There’s no single blueprint for brands that want to work with influencers. Marketing budgets vary greatly, objectives can be wildly different, and the strategic approach from one company to the next may have little resemblance. On top of that, influencers rarely have one single goal for all partners, as they may focus on making as much money as possible with a large fortune 500 company while promoting a new start-up for free simply because they love the product, and know their audience will too. But, while a diverse range of partner possibilities exist between a brand and influencers, there are also many commonalities which are key for brands to understand as they move further into influencer marketing.
In the following, I provide some insight into some of these commonalities that Influencers are looking for, specifically within a CPA (Cost Per Action) payment model. Then, based on this groundwork of what Influencers are generally interested in, I’ll lay out some basic questions that brands will need to ask themselves as part of their process to establish and grow an influencer strategy as part of their overall partner program.
Influencers want guarantees that they will get paid
We’ve all heard the age-old expression that nobody will do anything for free and currently, Influencers don’t have to. There are enough companies that will pay, and everyone knows this; however, this doesn’t mean that smaller brands are stuck without options. A traditional affiliate CPA model may not be the best option, but we have seen great success with what we refer to as a hybrid payment model.
It’s exactly what it sounds like, a hybrid between guaranteed upfront payment and the opportunity for unlimited earnings for the partner based on actions (conversions), whether that be sales, leads, downloads, or even clicks. If both parties are serious and truly believe in the affinity between the brand’s product or service and the end audience, then both should be willing to put some ‘skin in the game’, making this option the preferred compromise for most brands.
Influencers have become very sophisticated and increasingly wary of a CPA model
In reference to the hybrid model suggested above, it will only work if the potential for the partner to earn based on performance is real. Countless influencers have denied working with brands on a CPA basis due to the simple fact that the only way the brand was able to track performance was within their Affiliate program and based on a traditional last-click model. Influencers understand that this means they will likely lose many of their conversions to coupon, loyalty, and other deal sites who have become the last stop for most online shoppers.
However, many of the affiliate networks and other tracking platforms have adapted to this new requirement from brands and now offer new ways to credit publishers with sales, across an entire business, program, or simply a campaign. And, if you don’t have visibility with the tools that you regularly use, then you can always include Google Analytics UTM parameters to give you more visibility into performance across the clickstream.
(Micro) Influencers want authenticity and a real connection to the brand
While we’ve all seen big-time celebrities touting car insurance or a new cleaning product, most influencers, and certainly micro-influencers, are very concerned with the relevance of the content that they share and promote with their audience. Micro-influencers, or in other words, public personas that have a strong reputation in niche markets and communities, are more open to assuming more risk if they really believe in the connection that the brand and/or their products and services have with their audience.
We have seen countless times that the right influencer is willing to test and review a new product for nothing more than the actual new product plus revenue share. In summary, if the Influencer is truly a fan, this will not only make your negotiating position stronger, but the likelihood of seeing a better return on investment is almost always higher.
Influencers want an offer that will last more than a few days
In general, content from an Instagram post or Tweet will live on longer than the initial promotional period, and Influencers want to ensure that their content remains relevant and continues to generate earnings. The creation of a long-term discount or exclusive offer is an easy option but often, brands won’t want to keep offers in the market for such extended periods of time for fear of abuse or margin deficit.
A solution to this can be a basic landing page where the details of the offer are outlined, and which the brand can update on a regular basis with a new code and expiration. This also saves the Influencer real estate in communicating the offer, allowing them to more easily share across all their social channels.
With the above considerations for Influencers, brands must carefully plan out a strategy to develop a mutually beneficial partnership. Next, let’s walk through some key considerations for any brand when looking to approach Influencer marketing by using a hybrid payment model to drive a positive ROI.
What are my objectives and how will I determine success?
This question should likely be the first question to ask yourself before any campaign but when looking to push into Influencer marketing, the costs can quickly reach levels you weren’t expecting, so it’s important to know exactly what you want. If you’re fortunate to have a big budget and a goal simply to drive awareness to your brand, then look at impression or traffic volume as your key indicator to determine success. However, for most brands, ROI or ROAS (Return on Ad Spend), is the key measurement that the team needs to see positive returns in order to deem the campaign a success. These targets will differ by industry and company, but in order to even get to this, an organization needs to be able to track conversion performance (revenue, leads, downloads, etc.).
As highlighted above, incorporating a revenue share through a hybrid payment model puts the tracking of conversions front and centre for both advertiser and publisher, thus elevating the need for a proper tracking platform.
What type of attribution is right for my program?
Influencers understand where they usually stand in a last-click model that is typical of many standard affiliate programs. While it’s an easy choice to use your Affiliate platform to track the performance of Influencers, you’ll want to explore the options outside of last-click, especially if you’re looking to expand beyond an initial test with influencers.
The first option, which has become much more popular recently, is last-to-cart attribution which basically awards the last publisher which drove the click before a product was placed in the cart. This will tend to eliminate any activity from the point in which the user starts to search out a better discount code online. If this isn’t possible, but you want to make sure that the Influencer gets the benefit of the doubt, create an exclusive for them and set-up promo code tracking which will credit them with any purchase that uses that code. Just make sure the offer is as good as you have out there, so the consumer doesn’t find a better option.
In addition, there are loads of other possibilities including a range of attribution rules that could credit the first-click, or just about any other click that the Influencer had in the clickstream.
However, if you’re planning on running this through your affiliate platform, just be sure to communicate these updates to your entire publisher base that could be impacted by this change in attribution.
How do I choose the right publishers?
If conversions are important, you need to start your search with Influencers whose audience is looking to them for recommendations on specific services and products. A professional mountain biker who blogs about the gear they use will likely attract a more highly converting and relevant audience than one who is talking about the shampoo that they use after a hard ride. It seems basic but too many of us get caught up in the online stats, rather than really focusing on the publishers that will have the highest chance to drive sales.
How do I approach the partner once I’ve selected them?
There are a few key elements to reaching out to Influencers, including personalization, a strong initial offer, and flexibility. Influencers have become superstars in our modern world and amongst fans, brands, and everyone else, you need to break through the clutter to get their attention. If your message is generic, shows no research or thought, and doesn’t make it clear how you can provide value specifically for them, you will likely not get a response.
Second, we have found with many clients that contrary to typical negotiation tactics, going in with your strongest hand may just be enough to get their attention, which is the number one obstacle. You’ll spend a lot of time personalizing outreach to individual Influencers, so you need to get them to engage in a conversation or you’ve failed before you’ve even started.
Lastly, you need to listen and be prepared to be flexible. Tell them what types of things you can offer and be ready to work with them as Influencers will surprise you with what they want. So, make sure you don’t limit yourself to what you can offer and be ready to jump into the conversation right away while you have their attention, because attention spans are not on our side these days.
What type of content should you push for?
There’s a lot of opinions and even some data which suggest the types of media that convert best for brands, but beyond that, I believe there are a few key considerations that further support the question about choosing the right publishers. First, while well-recognized brands may sell themselves, most Influencers need a new or top-selling product to convert well, with personal reviews providing the best return. A quick social post may be a great way to drive exposure but when possible, send that user to a blog, YouTube review, or site that provides additional valuable, authentic, and well-thought-out content.
Think about the same phrases and transactional keywords that you looked at when choosing this publisher and work with the Influencer to focus on content that will provide strong SEO value. The longer this content lives on the first page of Google, the higher the chance that you will continue to see the value, increasing the likelihood of a strong ROAS for the campaign.
As I mentioned at the start, there’s no one blueprint to bring an Influencer strategy into a typical CPA model; however, there are many key considerations, from both the Influencer and brand side, that need to be taken into account. Most brands are looking for a positive return on investment and most Influencers are looking to be paid, so starting there as your baseline can start the discovery process and you can begin to have conversations that will give you the highest rate of success.
The traditional Affiliate Model is still vying for the confidence of Influencers but with a more considered, conversion-driven approach from brands, Influencers will continue to open up to the possibilities of being paid based on their performance.