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Key Takeaways

  • Many affiliate leaders struggle to drive lower funnel outcomes like direct sales from their influencer marketing campaigns
  • Fortunately, with the right strategy, data, and approach, influencer programs can drive significant direct sales
  • Great results start with understanding the influencer POV and choosing performance-oriented creators to achieve your goals
  • Clear communication, goals-based measurement, and compensation alignment help propel program success

 

It seems like everyone in the affiliate industry is looking for ways to leverage influencers. It’s easy to understand why brands are investing heavily. eMarketer projects that $6.16B will go toward influencer marketing in 2023. According to a 2022 survey from CJ strategic partner Creator IQ, 52% of brands spend over $200K annually on creator programs. Influencer Marketing Hub reports that 63% of brands will increase channel investment in 2023

Influencers hold remarkable sway, especially with young people. A 2021 survey by research company YPulse found that 72% of Gen Z and 68% of millennials follow influencers on social media, and 60% of Gen Z and 54% of millennials have made a purchase based on an influencer's recommendation. 

All that said, achieving a “critical mass” of transactions from influencer partnerships has been elusive for many affiliate teams. A 2021 Linqia survey reported that 96% of marketers felt influencers were great for driving awareness, but just 25% consider influencers top performers for driving direct sales. 

Fortunately, it’s possible to incorporate influencers into affiliate programs and drive lower funnel performance in addition to awareness and brand discovery. CJ works with many brands that capture sizable sales from influencers. To help more brands find this holy grail, we called on our extensive experience with clients and influencers to uncover what works. Here are seven tips for making influencers a powerful source of bottom-of-funnel results:

Understand the creator POV 

Every influencer is a storyteller with a unique voice and tone. They attract audiences with their authentic perspectives and innovative approaches to engaging followers. To leverage the channel effectively, brands must forge partnerships that respect and reflect the influencer's style, tone, and approach. 

To succeed with influencers, brands must be prepared for more give and take. Most influencers are anxious to work with appropriate brands but bristle at lockstep order-taking that would detract from their authenticity. Influencers can’t shill for advertisers and retain their followings. Many advertisers are surprised when influencers refuse brand relationships. But the creators’ connection and credibility with their audiences make them valuable. 

The “fit” between the influencer and the brand is also critical. When an influencer can credibly communicate their brand association, it means far better results. You’ll struggle to drive any performance from an influencer relationship that can’t organically talk about, use, or recommend your brand. 

Align your influencer selections to business objectives

Influencers come in all shapes and sizes, with different passions, content strategies, and skill sets. Brands must identify the right influencers to achieve their specific goals and objectives. 

Many mega influencers (creators with followings >1M) are best suited to build awareness and brand discovery for advertisers. They may drive direct sales, especially for impulse and lifestyle-oriented categories, but much of their value often comes from top-of-funnel expansion. 

Other influencers may have smaller followings but be experts in a particular niche or product category. These thought leaders are effective in shaping category consideration and product evaluation processes. 

Focused further down the funnel are creators who are known for product recommendations. These influencers tend to have compact but loyal, lean-forward followings and a knack for cost-effectively driving sales.

Communicate, communicate, communicate!

Building relationships is essential for successful influencer marketing. Brands that get the best results invest time and resources in forging ongoing lines of communication with their creator partners. As ridiculous as it sounds, many influencers tell us they work with brands that don’t provide basic information about their goals. Creators can’t move the needle if they don’t know what the goals are. 

Further, brands should never treat influencers like buying billboard-style media placements. Instead, creators should be recognized as consultants who create immersive and memorable engagements. Brands should thoughtfully consider their suggestions throughout a program, especially in the concepting phase. 

Ongoing communication also helps build trust. When brand marketers listen and respond to influencer feedback, it shows that they are invested in building successful partnerships. 

Don’t be too prescriptive in telling them how to deliver messages

Just as important as communicating your goals is ensuring you are not dictatorial. Influencers have built audiences by creating content their audiences enjoy and find valuable. Their followers can quickly detect when content feels forced or inauthentic. 

Even demanding the use of specific formats or platforms can limit program performance. Social media trends move faster than most brands can. Influencers constantly take the social pulse and are excellent at devising the ideal format for persuasion. 

Test and learn to identify the best creators for driving sales performance for your brand.

Long-term influencer partnerships help establish a deeper level of trust, mutual understanding, and shared success. When influencers feel that a brand is invested in a long-term relationship, they are more likely to produce resonant content. 

That said, you need to invest your time and money in influencers that can move the sales needle. One approach I have had great success with is identifying a broad list of creators and having them develop a few executions you can monitor for top-, middle-, and bottom-of-funnel performance. While an influencer’s audience may take a little time to thoroughly “warm up” to a brand, it’s often easy to judge which creators will perform best long-term with a testing methodology like this.

By identifying the influencers with the greatest promise, you can cultivate larger, long-term relationships that give your creator partners more time to develop ideas that align with their content and audience. This kind of sync creates a remarkable impact. Long-term influencer partnerships help brands build high-quality awareness, intent, and loyalty.

Align measurement and compensation to goals

As affiliate marketers, we usually focus on lead gen and direct sales. When working with influencers/creators, align measurement and compensation with business goals to ensure the desired outcomes. 

Few influencers are willing to work on a 100% performance basis. Conversely, most affiliate marketers prefer to avoid 100% pay-per-post revenue agreements. We’re excited by the growing number of influencers willing to accept hybrid commercial contracts that provide some foundational pay-per-post fee plus upside based on sales. Growing numbers of nano-, micro-, and mid-tier influencers welcome these agreements. 

There are still many influencers who won’t touch deals that include a performance component. They may play a role in your program but be mindful of their performance versus cost. Their expertise might be better suited to another aspect of your go-to-market program.

Ask your influencers who else to work with

Many influencers have suggestions for other creators that may deliver significant value to your brand. The more you work together, the better they understand your brand and who can help you hit your numbers.

At CJ, we believe in leveraging influencer referrals to scale a brand effort. We recently acquired the influencer platform Perlu which offers its creators a unique environment to communicate and collaborate with other creators, better meet audience needs, and earn more money. Your best creator partners can be a valuable source of additional partners that can help amplify your message. That makes them a valuable addition to some of the more traditional methods of selecting influencers

Conclusion

Your best approach to the influencer segment depends on your brand goals, category, target audience, and other considerations. Succeeding in affiliate requires innovative strategies, excellent program management, and the tech tools to facilitate recruitment, program management, and optimization. 

At CJ, we’ve been active in the influencer space for over a decade. To meet the specific needs of influencer campaigns, we created a robust influencer marketing suite in our platform. Our clients benefit from internal strategic and tech resources, great new tech from our newly acquired Perlu influencer platform, and additional tools and off-network creator access from our strategic partner, Creator IQ

We can give you access to high-performing influencers eager to work with you. Our experts would love to speak with you. We can discuss how brands in your category succeed in the influencer arena and how you can achieve your targets in this burgeoning marketing sector. Get in touch with us for more information. 

About the Author

Kristina is an Influencer Marketing Manager at CJ, specializing in driving brand growth with measurable creator campaigns. Her PR and content production background, combined with her passion for data, allow her to develop campaigns that balance creative and analytical objectives. Because she is an accomplished photographer, she understands the industry from a creator’s perspective and strives to achieve mutually beneficial partnerships between brands and creators. She is well known for her talent to identify creators that allow brands to tap into existing online subcultures that align with their brand message.  

 

CJ 

Founded in Santa Barbara, California in 1998, CJ (formerly Commission Junction) continues to lead the industry as the largest, most trusted name in global performance marketing, specializing in affiliate marketing technology and services. CJ is the platform of choice for driving profitable growth for over 3,800 global brands around the world across all verticals, including retail, travel, finance, and network & home services, and its technology powers a partnership ecosystem where over 167K publishers and brands engage billions of consumers worldwide. As part of Publicis Groupe, aligned with Publicis Media, CJ leverages unparalleled data, technology, and strategic expertise to bring a truly customer-centric approach to performance marketing. 

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