Influencer marketing has seen incredible growth in recent years, which for marketers is a brilliant opportunity because when managed correctly, it can deliver significant revenue growth. As a result, brands are now ready to make an even greater investment in their influencer campaigns and programmes. It’s estimated that by 2022 spending on influencers will surpass $15B annually. This puts global influencer spend in line with global affiliate spend. But affiliate marketing is still an important part of the partnership mix, providing a proven performance-based revenue source. 

As brands continue to innovate and diversify their partnership programmes to include new kinds of partners, traditional affiliate marketers can learn a lot from the newer influencer model, and influencer marketers would be wise to study certain savvy aspects of the affiliate playbook. 

The fact is, there are some best practices that apply across the entire partner spectrum, and as the partnership silos continue to come down between affiliate, influencer, and even B2B partnerships, everyone can start reaping the rewards. 

What influencer marketing can learn from affiliate

1. Align rewards with your KPIs

Affiliate programmes typically operate on a CPA basis, rewarding partners who generate incremental value to the programme. In this model, when the advertiser succeeds, the partner also succeeds, and all affiliates are incentivised to contribute to the brand’s KPIs.

All too often, influencer programmes stay stuck in pay-per-post mode, with no linkage to the brand’s KPIs. As affiliate programmes typically do, influencer programmes should apply attribution measurement and commission structures that encourage and reward real value.

2. Stop fixating on discovery

Influencer managers spend an inordinate amount of time on discovery and recruitment of the next red-hot influencer, and they are often disproportionately fixated on the front end of the partner lifecycle. Then, they let those relationships languish, essentially “ghosting” their partners instead of nurturing and optimising the partnership to drive better and better results. 

Affiliate programmes, on the other hand, typically have a more balanced approach that devotes adequate attention to all stages of partnerships, including onboarding, payment processing and performance measurement. Of course, large affiliate programmes don’t risk doing it all manually. Instead, they use automation tools that support the full lifecycle of their partnerships, in the process creating more time to focus on higher-value activities, such as finding more strategic partners and optimising their program.

3. Diversify + scale

It’s tempting in the influencer world to focus all your effort on signing a few mega- and celebrity influencers. But this not only leaves your entire programme vulnerable to a single celebrity misstep, but it is also less cost-efficient than working with a mix of partners.  Most affiliate programmes include a good portion of smaller long-tail partners who actually deliver higher ROI while spreading the risk around. 

The most robust influencer programs follow the affiliate model and include a full spectrum of partners, including micro- and nano-influencers that often deliver the most audience engagement bang for the buck. 

Of course, managing a large and diverse network requires the right technical infrastructure to maintain program scale and ROI. It is essential to invest in tools that manage all partnerships throughout the lifecycle rather than trying to support each at an individual level. Once you have the infrastructure in place, growth can be pretty much unlimited without overloading your team.

What affiliate marketing can learn from influencer programmes

1. Engage the upper funnel to build awareness and audience

Affiliate programmes are sometimes overly fixated on the bottom of the funnel (think affiliates like rewards, loyalty, coupon and deal sites and apps). Though these types of affiliates are important, there is still a lot of value in working with affiliates that add value at the top of the funnel, which is much like the traditional influencer M.O.  Smart affiliate managers should be looking at mid- and upper-funnel content sites to build awareness, interest and education.

Just as important, a full-funnel strategy can help affiliate programmes reach new audiences, another area where influencer programmes excel because each influencer brings a new group of engaged followers to the table. Lower funnel affiliates and coupon sites tend to tap into audiences that are already familiar with the brand and may already be shopping, and few managers leverage their affiliate partners to attract new prospects into the funnel.

The bottom line is that any kind of partnership programme benefits from a full-funnel approach to choosing, measuring and fairly rewarding their partners. That’s how real growth happens.

2. Personalise at scale

In the same way, as you would do with your influencers, always look to fully personalise the content you want your affiliate marketing partners to promote — including curating your branded page to guide partners towards your bestsellers and new items. Because most influencer programs are small relative to established affiliate networks, they can indulge in 1:1 communications with a handful of major influencers, tailoring their messaging and continuously engaging these influencers to drive exposure. 

There is no reason affiliate programmes can’t have the best of both worlds: broad networks and relevant and tailored communications. By grouping your partners and automating communication processes appropriately, you can provide the continual and relevant partner engagement that nurtures successful long-term relationships. No doubt as influencer programmes grow their networks and include more micro- and nano-influencers into the mix, they’ll need to employ the same strategy. 

Harness the full potential of all your partnerships

The reality is that influencer partnerships and affiliate partnerships are both critical pieces of a mature partnership programme, and both have the power to support a range of business goals. Diversify and grow your network, engage throughout the lifecycle, pay only for value and personalise at scale (and put the tools in place to do it efficiently). Those are smart strategies for any kind of successful relationship in the new partnership economy.