Affiliate vs. Influencer Marketing: Which Should Your Company Use?

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Too many times, we see things as one thing against another — chocolate or vanilla, yin or yang, paid or organic — as if the two entities cannot hope to coexist. The same goes for affiliate marketing and influencer marketing, and unfortunately for us, digital marketing agencies get their clients caught up in an endless battle of which vehicle is better.

But they’re having the wrong discussion. They should ask which type of marketing is best suited for the organization’s current goals.

Affiliate and influencer marketing each have a time and place. Your responsibility is to figure out where your company is today and how to get where you want to go tomorrow. It all starts with a broader understanding of your options and opportunities.

Related: How Affiliate Marketing Can Work for Entrepreneurs

Making affiliates your remote sales force

As of the first quarter of 2016, Amazon reportedly had an astonishing 310 million active customers. Perhaps you’re one of them. If so, you might have made your way to this behemoth of an online shopping center through an Amazon affiliate.

Affiliates are paid to link to a business’s products from their websites. Every time a visitor clicks the link and makes a purchase, the affiliate receives a commission. Most businesses work with the support of an affiliate marketing service provider that handles the work behind finding and paying affiliates, weeding out spammers and tracking success.

Here’s the caveat — this industry has more black hat (or untrustworthy) affiliate marketing programs than not. Much like the black hat SEO tactics that saw their heyday before Google algorithms started to punish those tactics, black hat affiliate marketing programs have yet to be pushed out of the industry. If the benefits of an affiliate program sound like a good fit for you, it’s important to properly vet a partner before signing on.

JVZoo, an online software solution for affiliate marketing, is one white hat provider that’s on a mission to restore the soul of internet marketing. You’ll never hear it tout any get-rich-quick schemes as a recruitment tactic for its affiliate network, and it actually cares about making online business owners’ lives easier.

Generally, businesses that prefer using affiliates sell products or services online with high enough profit margins to pay out commissions without hurting their bottom line. Affiliate marketing has great potential for your business if it’s the right fit, but don’t go into it blind. Do your research and make sure you select an affiliate network that has your best interests in mind.

Piggybacking on influencers’ social standing

Every social media platform has certain people who collect devotees by the thousands or millions.

They are influencers, and their reach is deep, personalized and thoughtful. Imagine you could get a well-known industry guru to mention or endorse your brand. You’d be hitting a prospective buyer niche and increasing the chances of striking a gold mine.

Business-to-consumer companies routinely pay influencers to use and promote specific products on their channels, such as YouTube or Instagram. The remunerative arrangement varies from influencer to influencer; some influencers are paid by the post, while others are given a flat fee for their brand loyalty. And believe it or not, it’s one of the most effective strategies for reaching your target audience.

Related: How to Create a Successful Influencer Marketing Campaign

Axe’s recent partnership with theAmplify is an example of influencer marketing excellence in action. By utilizing theAmplify’s proprietary mobile app that streamlines the process of identifying and communicating with influencers, Axe created stellar influencer campaigns around its hair care products.

TheAmplify reached out to its network of influencers in the men’s grooming sector and extended Axe’s marketing reach without overspending. For instance, millions of people saw influencer Rudy Mancuso’s short video, giving Axe a huge popularity and recognition boost without the need for costlier traditional advertising methods.

Tips for choosing between affiliates and influencers

Neither affiliate nor influencer marketing is better or worse; everything depends on your timing and adherence to a few tips.

1. Outline the psychographics and demographics of your target audience.

Knowing your target is as essential in marketing as it is in a game of darts. Affiliates can assist in bringing your items to audiences who fit your ideal customer by giving them direct links to products or services. However, if your goal is to bring about awareness to mass numbers of Millennials, you’ll want to think about the personalized nature of influencer marketing. Younger audiences tend to eschew affiliates and prefer buying on the recommendation of a trusted influencer.

Related: 10 Questions to Ask Before Determining Your Target Market

2. Take a serious look at your marketing budget.

Affiliate marketing doesn’t cost much up front because you only pay your affiliates and software partners when people they send your way make a purchase. Still, this takes a cut out of your bottom line and reduces the take-home amount of each purchase. Every percentage point counts when you’re thinking about profits.

Influencers typically charge up front for their commitment, though rates will vary. If you feel like you’d rather go the influencer route but have a modest budget, look for mid-level influencers. Although they have thousands — not millions — of followers, they’ll eat up fewer of your marketing dollars.

3. Consider both affiliate and influencer marketing for differing campaigns.

Your job is to create a viable marketing stack that takes advantage of opportunities. In some cases, your research and education may lead to the realization that affiliate marketing is the right strategy for one campaign and influencer marketing for another.

Crunch the numbers ahead of time to ensure you’re putting the right affiliates and influencers in place and your company knows how to convert the visitors you obtain from each. Do a little competitive analysis to see how your biggest challengers are spending their marketing dollars; if they’re all in the affiliate marketing sphere, perhaps you should follow suit.

To say that new online marketing doors are being opened regularly would be a serious understatement. Years ago, affiliate marketing was in its infancy; now, software allows companies to take it further than ever. Similarly, influencer marketing has blossomed thanks to our global reliance on and appreciation of social networks. Know the proper time to use each, and you’ll position your organization to take giant leaps forward.