The Future of Affiliate Marketing is Social: How Influencers are Boosting Revenues

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As consumers stop clicking and start “swiping up,” affiliate marketers are finding success with influencers.

With 38% of marketers citing affiliate marketing as one of their most effective customer acquisition methods, it’s no wonder that 81% of brands use the strategy. As one of the first cost-effective and measurable tactics available in the early days of eCommerce, affiliate marketing has given brands a way to collaborate with consumers and determine the impact of those relationships in terms of dollars for more than 15 years. But perhaps because of its longevity, affiliate marketing has also undergone some major recent shifts.

Where brands once focused heavily on clicks from eCommerce sites, they must now learn to incorporate social media. Shoppers are spending less time browsing eCommerce sites on laptops and more time shopping the looks of their favorite influencers in apps like Instagram. More often than not, these shoppers are on the go, double-tapping and swiping-up from their Uber or in line at the coffee shop.

Through our own collaborations, we have found the “swipe up” function on Instagram Stories to be particularly powerful in terms of boosting sales and strengthening brand loyalty. This trend alone has led to significant opportunities with influencer marketing. Led by brands such as MARKS & SPENCER, Macy’s, Kate Spade, J.Crew and Nordstrom Rack, Instagram Stories collaborations — available with influencers who have more than 10k followers — have made a significant impact on visibility and sales. In one example, a leading international retailer reported a 33% increase in product sales the day after an Instagram Story was posted with a swipe up to the brand’s eCommerce site. In another case, a global fashion brands sold out of inventory within 24 hours of posting a new collection through Stories.

But these new platforms aren’t the only way influencers are transforming affiliate marketing for the better. Influencers are also giving brands more creative control, allowing them to choose their publishers and add posting requirements. A historical downside of traditional affiliate marketing was that marketers didn’t always know who was representing their brands. Publishers used affiliate links without input or direction, and brands didn’t have control over the content or consumer experience. Incorporating influencers has given marketers a way to communicate important messaging, including calls-to-action, hashtags and social handles, while also gaining some transparency and control over who is attached to their products and services.

Marrying influencer marketing with affiliate marketing has also given brands a better way of predicting which influencers will perform best for their brand by offering more concrete metrics and greater transparency. Select influencer marketing platforms, such as our own, can now show Instagram Insights in addition to Google Analytics, which has fundamentally transformed the way brands can make decisions about which influencers to engage.

For a long time, brands could rely only on follower count to determine an influencer’s potential impact, which placed a significant emphasis on that metric. This led to influencers purchasing followers, and brands maxing out their budgets on influencers who might have had the right vanity metrics , but didn’t necessarily have the right reach. Instagram Insights show an influencer’s actual versus potential reach, their impressions over the last 7 or 28 days, audience demographics (including country, age and gender), and follower growth over time. Access to this level of data has allowed brands to more accurately predict influencer performance and ultimately measure their real return on investment.

Nordstrom Rack is a great recent example of a brand that has effectively modernized its affiliate marketing efforts with influencers. Utilizing our Shopping Links marketplace, the retailer was able to gift influencers at scale, allowing them to cost-effectively drive brand awareness, traffic and sales through a series of blog posts showcasing Nordstrom Rack’s products that reached more than 500,000 potential customers. Working with the team at Pepperjam, we were able to identify a number of influencers who met not only the traffic requirements but were the right fit in terms of audience and brand alignment – all within Nordstrom Rack’s affiliate marketing budget.

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