Affiliate marketing vs. Influencer Marketing: What’s the difference?

With the increasing popularity of social media and sponsored content, affiliate and influencer marketing have become key elements to a strong digital marketing strategy. Although there are some clear similarities between the two concepts, it’s important to understand their unique differences before deciding what’s right for you.

Both marketing strategies are effective ways to not only to give your brand or product a platform, but also to ensure it connects with an established audience. Whether it’s via the ready-made fans of an influencer or the existing audience of an affiliate marketer, supplementing your brand messaging is essential. The support of a third-party is vital to educating and winning potential customers.

Find out more on similarities and, more importantly, the fundamental differences between affiliate and influencer marketing. You’ll be on your way to creating a superior strategy to reach your marketing goals and further establish your personal brand.

What is influencer marketing?

Let’s get a better idea of what influencer marketing really is and what it looks like in practice. A company or brand finds a popular personality, usually with a big social media following, who will use their product and endorse it to their followers. Much like the celebrity spokespeople for fashion labels, an influencer will put their name to a product. Unlike celebrity spokespeople though, influencers will often lead by example. This is where the main advantages of working with an influencer become clear for a brand:

  • The everyday connection of social media means that audiences are along for the ride when an influencer is using a product or service. Rather than just telling people a product is good, most effective influencers will showcase the item in action.
  • While most influencer shout-outs are for single products, it can be possible to work with an influencer over a longer period. Becoming the go-to brand for an influencer can add trust and respect to a brand, as well as a chance to reinforce brand messaging.
  • Although many followers were first surprised when new social media regulations highlighted posts as “sponsored” or paid content, this practice has become the norm. Content labeled sponsored or paid content hasn’t cost many influencers credibility, so they have continued to recommend products effectively.
  • An additional benefit is the versatility of influencers. When it comes to funding the partnership, businesses aren’t limited to cash. Many influencers also accept credits and free products as payment for their support.

What is affiliate marketing?

In contrast to influencer marketing, companies and brands working with affiliates use commission fees as compensation. Bloggers and social media personalities are popular choices as affiliates as they often have an established sense of trust with their audience and can integrate product recommendations easily into their content. This is especially the case for content creators who work with a niche topic, like fitness and wellness personalities recommending vitamins or similar products. Additionally, there are a few other key strengths to working with affiliate strategies:

  • Long-term content is a huge advantage of working with people like bloggers. While social media platforms are refreshed everyday, there is more potential for blog posts to be home to evergreen topics. Newcomers to a blog may find an older, archived post from months before and still happily click through to the recommended product or service.
  • More autonomy in partnerships is another benefit of affiliate marketing, as potential affiliates can reach brands directly with dedicated affiliate programs. While the relationship may be less hands on, companies and brands do not need to spend as much time researching and identifying potential collaborators.
  • The level of independence in the partnership is also encouraged. Built-in tools and resources help partners create their own content around the recommended products. Rather than provide a pre-written script to an influencer, an affiliate can easily integrate preset banners and html code into their own online platform.

While there is often overlap in who works as an influencer or affiliate, the payment structure and strategy behind these relationships are fundamentally different.

How do you choose between an affiliate or influencer strategy?

During the initial planning for a campaign, choosing to work with affiliates or influencers can be a tough decision. However, there are two deciding factors that can help make the right choice clear to you:

1. What are the goals for your project?

Deciding between an influencer or affiliate marketing strategy can be easier if you think specifically about project goals. Is your project centred around a one-time offer or to build audience awareness about a new campaign? Then influencers are the right choice for you. The opportunity for real time coverage of a product or service is a great way to build awareness and understanding. You’ll quickly harness the attention of the influencer’s audience.

In contrast, if longevity or a slow-release strategy is the plan, an affiliate is the better choice. Bloggers and content creators with existing material that connects to your brand is a good way to leverage their existing SEO strength and niche followers. By narrowing down the field with whom you are communicating, you can trim the fat on budgets and generate leads at the same time.

2. Who is your audience?

It’s one of the most obvious questions when pulling together a marketing strategy, but it bears repeating. Before choosing between an affiliate program or influencer marketing, take a closer look at who your audience is and how they consume content.

To get your brand or service in front of as many eyes as possible, work with an influencer who will share your message online quickly and effectively. However, if you are appealing to a more limited audience, identify a blogger or content creator who relates to your campaign and communicate through them. It’s a case of mass awareness versus speaking directly to the audience who will convert into sales.

Don’t be afraid to adjust and adapt

Of course, it’s also possible that your project’s goals and details may change through its lifecycle. This is where the big advantage of digital marketing really shines – its flexibility. If you think you have made the wrong choice, simply try the alternative. In fact, you might include both affiliate and influencer marketing in your gameplan from the start.

Let’s look at affiliate and influencer marketing examples

Now that you have the general theory of both concepts in place, let’s see how each functions in the real world with the help of some examples on the most common platforms:

Influencers on Instagram

When influencers are promoting a product or service to their audiences, there is usually a clear call to action (CTA) provided. The most common methods include offering a swipe up link in an Instagram story or offering a promo code, with which converted sales can be tracked easily.

Other common methods include asking followers to use a specific hashtag or tagging a friend. No matter how the message is communicated, the general goal is to direct users to buy or at least find out more.

Blogger affiliates

In contrast to the direct push for sales that is often found in influencer strategies, it’s much more likely that you will find affiliate marketing a bit more subtle. An example is a display ad that links to products related to a post, like make-up brushes linked to a post about beauty routines.

While this is less direct than a CTA or post dedicated to the recommendation, this also means that the audience feels like the decision to click or spend money is entirely their own. This bodes well for future transactions, as the audience remembers the blog as a source of unbiased and useful information.

How do you get started?

So now that you have the basics down, it’s time to assess which strategy is right for you. Both affiliate marketing and influencer marketing have their own strengths and weaknesses, so it’s up to you to find the right match for your project. Don’t forget: It doesn’t have to be one or the other – both marketing strategies can be adapted and adjusted to meet almost any goal!

« »