral component of successful affiliate campaigns.
Bridging the gap between web traffic conversion and social traffic conversion, influencer marketing takes the traditional role of affiliate marketing – relying on referral promotion to drive traffic and sales – and introduces this strategy to new, social-first and content-driven audiences.
Affiliate marketing now faces a critical transition: with social media becoming increasingly shopper-friendly, bloggers are dropping their websites for Instagram fame. After previously relying on “publishers” to drive traffic for clients as part of an affiliate program, affiliate-focused agencies must now quickly get up to speed on new tactics, social platforms, and strategies to serve brands who are now seeking more comprehensive results from a diverse range of channels – not just web. With consumers swiping up on Instagram Stories to shop the looks of their favorite social media influencers, the convenience of shopping via social media is increasingly becoming the norm for shoppers looking to purchase on-the-go. Those affiliate marketers who are still only investing in website publishers and click-through metrics now run the risk of missing broad swaths of new customers and business on social.
Once seen as a strategy distinct from affiliate programs, influencer marketing has been continually edging toward modern affiliate marketing. With the tracking and measurement of influencer marketing approximating the level of detail and sophistication that traditional affiliate marketing has achieved, savvy affiliates are now looking to foster thoughtful influencer campaigns that leverage the purchasing and reviewing power of social media stars.
The main distinction now between affiliate and influencer marketing is simply the channel itself and the way the influencer is paid. Affiliate marketing sees affiliates paid based on web traffic performance (CPA) while influencer marketing sees influencers often paid flat fees upfront in return for social traffic performance. Brands now have visibility into the same metrics for both strategies and can access indicators of performance and traffic via Google Analytics for web-based publishers and Instagram Insights for social based publishers. Despite these similarities, influencer and affiliate marketing are still referred to as two separate strategies and are often managed by different teams in the same organization.
In this article, we’ll explore why influencers matter so much to affiliate marketing, and how to incorporate both into your marketing strategy.
The Old vs the New: The evolution of Affiliate Marketing
In the beginning, the tracking capabilities of affiliate marketing felt revolutionary: marketers were giving trackable links to publishers, with the publisher earning a commission every time a reader made a click or a purchase. Leveraging this newfound transparency opened up an opportunity for publishers to monetize their content without having to sell banner ads and pop-ups, while brands could now have a trackable, results-driven strategy for their marketing spend.
As time goes on, brands are increasingly looking beyond clicks to get to the heart of understanding consumer behavior: instead of focusing on one-off purchases, brands are now looking to develop long-term relationships that turn customers into brand loyalists.
Influencers have now become important intermediaries in facilitating these authentic relationships between a brand and their customers, by leveraging the loyal following they’ve built from sharing product recommendations, reviews and lifestyle tips.
The shift from desktop to mobile is another reason why influencers will continue to carve out an important role in the future of marketing: as shoppers switch from clicking to swiping, influencers occupy prime space on the frontlines of this social-first wave.
Features like Instagram’s ‘Swipe Up’ functionality mean shoppers are no longer exiting their favorite apps to visit eCommerce stores, instead looking for a more seamless shopping experience that integrates both browsing and purchasing.
Recently Arielle Charnas– the Instagram Influencer behind Something Navy – exclusively used Instagram Stories to announce her collaboration with Nordstrom – a collection that sold out in just 24 hours.
As veterans of strategic collaboration, influencers are poised to become increasingly important to brands as social-first publishers. In many cases, brands are reporting the influencer channel as the highest-performing source of new customer acquisition.
Transparent and Effective: The New Influencer Marketing
Affiliate marketing isn’t the only strategy to have evolved recently. Influencer marketing has undergone a makeover of its own, becoming more transparent, more streamlined and more effective. If you have felt in the past that influencers do not offer the same transparency or sales-driven results as affiliate publishers, you might be pleasantly surprised by recent updates and changes in the industry.
Managers now have access to powerful metrics that can help them identify the best influencers for their brand. They can analyze audience demographics, determine whether influencers are likely to help them rank more highly on search engines and even track sales through affiliate links or directly using pixel tracking.
Nordstrom Rack’s recent partnership with Shopping Links is an outstanding example how influencer marketing can be coupled with affiliate marketing to drive not only brand awareness but also traffic and sales. By utilizing the Shopping Links Influencer marketplace, Nordstrom Rack was able to simplify the process of identifying and gifting influencers at scale. Individually-selected Influencers created a series of social media posts supported with blog posts to showcase Nordstrom Rack’s products to more than 500,000 potential customers.
Shopping Links worked with the team at Pepperjam to identify a number of influencers who met not only the traffic requirements but were the right fit in terms of audience and brand alignment – all within Nordstrom Rack’s affiliate marketing budget. A total of three fashion and lifestyle influencers provided increased awareness, traffic and sales together with a boost in brand recognition – without the need for more costly traditional advertising methods.
Where to From Here?
To be a leader in affiliate marketing, networks and agencies must recognize that advertisers are seeking more than just one-off leads or incremental sales. They want advocates and storytellers who can engage potential shoppers, demonstrate vertical expertise, and strengthen brand loyalty to inspire a long-term relationship. Influencers allow brands to take advantage of all the benefits of affiliate marketing, including transparency and guaranteed exposure while adding the power to connect with shoppers and strengthen brand affinity. Affiliate marketing is a proven channel, strengthened by its access to data and quantifiable results. The opportunity is now for both advertisers and their affiliate networks to embrace influencer marketing and make it as cost-effective and transparent as they have affiliate marketing. In this case, the whole – affiliate marketing and influencer marketing – is definitely greater than the sum of its parts.
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