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HomePodcastGen3 Marketing Logo - Light Blue Background By Gen3 Marketing Posted on Oct 10, 2023

Actionable Insights – October 10, 2023

Episode Eight: The Intersection of Influencer and Affiliate


Kerry Curran Hello, welcome to Actionable Insights, Gen3 Marketing’s podcast bringing you insights and information that will help you with your performance marketing and affiliate programs. Today we welcome Todd Crawford. He’s one of the co-founders of Impact.com and we’re going to talk about the intersection between influencer marketing and affiliate marketing. So welcome, Todd. So, tell us a bit about yourself and why anyone should listen to you today. Todd Crawford Thanks for having me on, Kerry. I’m excited to talk about this stuff. I love it. And so, this is going to be fun. Yeah, my name is Todd Crawford. I’m one of the co-founders and vice president of strategic initiatives at impact.com. I’ve been in the industry since 1998 when I was part of the team that founded Commission Junction, which I think now is called CJ Affiliate. And I’ve spent my entire career working on the technology side, so working at a network or SaaS company. And I’ve been fortunate enough to see how brands and agencies and publishers all work together and how they’ve evolved over the years. So, I think I have a really good perspective, not just in the US, but globally on how the market has shifted and evolved over the years. So, I guess that’s my credibility. Kerry Curran Lots of credibility. I know you’ve been in the industry for a long time, but when you meet people who aren’t familiar with our industry, how do you explain to them what you do? Todd Crawford Yeah, I mean, to explain affiliate marketing, the easiest way, as I usually tell people, you’re a passionate reader of books and you’ve got a blog where you review every book, you read. And as a convenience to those readers, you put a link to the book so that they can click on it and buy it if they want. And those links can, if the consumer does click on them and buy them, buy the book will earn you a commission as a percent of sale and we provide the infrastructure that allows the bookseller and you to work together and get paid. So, that’s my easy way. The simple thing I say is I click around on the internet. Kerry Curran I like that comparison though. I think that’s very relatable and that makes a lot of sense. So, one of my other questions for you, for us to all get to know you a bit more is if you were to create a sandwich, what would it be and where would you distribute or sell it? Todd Crawford Well, I think I would, I’m a big fan of rye bread. And so, I think that would be a, I would carve out a niche of only sandwiches that are made with rye bread. And so, it could be any kind of sandwich, but it would only be on rye bread. And then, yeah, I mean, obviously I’m not gonna sell them online. So, I would probably want to be near a college or university. Kids are hungry and sandwiches are right up there with pizza, I hope. Kerry Curran Yeah, definitely. And I think I hear I think rye is a bit of an under-appreciated bread flavor. So, I like that. So, getting back into the industry, obviously you’ve seen a ton of evolution and changes. What are some of the more recent changes that you’ve seen that have kind of impacted the way you look at the industry? Todd Crawford Yeah, I think, maybe, I don’t know how many years it’s been now, maybe eight years ago, influencer really came on, with a bang. There were influencer conferences, and everybody was talking about influencers. And I remember when that happened, a lot of my colleagues in the affiliate space kind of raised their hand and went, this is nothing new, we’ve been working with influencers forever. But I think what was new and different were the platforms, these social media platforms were a little bit different, short form, maybe not as easy to put tracking links in them like you were getting on blogs and YouTube, which is kind of where the influencers were in the affiliate mind. So, the TikTok’s and the Instagrams of the world kind of changed that and brands really embrace it as a new thing. And it was more of a branding marketing spend. So, you spend a lot of money for posts, and you measured what are known as social signals, likes, shares, number of followers, things like that, and not so much the revenue. And I think what I’m really excited about is recently, we’re seeing more and more performance-based partnerships or hybrid, what we call post plus, so post, pay per post plus a revenue share. And a lot of that falls I think easily under the affiliate umbrella or partnerships umbrella, because it’s a very similar mechanic. You find and recruit and engage these creators and you pay them either solely on a revenue share or post plus. That’s really exciting for brands because they’re getting more measurable partnerships. But for the creators themselves, it’s a pretty big deal too, because only getting paid per post is kind of a grind because you’ve got to constantly look for and get it approved into campaigns. And that revenue window is very short. It’s a few days where you’re getting paid to do a series of posts, and then you got to move on to the next. Whereas if you’re getting revenue share, you’ve got kind of this constant; you can build up this like almost like an annuity, a constant stream of revenue that you’re getting from content you already produced. And then the posts are kind of pay-per posts are more of a bonus or something extra. Kerry Curran Yeah, definitely. And I love that you brought that up because it’s been for sure an evolving channel, something else for marketers and brand advertisers to think about when they’re planning their media mix. And we were talking about how Influencers was the rage at Cannes last June. But you’re so right. It’s the opportunity to integrate with what affiliates and affiliate marketers have been doing for years is huge. It turns it from a, upper funnel only into a full funnel strategy. When we did our original research paper in August, we actually found that influencers were the number two, a very close number two to just social in general source of inspiration for purchases. And so, that ties to… the importance of building it into your full funnel strategy. And we found too is that consumers were visiting the social content and connecting with influencers on a daily basis and finding that’s where they were looking for not just inspiration but ways to purchase and creating that influencer link, as you point out, makes it so much easier for… the creators to turn it into a real revenue driver for themselves. So, obviously, with Impact having the innovative mindset here, you’ve expanded you’re offering to include really a first to market influencer affiliate integrated platform. So, talk about why this expansion was so important for your customers and for brand advertisers and how this kind of…brings the opportunity really into the affiliate space. Todd Crawford Yeah, well, the solution is impact.com/creator and coincidentally, you can go to that URL and actually read more, but that’s what we call the product as well. And I think there’s a kind of a separation occurring in the creator influencer space in that, we talked about how originally it was seen as kind of a branding. And so, there’s kind of this… PR component and then this performance component. And the PR component is typically working with your large macro type influencers that are most likely not gonna work on anything but a pay-per post. It’s typically very expensive, but tons of reach and works well for awareness and branding. And then there’s the rest. And the rest are those kind of mid and long tail, macro. I mean, micro type creators that definitely would aspire to be paid thousands and thousands of dollars per post, but really don’t have the followers or the credibility to get there. So, it gives them an opportunity to start earning money very similar to how affiliate was in their early days. It gave entrepreneurs a way to build a business, create a revenue stream right away, and then evolve, and grow it potentially beyond that to get more of the branding type dollars. So, we saw this creator opportunity is really seeing our brands wanting to work more with creators. And there’s kind of two ways that you work with creators. Treat them like affiliates. Hey, if you go and get into my affiliate program, you can find links on your own and post them and make a commission. You see this on YouTube a lot. People doing camera reviews and computer reviews and pretty much any kind of review, kitchen knives and things like that. They’re, they’re able to put links to those products in the description and inform the viewers that you’re going to help sponsor my channel by buying through my links because I want a commission. That’s easy to do through affiliate. What’s hard to do through affiliate are these more campaign baits where you have a product launch or seasonality. Some other type of event where you need to create a brief of, exactly what you want the creators to do. Number of posts, types of posts. You want to ask for creative rights so that you can repurpose it, for a certain period of time, either on your own site or in your own social media channels, all these things that need to be kind of designed into the campaign through a brief, then you need to either recruit or accept a certain number of creators and have your deadlines, your timelines all in there. You want to review and approve the posts before they go live to make sure they’re aligned correctly, and everything looks right. And that’s all done through workflows that are outside of what you’d find in an affiliate platform. So, we had acquired a company called Activate, which was a SaaS platform for brands and talent agencies and creators to work together. And we rebuilt all of that technology into the impact.com platform. So, it really helps brands have two opportunities. One is that always on, which is unique from an influencer perspective, most, well, all influencer platforms are campaign-based. So, you create a campaign, and you get everybody on board and then you launch it and then it ends. And having an always on is pretty exciting because as a brand, I can kind of, I can easily see the creators that are doing well in an always on capacity and recruit them into certain campaigns. And likewise, when I have creators that are doing well in a campaign, I can encourage them to be an always on. So, it creates a lot more revenue opportunities. And again, the workflows are unique. So, it’s important to have that capability if you’re gonna really work with creators. And then of course, the demand on the brand side to work with creators, we heard that, so we wanted to bring that to market, and it’s been doing great so far. It’s maybe a few months old, six months old. Kerry Curran That’s great. And so, do you see an ability to better connect the revenue to the influencer programs with that connection into the affiliate platform? Todd Crawford Yeah, I mean, some brands, are solely running, the PR type and most of those platforms, those creator platforms don’t have the ability to track sales they’re really tracking again, like the social signals and the likes, the shares and comments and things like that. So, it’s not, designed to pay-for performance. So, our platform is, and so even if you are running these PR type campaigns, if they can put links into the content, we can still track the revenue. And if you’re running more of an always on, and these posts are going into social media platforms, we can also track the social signals along with the revenue. So, even if you are only paying for revenue, it’s nice to have those social signals because it can kind of justify maybe that edge case where the return on ad spend wasn’t exactly where you wanted it to be because you had maybe a hybrid pay-per post plus, a revenue share or you’re only doing pay-per posts, but you can see the revenue driven, you can better justify the investment and the continued participation with the partners and you can inform the partners better… Hey, here’s what’s working, here’s what’s not. Kerry Curran No, and I think that, to your point, that really brings the additional value of running your influencer strategies alongside or integrated with your affiliate strategies, right? As we were saying, it turns it from just an awareness or social signal only KPI to something that really you can tie to your bottom line. And I think too, the other thing I find so appealing that you talked about is really those micro-influencers, from what we’ve seen, those are the ones that can drive a lot of sales and drive a lot of revenue, especially for maybe an emerging brand or a DTC brand. I always think of my own focus group of one. I spend way too much money or a lot of money with one, social influencer that has been using affiliate links for years. A shout out to Claire’s Closet Finds. But it’s, again, as the consumer and the social lurker, sometimes it’s like, oh, yeah, I could use a new vacuum and look, it’s 40% off. But other times you’re like, oh, good, like time to stock up on like the pants that my son likes to wear, they’re on sale. It is the perfect, in my experience, it’s influencing a lot of my purchases a lot more than other media, but it’s also the perfect example of relationships and building brands, relationships with the people, with your followers, with the creators as well. I think you talked a lot about it being a people-to-people business. Do you want to expand on more kind of the relationship building? And your quote about keywords. Todd Crawford Yeah, it’s interesting because there’s actually, two sides to this relationship. You’re talking about the relationship with the creator as a consumer. You trust them. It’s a very authentic. They know what they like and what they don’t like and probably aligns with your interests. So, you, you do follow them, and you take their advice. And then as a marketer, right, we’re working with affiliates and creators. It’s a relationship. It’s not, there’s no machine that we’re both interacting with, when you, when you buy keywords through Google, let’s say, or you’re managing your ads through Facebook, and you decide to not buy a keyword that it’s not performing with the return on ad spend that you want. That keyword doesn’t get his feelings hurt. My quote is that keywords don’t have feelings. Buying or not buying keyword is irrelevant to these, walled gardens or machines that you’re typically interacting with. They’re, coin operated. You put money in, and you expect money out. And if that doesn’t work, you stop that strategy and move on to another. And with creators and affiliates and other types of performance-based partnerships, you do have a relationship with them. You’re talking about, what works for their audience, what’s worked well with other brands they’ve worked with. How can we leverage your creativity and your reach to get our goals met? And what are those goals? And you’re having conversations, whether it’s back and forth through Slack or text or email, those conversations, or phone, those conversations are having. And everybody wants it to work, right? I mean, Google wants it to work, but they’re realistic. The numbers make it work or don’t. And it’s true with… with partnerships, there’s some partnerships that just don’t seem to work. But that’s not fun for everyone. It’s, we tired, and it didn’t work, and we tried it again and it still didn’t work, so we’re going to not work together for a while. So yeah, I love that part of it. Kerry Curran And there’s still the optimization factor, right? You see the influencers that are, as you we’re saying, the ones that are driving sales of your products, the one whose content and what you’re trying to get them to promote for you as the brand, there is a connection and it’s working. And so, you can kind of easily test into and expand on that influencer mix just like other performance media. Another way it’s intersecting with affiliate is that, in media buying, it’s really the creative, whether it’s the ad or the video ad or creative image, it’s coming from the brand, right? And what works so well with creators is when there’s more trust that the creator is creating the content. They’re messaging to their audience the way they know resonates with their audience while promoting your product. Where I’ve seen that shift, it’s hard for brands to give up full control of what the creative is going to look like or what the messaging is going to be, but where we’ve seen the most success, and I think this is similar to affiliates working with publishers. You give the publishers the brand guidelines. You give the… the details that need to be included in the offer or why this product should be on the top 10 list or included in the reviews, but then you let the creator or the writer or the editor create. I think that’s a very seamless transition from affiliate best practices and strategies to influencers. The most successful influencers are the ones, the creators that, again, you give the parameters, so they are within your branding, but you let them create, you let them do what they do best. And to your point, we then can see the measurement of is this working? Is this lining with the brand? And if not, we can shift and we can pivot. Yeah, I think that’s the difference between like an affiliate relationship type of team and a PR team. PR, they want it on brand. They want the message to be exactly what they think it is. And it’s hard for them to break out of that. That’s just how they operate. So, whether you’re going to write something in the press about our brand, we want to influence that as much to align what you’re saying about us to be how we would say it versus working with creators and affiliates, you want that authenticity to come through. You don’t want the brand’s voice in their mouth because then it doesn’t sound like that creator and their followers recognize it. And so, it’s a fine line to being able to release that control and it’s still a good message. It still resonates actually more with those followers. It can be hard. Like I said, the PR team has thought it, it’s just in their nature. They don’t like to let go. Kerry Curran And it’s just, what we’re trying to do is get the brand teams and the CMOs to think about it differently, right We’re not saying that approach is wrong. We’re just saying we have this more full funnel awareness all the way to sales driving way to activate the same medium. We’ve talked about this of kind of getting the decision-makers and the budget holders. How else do you think we can get their attention and educate them on the opportunity to test into and considering shifting their influencer to be more aligned with their affiliate program? Todd Crawford Well, I think revenue is king, right? If you can show them how this can measure and drive revenue and a controlled return on ad spend, I mean, if you work with an affiliate and you pay them 10% commission, your return on ad spend is already determined. It’s not an outcome. Like if you buy ads on a CPM, pay per post or CPC basis, the return on ad spend is kind of hopeful and comes close to what your target is, but it could be on either side of it. I think the good news is, is that affiliate and partnerships has matured enough and become significant enough of a channel that the C-suite is very, very aware of how it works. And it has become diversified enough with content and coupon and deal and loyalty, brand to brand and other types of partnerships outside of what affiliate was kind of always known for. Having a conversation internally doesn’t mean you’re making decisions. It’s let’s talk about where creators can sit, what are creators in our mind, how do they work? There’s this, like I said, the separation PR and performance. Is this something that we want to do? And I’ve not talked to anyone at any brand at any level that doesn’t want an Always On, partnerships with creators and wants to better measure the revenue from all creators So, it’s more about internal politics a lot of times because some team already is doing it and owning it and they’ve been doing it their way, which is not necessarily wrong. It’s just, there’s more ways to do it. And you have this expertise, what I call center of excellence with the partnerships team already that’s been running affiliate. And so why not leverage some of that? Kerry Curran No, I agree. I think that, as you’d mentioned before, you need the smart team to kind of help communicate where the channel is today and help that internal team kind of mature along and up level along with them. Because there are too many that still think that affiliate is just about the coupons and the bottom of the funnel opportunity. So, hopefully we’ll get there. As you said, we’re getting more and more, of the leadership and C-suite to understand the importance and more we’re looking at revenue. So, again with that, as we were talking about the PR teams with the affiliate teams, how can we help the affiliate teams’ kind of reach across the aisle and kind of integrate or with their PR programs or, we often talk to clients and about our, how we’re expanding our influencer capabilities to align with our publisher outreach strategies. And they’re like, OK, well, that actually sits with a different team. So, what’s your recommendation for how we can help our affiliate marketers kind of get the PR team on board? Todd Crawford Yeah, and sometimes there isn’t a PR team, sometimes it is an influencer team and they’re either an agency or internal. And so, in all those cases, I think some companies are surprised that there’s overlap and they don’t know. So, the affiliate team could be paying a partner, and the PR team could be working with that partner and paying them. And they don’t, aren’t aware that they’re both working with some of the same partners, but in some cases there’s gaps. And so, look, we’ve got this covered with the PR team. We think that’s amazing. But they’re not focused on this, and they’re not focused on that. So, how do we take advantage of that? We don’t want to leave opportunities on the table. We want to pick them up and run with them. So, just having a conversation like what’s working. How can we better measure or track what, what maybe that’s perfect for up here, but what about over here? And who should be running that? And it’s really more about what’s best for the business. And, where are the strengths and weaknesses in either the tech stack or the teams? And, having a team want to own something doesn’t mean that they necessarily should, or that they can handle that with the current tech stack, and they really can’t. So, it’s really just about, like I said, internally, having this kind of discussion about, are we missing opportunities? What should we be thinking about? And then starting to kind of move forward. And I definitely see, this kind of cooperation or consolidation between, the influencer and the affiliate teams, because it’s getting to be more and more overlap. And then, with a solution like the impact.com/creator, it’s something that starts to make more sense to have not necessarily one team take it over, but a combined team running it, using the same tools. Because again, you can run these campaigns and measure them with the same, reporting suite that you’re measuring affiliate and the always on. You get better, richer data and there’s no like, well, our data says this, and our data says that, which just causes more internal conflict. Kerry Curran Yeah, no, that makes a lot of sense and hopefully we’ll be getting closer to that crossing the aisle and partnership. But as you said, just because they want to manage it doesn’t mean they should be. Todd Crawford But look, there are early adopters… that are doing this today and there are companies that are saying that’s not right for us. That doesn’t mean that they won’t be doing it in a year or two. It’s just today, it’s not where they are or where they can go or where they wanna go. So, that’s fine. It’s been like that forever, right? So, I think it’ll get there for most companies. Kerry Curran We will. I’m very optimistic. So, we always ask our speakers to leave the audience with an actionable insight that they can take and apply to their programs today. So, what do you recommend in regard to the influencer and affiliate intersection and what brands could do today? Todd Crawford Well, like I said, when I speak to brands, especially with the teams that are currently managing influencers, whether it’s PR or more of the influencer team or the affiliate team that’s like excited about influencer as well, this concept of an always on influencer campaign really does not exist where most influencer teams sit. And as soon as you explain what it is, they’re like, oh my God, this would be amazing. This is exciting. So, they, get excited about that. So, I guess, I would say if you don’t have an always on campaign, which I would bet is over 98% of everyone listening. It’s something that you should start thinking about because again, it creates this complete undercurrent of always on revenue for you and the creators. And it gives you a chance to find those diamonds in the rough and say, we’ve got some creators that are doing well in the always on bucket. And we want to, now we’re getting ready to launch a campaign. They would be perfect for this. Whereas before your kind of recruiting based on their profiles and their demographics and things like that, which is fine. Or maybe you’ve worked with them before, and so, you wanna work with them again. But this again gives you an opportunity to kind of farm up these creators. Kerry Curran Yeah, well thank you, Todd. Hopefully we have a number of people going back to their desks and thinking about how to better integrate and explore the opportunities with more full funnel and measurable influencer strategies. So, thank you. We appreciate your time today and we look forward to speaking with you again soon. Todd Crawford Thanks for having me, I really enjoyed it.