The past few years, a big shift in performance marketing has been focused around content publishers. There are many sub-categories and verticals when you dive into the content category, but today we’ll focus on influencers. Have you been in a meeting this past month, this week, even today where the term Influencer hasn’t come up in some way? Brands & advertisers are on an ongoing quest to figure out how best to capitalise on an influencer strategy while the Influencers themselves are figuring out how to maintain authenticity, build a following, and strike a balance with monetization.
Influencer marketing is a “thing” and has reached a state of maturity, and hence, the commercialisation has not only begun, but it’s evolving. For advertisers and consumers alike it can be challenging to tell the good from the bad, the real from the fake, the small from the big, and a very fragmented market has evolved. Yet, the real challenge that has surfaced for all parties involved – the advertisers, consumers, and the influencers themselves is authenticity.
According to eMarketer, inauthentic engagement and the rising costs associated with influencers is one of the key challenges the industry faces. Striking the right balance is a concern for advertisers and the amounts they should pay out can start to weigh heavy when thinking about budget allocation and the returns from it.
A balanced approach
This is important as having this as part of an affiliate program, we need to maintain and build authenticity while harnessing the power of the distribution and also making sure the budget doesn’t go out the window. Influencers are doing good work and they deserve to be compensated for it, but advertisers will need to walk a delicate line and start to create the right mix to ensure broad reach but also get that authenticity they are looking for.
The more “mass market” influencers have created a foothold for themselves with brands and followers, and even micro-influencers have a place in an advertisers strategy, what we need to be on the lookout for next to fully balance out the portfolio, from an Advertiser perspective, is the very long tail, what I would say are just individual consumers and brand advocates like you and I.
Another eMarketer report shows how this segment of smaller influencers, is not only more cost-effective but speaks directly to the right audience and starts to address the challenge of authenticity. When you start to look at your customers as publishers in your affiliate program, you are able to start looking at small, trusted audiences and creating advocacy amongst them. And what better way to do that than in the affiliate channel? This can simply be an extension of your current program and starts to create further diversification of distribution.
A different type of partner
There are actually a bunch of differences when you think about the more mature Influencers currently working in the space vs working with an individual or customer. You could say there are a lot of individuals who are influencers today, and you’d be right. But this distribution strategy is based on niche content, the size and reach of the audience, and the intent of the publisher. When thinking about how to create a long tail with your loyal customers and brand advocates – you need to remember, they’re not businesses, they often times don’t know affiliate, and this isn’t their primary form of income. Yet, the authentic voice they bring can provide a big opportunity and halo effect for a brand.
These trusted friends provide useful information – and the opportunity exists to treat this as an affiliate engagement. We typically think of Influencer as Instagram – but if I were to text my friend for a recommendation on a TV to buy and they sent me back a link – this could be a great long-tail partner for an affiliate program.
Now in terms of measuring the success of these individuals, if you lump them within your affiliate program and make them compete for last click they're not always going to get the chance to grow and show off their true value. Yet it can still be an affiliate but should be carved out and measured separately or by a lot of the new multi-touch attribution commissioning logic the various networks and platforms have started to offer.
Keys for success
Social media has empowered Individuals to become huge producers of content and these are people who have immediate trust with their followers. They have smaller cohesive networks (friends and family), and they don’t even need to work within the normal economics of your program. Some might value a per cent of sale, but others could just be looking for an exclusive offer, a product sample, or if it was me – just send me a t-shirt with your company name on it.
To be successful, this segment will require different tools, features, and functionality. It’s still hard today to explain the construct of an affiliate program to someone who isn’t in this space. Although there are tools out there that have started us down the path of simplification – we’re not there yet. But the idea is – with the right tools, everyone can potentially have an affiliate relationship with a brand or retailer. Things like white label platforms, simple linking tools, and most important – educational tools will be necessary for success.
An influencer is a key category of distribution that everyone needs a strategy around. But individuals can be your best advocates and there’s no reason the infrastructure by which we track can’t happen via an affiliate. These individuals can be trusted salespeople finding a unique audience or being found by a unique audience that perhaps as an advertiser you wouldn’t have been able to access yourself. Now is the time to take advantage, make sure you have the right tools, and leverage this as a key part of your affiliate program.