Who rules, affiliates or influencers? These experts might change your view

Okay, so I have 18+ years of experience in both the influencer and affiliate sides of the partnership space, but Influencer verzuz affiliate: where the two channels differ, align, and win still rocked my world. This panel discussion was fascinating and revelatory, and I can’t recommend it enough to any brand, small business, or partnership […]

Sarah Cosby
Sarah Cosby
Director of Partnerships Lab, Impact

Okay, so I have 18+ years of experience in both the influencer and affiliate sides of the partnership space, but Influencer verzuz affiliate: where the two channels differ, align, and win still rocked my world. This panel discussion was fascinating and revelatory, and I can’t recommend it enough to any brand, small business, or partnership professional looking toward the digital future. 

Our audience was so engaged, in fact, that we received way too many questions to answer during the live discussion. The panelists and our partnership team were kind enough to take them on afterward. You can read a few of the answers below, and we’ll be answering others for you via upcoming guest blogs from our panelists. Meantime, meet them:

  • Alexis Caldwell: Head of Brand Development at rewardStyle + LIKEtoKNOW (LinkedIn; Instagram)
  • Becca Bahrke: CEO Illuminate Social / Talent Partnerships Loki Artist Group (InstagramLinkedIn, Clubhouse: @beccabahrke)
  • Casey Runyan: VP and Managing Editor at Brad’s Deals (Linkedin)

Here are some highlights from this fantastic conversation. 

Influencer or affiliate? It’s in the eye of the consumer

While we set up our February 16 panel discussion as a Verzuz-like battle, our panelists brought home many important ways these channels are aligned, are complementary, and even overlap. Turns out the difference is often more about consumer intent than it is about the partner. 

Consumers in buying mode are looking for an offer or reason to make the final purchase, while consumers in consideration mode are open to ideas and input to guide their buying journey. But along that pathway, influencers and affiliates can serve both roles.

Bahrke works with both celebrity influencers and up-and-coming names who are paid on a revenue sharing basis, and she sees those performance-based influencers as aligned with the affiliate model. Similarly, smaller, risk-averse brands might start out working with influencers on an “affiliate” basis as they gain the brand recognition and budget to develop influencer relationships with up-front compensation.

Affiliate site Brad’s Deals, on the flip side, has editorial standards and a credible soft-sell approach that make it a trusted resource for consumers that is akin to an influencer relationship. They have their own brand personality that brings value to their audience. Runyan says that sometimes means they have to push back on advertisers who want to overscript or oversell on the site. That’s something any influencer can relate to.

Discovery, awareness, and closing the deal

For big-ticket, high-consideration categories like travel or fine jewelry, an influencer has the right toolset to tell a story over time and bring the consumer along in the discovery experience. Affiliates, on the other hand, are often better set up to drive immediate purchases of items consumers are ready to buy. But it’s not always either/or. 

As Bahrke puts it: while it’s unlikely that a follower is going to swipe up on an influencer post to buy $5 drugstore sunscreen, the post may plant a seed that will pay off next time that consumer shops at Walgreens. 

With newer platforms such as the LikeToKnowIt app, the lines between the influencer and affiliate experiences are blurring. The app marries influencer-created content with intent-driven shopping, so it hits a new sweet spot for consumers who are ready to buy but want to be inspired by influencers. 

Measuring the multitouch buying experience

Somewhat surprising, measuring and rewarding value in both spheres can be a challenge. Influencers who aren’t on a direct revenue-sharing contract are sometimes left out of the last-click equation, even if they had a lot to do with a consumer discovering and growing to love a brand. Even affiliates like Brad’s Deals sometimes lose out to other affiliates, such as when a consumer decides to click over to a cashback site for that final purchase. 

The ability to accurately measure and reward all partners on an  affiliate-like basis for the value they deliver is the ultimate goal. The challenge is knowing what you want to measure, which brings us to the matter of KPIs, another area of cross-channel agreement for our panelists.

It’s unanimous: always agree on goals ahead of time

In any partnership relationship, knowing your goals up-front and measuring success against those standards is essential. If you want sales, decide that up front, and then let your partner decide the best way to get there. But don’t assume even a big-name content creator can instantly drive sales of your new electric SUV. Better to create incremental KPIs such as clicks, sign-ups, or test drives to keep your partner accountable for value in a realistic way.

Look at the data, not just the face

Another point that got our panelists’ heads nodding was the importance of knowing your audience and goals before engaging new partners.  Caldwell often sees brands that think they want a certain cool influencer with a desired aesthetic they aspire to, but the data says otherwise. “We have more than ten years’ worth of data about who converts in what categories what their audience demo looks like, AOVs, and other metrics that can show much more accurately what kind of partner will perform best for an advertiser,” says Calwell.  

The battle of the channels

Okay, we did promise a battle, but you’ll have to go to the video to hear Alexis, Becca, and Casey show their swag. The debate starts at about minute 35 of the conversation, after which you can hear insightful answers to our audience questions. 

Partnership trends to watch

Here are a few emerging opportunities our panelists are seeing in their respective industries:

  • Online to offline tracking: The need to track your partner attribution from phone to stores is growing as consumers find inspiration online yet visit stores to buy.
  • Affiliates for small businesses: COVID underscored that every business needs an online presence, not just during a pandemic. Small businesses must have efficient means to drive sales online and will need performance space options. Affiliates: make room for mom and pop.
  • App tracking: The need for app-to-app and affiliate-to-app tracking is growing and it’s an important consideration for partnerships.
  • Clubhouse: The invite-only audio-based social platform will create new opportunities to connect and influence.

Have more burning questions about affiliate or influencer partnerships? Reach out to a growth technologist for answers at grow@impact.com

Bonus material! More answers about affiliates and influencers

Audience question:  Where does content come into affiliate partnerships? 

Casey Runyan: I think that really comes down to the type of publisher you are talking about. At Brad’s Deals, we are content-driven. My editors are shopping experts who write about great deals in straightforward, authentic language. Other publisher models, such as coupon sites, are different, but for us, content is the foundation of everything we do.

Audience question: How do we identify the difference between awareness-driven influencers and ROI-driven influencers?

Becca Bahrke: Plain and simple: ask them. Influencers and their managers can share data points with you that showcase that they have either driven purchases in the past or have an audience that is highly engaging via Instagram stories or other important metrics like IG saves. 

As a trend rather than a rule, the higher the engagement rate and Instagram story views, the more likely the influencer will convert purchase intent. You then need to dive deeper into their demos to ensure you’re reaching the target market for your product.

Audience question: With regard to influencers, do you have a perspective of the business-to-business market vs just consumer?

Alexis Caldwell: B2B influencers can be extremely effective and can be a significant pillar of your larger B2B strategy.

Becca Bahrke: B2B marketing is definitely much more granular in terms of the categories that will resonate, and it has a much smaller demo of people to reach and work with. 

It really only works for specific markets, and you have to research who you’re working with to ensure they’ll speak to that consumer demo. For example, we’ve run campaigns with a financial software company that targets small businesses, and we hired influencers who own small businesses and who are possibly very involved in their community of other business owners.

Audience question: Which Clubhouse groups would you recommend joining? 

Becca Bahrke: 

  1. Womxn in Business
  2. Social Media Mavens
  3. The Digital Influencers Lounge
  4. The Creator Lounge

In general, I like joining rooms that have smaller groups (<50) so you can actually partake in the conversation or have an opportunity to ask a question.

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