Done right, influencer marketing can be one of the most powerful ways to help you achieve your brand’s online goals in a short time. It helps you connect with the most important figures in your industry so your products, services, or brand “comes recommended” by a trusted name.
By contrast, affiliate marketing is a mainstay in digital marketing that has been around about as long as e-commerce itself. Here, entrepreneurs can invest in marketing the products that larger, more established businesses have already created – and reap part of the profits.
Both influencer marketing and affiliate marketing can be included in a robust, multi-faceted online strategy. In the popular imagination, affiliate marketing is closely associated with the archetype of the lone entrepreneur, but this is not necessarily the case.
Let’s learn more about the two.
What is Influencer Marketing?
Influencer marketing is the modern way to share platforms and audiences with other experts.
Let’s shine a light on it by looking at how something similar used to be done.
Way back in “the day” (around 2000), up and coming businesses used to reach out individually to well-placed industry experts to share their online audience. The best way to do this was with a “guest” blog post the expert would post on his or her blog with a byline from the contributor.
In those days, doing a guest post meant coming up with something the “host” would want to put on his or her site, then hoping you could capture a faint trickle of traffic from the post for a week or so. The results weren’t very good and the relationship wouldn’t strengthen as a result.
Enter social media – the true game-changer.
Now, instead of hashing out an agreement and going through a long, winding road to get a little placement, you can simply contact influencers through Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. It may take as little as a few seconds to persuade them to share content with their followers.
By definition, influencers are people whose opinions shape how others approach problems … and, ultimately, what kind of purchasing decisions they make. They have nothing to lose by sharing helpful content that provides value to their audience.
In fact, that’s the beating heart of what influencers do: Curate the Web for their followers.
Influencer marketing refers to the process of identifying influencers, developing robust relations with the right influencers, and then activating those relationships when it benefits both parties.
Done correctly, this can be a great way to drive thousands of highly targeted views to an offer in as little as a day. The best influencers can cooperate freely with your efforts – they have no competing products or services – but they speak to the same audience you do.
- A well-known coder could be the right influencer for programming software or training;
- An executive could be the right influencer for business-focused public speaking classes;
- A community veterinarian could be a good influencer for pet food or training products.
An influencer doesn’t have to be a world-renowned expert – just someone your immediate audience trusts to give advice on a particular topic. Beloved local figures can be just as effective as “industry thought leaders” if they have a dedicated following.
What is Affiliate Marketing?
Once modern e-commerce hit the Web in the late 1990s, affiliate marketing soon followed as one of the first ways for rising internet marketers to partner with others and earn money.
In affiliate marketing, a marketing pro (the “affiliate”) invests money into promoting a product or service offered by another company (the “merchant” or “advertiser.”) Traditionally, the marketer makes a profit off every sale he or she generates.
(These days, there are also pay per action affiliate programs, in which the marketer can get paid if a lead fills out a form, signs up for a mailing list, or performs another no-cost activity.)
Affiliates can run ads or even build entire websites to promote the offers they are associated with. Affiliate marketing works well for both the merchant and the affiliate:
- The merchant externalizes the costs of finding an audience and promoting a product;
- The affiliate has the chance to make money quickly without developing new products.
Affiliate marketing can save time and money all around, but that doesn’t mean there’s no relationship between the merchant and affiliate. The best merchants provide plenty of ongoing support, training materials, and other opportunities for affiliates to succeed.
Many people promote affiliate offers as a “turnkey solution for instant profit,” but the truth is a little more complex (as usual!) New affiliate marketers have a major learning curve, and most will fail. By leveraging good digital marketing fundamentals, however, many do turn a profit and ultimately add multiple offers to their portfolio, growing their own affiliate business.
Likewise, merchants need to be well-established and have solid operations to support even one affiliate. Some merchants simply don’t have the practices in place, while others try to use their well-meaning affiliates in unethical ways. This has made many people leery of affiliate marketing as a whole … but it’s just a specialized business model like any other.
(And no, it’s nothing at all like traditional multi-level marketing!)
Influencer Marketing and Affiliate Marketing Can Work Great Together
Now you know the story: Affiliate marketing is a business model where marketing is the main approach to making revenue, while influencer marketing is a marketing technique that focuses on social media relationship building and content curation.
Many affiliate marketers become influencers in their own right by focusing on offers in a specific niche they know well. Likewise, affiliates can partner with influencers to attract more prospective customers to their offers.
(In fact, the ultimate goal of most – if not all – marketers is to become an influencer to someone!)
Although they sound similar, the two are completely different. Combine them with other inbound marketing concepts, though, and you might find they’re the perfect way to expand your business and add new revenue streams.