If you’ve been racking your brain on how your influencer program can drive more sales, you’ve probably discussed (or even started) an affiliate program.
And for good reason! Affiliate influencer programs can be incredibly powerful and cost efficient — but doing them right takes some know-how.
In the article below, influencer marketing expert, Giovanna Rienzi, shares four tips for building a successful affiliate influencer program. Giovanna has a lot of experience working in the influencer marketing space, specifically in the beauty industry. She has worked with brands like philosophy and WELLA, and is currently contracting with multiple brands, including LULA, Tone Dermatology, Herbit+ual, and Rile.
What is an affiliate influencer program?
Before we dig into how to build a successful affiliate influencer program, let’s quickly define what we mean by affiliates. An affiliate is a person that gets a commission from a brand to promote products. These folks often promote products through select channels (like social media) with the use of specialized links or discount codes (to help with attribution).
For a brand, there are multiple benefits for working with affiliates. Not only does it provide the brand with “passive” income (the brand doesn’t have to create any content itself), if done right, it can be a remarkably cost efficient way to advertise (big emphasis on the “if done right”). On the affiliate side, the benefit is clear — you can make a profit from promoting products to your friends, family, or followers.
While anyone could technically be an affiliate (even a regular consumer), more and more brands are finding that influencers are the best choice for this kind of partnership. Why? A recent study found that 70% of consumers in the US are more likely to buy a product from a brand if they work with an influencer they know and trust. The power of influencers comes from their ability to straddle the worlds between friend and celebrity. While there is a sense of familiarity and trust that influencers build with their followers, they also have much broader reach than the average consumer!
Tip: If you’re already deep in your planning and execution phase, here is an article that tells you all about how to find influencers for your affiliate program.
4 Tips for Creating an Affiliate Influencer Program from Giovanna Rienzi
Set clear and tangible affiliate influencer program goals
“Just like any other type of marketing program, you must have a set of clearly defined goals for your affiliate influencer program. Is your goal to increase your number of net new customers? Or do you want to increase customer retention? Everything — from the partners you choose, to your incentive structure — relies on you having concrete and prioritized goals.” — Giovanna Rienzi, influencer marketing expert
According to Rienzi, affiliate influencer program goals often center around sales. However, there are still a wide variety of sales goals that you can choose, and it’s important to be as specific as possible. For example, Rienzi set a goal around purchases from new customers for her client, LULA Beauty, because one of the indie brand’s business goals was to expand its customer base (as opposed to focusing on retention).
Some other possible influencer affiliate program goals include:
- Drive X% increase in sales with new customers
- Drive X% increase in sales with returning customers
- Drive X% increase in sales of a specific product
- Drive X% increase in email sign ups
- Drive X% increase in awareness (measured with growth of social following, engagements, video views, etc)
- Drive X% increase in email subscribers
If you are setting a goal around sales, Rienzi advises that you check in with the person who is setting the broader sales and marketing goals and that may vary depending on the size of your company. At a small company this might be the founder/CEO, and at a large company this might be a VP, CMO or even CRO.
Last piece of advice for goal setting? Take a step back and do a reality check. Affiliate influencer programs are exciting, so it can be easy to get carried away with dreaming big. Even if you already have a great influencer product seeding or sponsored content program in place, it will still take time for your affiliate influencer program to ramp up. You are entering into new territory, and there will be new processes and challenges to solve! Rienzi recommends that you take a close look at your resources (specifically your team) before you lock in your goals. For context, at mid and enterprise size brands there is typically a whole team of people dedicated to handling the affiliate influencer program. More on this later!
Tip: Find goal setting tough? Here’s an article about how to create tangible goals and KPIs for your entire influencer program.
Tailor your incentives for each influencer affiliate
“Different incentives are key for a successful affiliate program. Remember that there are many different ways to slice and dice commissions, and not all of them will be cost effective for your brand. For example, are you willing to pay a higher percentage for new customers vs returning customers? How about paying more for them to drive sales to high value products?” — Giovanna Rienzi, influencer marketing expert
According to Rienzi, many brands lose money on their affiliate influencer programs because they don’t properly define their incentive structures. This is an especially big problem when brands provide a sizable commission for both new and returning customers. That type of loose programming can add up quickly and start affecting the cost efficiency of your program!
At the end of the day, commission structures need to make sense for your brand and product types. What works for a beauty brand with products under $20 will be different from what works for a consumer electronics brand that sells products that cost thousands of dollars. Always start by doing the math, and making sure your commission structures will give you enough margin to positively affect your bottom line.
Here are some examples of different affiliate influencer program incentives (some can even be used simultaneously):
- Influencer earns X% commission on a sale to a new customer (typically 10-15%)
- Influencer earns X% commission on a sale to a returning customer (typically around 2%)
- Influencer earns X% commission on sales of a specific product
- Influencer earns X% commission on sales from a specific customer type (good for expanding customer categories)
- Influencer earns X dollars on their first ever sale, and then X% on every following sale (for example, $200 on first, then 2-5%)
- First X sales of a new product gets X% commission (this can be higher and doesn’t have to be the same incentive they were getting before)
You could also consider tailoring your incentives for different influencer types. For example, some brands will give different commission percentages to different tiers of influencers (based on follower count). However, if you wanted to take a performance-driven mindset you could also consider offering different commission percentages based on metrics like engagement rates and video view rates (i.e. an influencer who has X% average engagement rate starts at an X% commission rate).
The most important part of defining your incentive structure? Make sure you talk to your influencer partners. Ask them what they want, and listen to their feedback. Sometimes they may bring up points that you and your team hadn’t thought about. For example, some influencers may care less about a specific commission, and more about what value they can provide to their communities.
“I gravitate towards affiliate programs that allow me the freedom to speak about the product as organically and authentically as it fits into my content strategy, without penalty or expectation (if there is no fixed compensation involved.) A commission is great, but I really prefer the affiliate agreement to provide a clear benefit to my community, such as some sort of discount or perk that comes with using my link or code.” — Katrisha Rose (@katrisharose), beauty and wellness influencer and creator
Tip: Feeling good about your incentive structure but getting some pushback? We have advice on how to respectfully negotiate fair pay for your influencer program.
Create a pipeline for your influencer affiliate network
“The best way to build a successful affiliate influencer program is slowly and consistently. Trying to ‘rush growth’ by immediately bringing on a large network of partners is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. Take your time and make sure you truly understand what’s working, and what needs improvement.” — Giovanna Rienzi, influencer marketing expert
Once you understand how cost effective an affiliate influencer program can be, it can be tempting to go all in. However, Rienzi advises that you start slow and build your network with care. Not only can finding the right partners take time, onboarding a bunch of partners at once can quickly get out of hand. Many brands tend to overcommit themselves and require assistance to rectify their unmanageable operations.
Some of Rienzi’s tips for building a strong, successful pipeline of partners for your affiliate influencer program:
Start with influencers who are already in your network. Are there influencers that you have sent free products to who posted and saw great engagement from their audiences? Even better, did you see a spike in sales or website visits after they posted about you?
Use data to find top influencers. Make sure you evaluate the performance metrics that are typically important like engagement and video view rate, but also look at qualitative things like the type of comments they receive. Check out their audience — of their followers, how many are bot accounts? Are they in the right geographic area to buy your products? Check out this article to learn more about how to find top influencers for your affiliate influencer program.
Start on a trial basis. Similar to how regular jobs sometimes have a “contract to hire” clause, consider having a trial period for each new affiliate that you bring on. If they haven’t driven any sales or KPI in 3 months, is it worth keeping them on?
Have a way to passively collect inbound inquiries. Sometimes the best people come to you, which is why it’s important to make sure you have a place to capture inbound interest. As an influencer marketer, you’re probably used to the hellscape that is managing and replying to DMs. Instead, add a link to your social media bios and on your website that let’s folks know you’re looking for affiliates with a signup link. Traackr’s Studios feature is perfect for this because it gives you a branded landing page, consolidates all your applicants, and gives you a way to provide briefs, products, and other things to your partners.
Have a backup plan. One of the most difficult things about influencer marketing (and affiliates are no exception) is knowing when and how to pull back from a partnership. If you find that a partner is not helping you reach the main goal of your affiliate program (e.g. sales), consider moving them back into your broader network. For example, Rienzi will often “offboard” an influencer from the affiliate program but still keep them on product gifting/PR lists.
Maintain a continuous feedback loop. The single most important part to having a successful pipeline and network of affiliate influencers? Keep checking in. Keep checking to make sure that they are performing well for your brand, keep checking to make sure they’re happy with the partnership and your products, keep checking to make sure that their incentive structures make sense. Affiliate influencer programs are not meant to be a “set it and forget it” strategy — they require nurturing and will continually grow and evolve over time!
Prioritize organization and a performance-driven mindset
“Affiliate influencer programs require a lot of organization, management, and optimization. Mid and enterprise sized brands typically have a whole team dedicated to the care of this kind of program, so really think through your team resourcing. Do they have the bandwidth and tools to do what you’re asking of them? Teams that are well resourced have a better shot at being performance-driven.” — Giovanna Rienzi, influencer marketing expert
While the resources available to you depends on the size of your company, Rienzi recommends that you have at least 1-2 folks dedicated to the management of your affiliate influencer program. Not only are there a lot of logistics and administrative work that take place behind the scenes, a good program requires continuous tinkering and optimization. Here are some of the things that will help you have a successful and performance-driven affiliate influencer program:
Have a central place for processes and information. Nothing is more frustrating or wasteful than a team that’s disorganized and out of touch. This is why it’s important to have one system of record for your processes, key messages, and interactions with your partners. If a new teammate comes on, would they be able to easily understand your strategy and find what they need? This type of organization can be done manually (e.g. spreadsheet and google folders) but it is much easier if you have an influencer marketing platform like Traackr.
Regularly track and reassess success. Setting and forgetting your affiliate influencer program can be a very expensive mistake. You should have a system in place for easily gathering and analyzing performance metrics. Pay attention to what kinds of sales your affiliates are helping drive (new, recurring, product specific)? Pay attention to who is proving successful, and see if there are any thematic insights you can derive. (For example, sometimes the most successful partners are not the ones with the most clout/the ones you thought would do well). If an influencer isn’t driving sales, investigate whether they are good at driving awareness or consideration. All of this data should lead you to a regular reassessment of your affiliate roster and strategy (Rienzi recommends at least once a month or quarter).
Set benchmarks based on past performance. A true performance-driven affiliate influencer marketing is based on an active, iterative feedback loop. You run campaigns, see what works, double down, and repeat. A key strategy for honing this feedback loop is defining benchmarks of success! Once you’ve been running your program for a while, ask yourself: is there a conversion rate that is considered “good enough” to maintain someone as an affiliate? In her experience, Rienzi has found that this type of benchmark depends on the type of brand and company size, but the average affiliate conversion rate normally hovers around 1-5%. And, this rate can change per channel. For niche websites you may see a 0.5%-1% conversion rate, for email marketing you might see a 2% conversion rate, and for social platforms like YouTube, you might see 2-5%. The conversion rates may increase slightly for partners who have high-quality and engaging content; however, this can vary depending on the individual partner.