The Difference Between Influencer Marketing and Affiliate Marketing

As marketers and communicators, we have multiple goals. We are tasked with achieving:

  • Increased reach and audience growth
  • Increased engagement and mind share
  • Increased prospect and lead generation to fuel sales
  • Indirectly increased sales and revenue

No one tool or method achieves all these objectives well. We would be foolhardy to assume that such a silver bullet even existed. However, a fair number of marketers, seeking such a magic easy button, have recently turned to influencer marketing.

We’ve discussed recently how influencer marketing should be measured; an even more important question is, when should influencer marketing be incorporated into our marketing strategy? When shouldn’t it – and what are the alternatives?

Influencers and the Customer Journey

Consider the generic customer journey, from awareness to consideration to evaluation to loyalty, as diagrammed out by McKinsey & Company:


What do influencers bring to the table?

  • Influencers tend to have larger than average audiences
  • Influencers tend to have more engaged audiences

What don’t influencers bring?

  • Influencers tend not to spur direct sales, especially of higher cost items
  • Influencers tend not to change loyalty or sentiment of a customer post-purchase

Let’s map the benefits of influencers to the customer journey, as shown by the green highlight below:


Influencers excel at creating triggers and building the initial consideration set. Influencers have diminishing influence in the active evaluation stage; consumers supplement their product knowledge with channels such as word of mouth as well as organic and paid search.

Fixing a Sales Problem

Influencers, by contrast, are not sales personnel. Other than their own products, we don’t often see influential personalities directly selling the brands they represent.

Who does sell? If we seek to spur sales growth, influencers aren’t the right tool for the job. What we seek are affiliate marketers, people who directly sell to their audiences on a commission basis.

One of the most widely known affiliate sales programs is Amazon Associates; with Amazon Associates, any individual can earn between 1% and 15% commissions on the items they help to resell. Unlike influencers, affiliates typically don’t receive pay beyond the sales commission; thus, if they want to maximize their earnings, they must maximize their sales.

If we add our affiliate marketers to our customer journey, we see their effect in the yellow and blue boxes:


Affiliates help us to catch customers as they actively evaluate what product to buy and provide bountiful calls to action for the moment of purchase. We provide incentives to affiliates to create that moment of purchase.

Mixing and Mismatching

Where companies run into trouble is confusing the purpose of these two groups. Influencers aren’t great at sales, and many affiliates will not work to build awareness, because awareness doesn’t ring the cash register for them. We must select the right group of people to address the marketing and sales problems we have.

  • No awareness? Influencers can be a potent tactic to create triggers and awareness.
  • No active evaluation or point of purchase? Affiliates can help accelerate sales velocity.

Based on these characteristics, we also see which parts of our business should interact with each group.

  • Awareness, trust, and engagement are typically the domain of public relations; it’s wholly appropriate for the PR team or PR agency to manage influencers.
  • Lead generation, website clickthroughs, and transactions are typically the domain of marketing and sales. Marketing and sales should collaborate to manage an affiliate program.


Choose the right tactic for the right problem.

The old aphorism ‘measure twice, cut once’ implies that you know what you’re building. As important as measurement is, asking influencers to do the work of affiliates and vice versa will lead us to measure them for the wrong performance indicators, and our campaigns will suffer for it.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

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Posted on May 23, 2016 in Analytics, Influence, Marketing, Strategy

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About the Author

Christopher S. Penn is an authority on digital marketing and marketing technology. A recognized thought leader, author, and speaker, he has shaped three key fields in the marketing industry: Google Analytics adoption, data-driven marketing and PR, and email marketing. Known for his high-octane, here’s how to get it done approach, his expertise benefits companies such as Citrix Systems, McDonald’s, GoDaddy, McKesson, and many others. His latest work, Leading Innovation, teaches organizations how to implement and scale innovative practices to direct change. Christopher is a highly-sought keynote speaker thanks to his energetic, informative talks. In 2015, he delivered insightful, innovative talks on all aspects of marketing and analytics at over 30 events to critical acclaim. He is a founding member of IBM’s Watson Analytics Predictioneers, co-founder of the groundbreaking PodCamp Conference, and co-host of the Marketing Over Coffee marketing podcast. Christopher is a Google Analytics Certified Professional and a Google AdWords Certified Professional. He is the author of over two dozen marketing books including bestsellers such as Marketing White Belt: Basics for the Digital Marketer, Marketing Red Belt: Connecting With Your Creative Mind, and Marketing Blue Belt: From Data Zero to Marketing Hero.
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