In its most basic understanding the concept of ‘influencers’ are, in modern times, deemed as online personalities that have an engaged relationship with their audience and the ability to influence their purchasing decisions. And its big business, according to The State of Influencer Marketing 2021: Benchmark Report, the influencer marketing industry is set to grow to approximately $13.8 Billion in 2021. Further, with the pandemic triggering more time spent online and on social media, one thing is for certain, influencer marketing is not an area brands can overlook.

These high-value relationships drive awareness, engagement, deliver customer conversions and are a major force in digital marketing, increasing in importance as the buyer journey becomes more fragmented and consumers grow an immunity to traditional advertising. The right influencer can produce content that is 11 times more effective than banner ads. In fact, according to a 2020 GlobalWebIndex survey, 96% of US and UK consumers who followed influencers were engaging with them more or at least to the same extent as before the coronavirus outbreak.

What are the drivers?

Social media really has been the most significant driver of the ‘influencer’ era and when platforms such as Youtube, Instagram and now TikTok, really started taking off, brands were somewhat at a loss for where to place the responsibility of influencer strategies. Some created entirely new teams, others placed it under PR or branding, what didn’t happen, in this initial instance anyway, was a movement to have this sit within the remit of performance teams. But why is that? 

Well, until recently the diversification of the performance, and more specifically, the partnership channel has been slow to emerge. But in the last decade as SaaS API driven solutions have developed, the scope of affiliate has increased and a more vast array of potential partner categories has grown the partnership ecosystem ten-fold, thus greater onus is being placed on the channel and its appealing pay-for-outcome model.

Once a marketing tactic driven purely by programme based conversions has now awoken its versatility and capabilities of influencing consumer purchase decisions at every stage of the buying cycle, incorporating traditional coupon partners, cashback websites, content publishers, banks, card-linked offers, and the list continues. Thus the question of will influencer and performance marketing converge is somewhat moot, the fact is it already has, what we should ask ourselves is will influencer programmes ever sit entirely under the remit of performance teams?

How to get started

There are some delicate steps to take in making the move to a performance based influencer programme. First and foremost, it’s crucial to maintain the relationships that brand or PR teams have built with their audience of influencers. A lot of time has gone into cultivating these relationships and it would be irresponsible to simply pass over the reigns. 

What’s more, many influencers, especially those with a more significant follower base, have grown accustomed to being paid on a flat fee basis and therefore may show resistance moving to a performance-based approach. The key here is around diversification and education. What’s so fantastic about the partner channel is its propensity to open up new partnerships. With technology vendors like Sideqik and Zine offering an unrivalled opportunity for brands to discover new influencer partners, brands are not simply limited to those with the largest follower base.

These solutions don’t just introduce you to new influencers, they also give breakdowns in terms of audience demographics and whether these partners are working with your competitors, which can help create more focused programmes aligned to the ideal client/customer profile (ICP) of your brand. And what’s more, SaaS platforms are further opening up the influencer supply change to provide access to a limitless ecosystem of partners, empowering marketers to quickly identify right-fit partners and influencers with both filtering and query logic to quickly hone in on attributes that align to a brand’s and allowing automation of serving lookalike recommendations.

For example, micro-influencers tend to have a more niche but engaged audience and because of this they are also far more likely to accept performance-based attribution. A micro influencer can provide a 47% increase in engagement rates compared to the macro variety. And why is this the case? It’s largely based on micro-influencers having a more “dialed-in” audience which therefore finds them better able to make authentic and valuable connections.

How can brands effectively use it?

From a brand perspective, the larger an audience gets, the more diluted their demographics become, which makes targeting consumers with the right message increasingly difficult, potentially impacting revenue. Brands trust the micro-influencer to be a genuine advocate and one that will be influential with their audience on the subject matter that brought that audience to them in the first place. We’ve seen many brands utilise a hybrid approach, keeping their most prominent influencers on a flat fee whilst maintaining a good group of these smaller micro-influencers on a pay-for-outcome basis and it truly is paying dividends in both awareness and revenue. 

And speaking of brand awareness, the reason some advertisers are still hesitant to trial an influencer programme is because of the outdated notion that it is more of a branding exercise than something that will generate reward in the form of return of ad spend (ROAS). But that’s the beauty of a performance-based approach. It takes the risk out of this still somewhat uncertain channel and puts the power in the brands’ hands to dial a programme up and down depending on external factors, budget and campaign goals. And do you know what else is great about influencers?

They are providing a whole host of promotions all in one. Think about it, they give testimonials, demonstrations, and calls-to-action, through photo, video and text. It’s like having an entire advertising campaign developed on your behalf by a consumer-trusted content creator. What this means is that influencers are helping their audiences go through the typical sales funnel, from awareness down to consideration and even purchase. Seems like a pretty cost-effective route now doesn’t it? 

The question of brand affiliation.

The reason many companies struggle with influencer marketing is not that the channel doesn’t work, it’s often because their sponsored content is not thoughtfully planned, executed or authentically aligned with the audience. But when it comes to marketing to specific demographics, in particular the consumer powerhouse of Gen Z, audiences tend to be drawn to quality over quantity in social media, they value individual expression, and above all, they greatly prefer brand authenticity and companies that are transparent. Whilst brands may be nervous about negative affiliation, what they should really be more concerned about is no affiliation at all, and the impact this will ultimately have on their sales, especially when their competitors are investing heavily. 

With SaaS solutions, brands actually have far more exposure and opportunities for direct communication with their audience of influencers and can ensure that they are adhering to guidelines. If you tap the right influencer, you’ll know they’ve fostered an engaged community based on trust and you can reap the benefits of this transferred positive affiliation and their advocacy. 

When it comes to influencer and partnership marketing, it is safe to say that there are a growing number of overlapping similarities, and the differences that once separated these marketing mediums are becoming few and far between. If you already have standalone influencer and affiliate strategies in place, you might notice many dissimilarities in the way you recruit and interact with these two groups, as highlighted previously. But it doesn’t need to be that way.

Marrying your affiliate and influencer strategy solves several problems: it simplifies your business, promotes and strengthens your brand, creates clear incentives for affiliates and influencers, and allows you to experience the best that both marketing channels have to offer.  So if not now when? It’s high time that marketers still siloing these two channels realise the potential of converging both to sit under the blissfully harmonious remit of partnership.