What does a 1950s Tupperware container have to do with influencer marketing in the digital age? More than you might think. Amaury Treguer explores the new era of Return on Influence.
Inventor Earl Tupper was onto something in 1951 when he started selling his products exclusively through party plans. Hosts invited family and friends to their homes, demonstrated products, took orders – and got a gift and a share of the sales.
The king of kitchen containers was leveraging the combined power of what we know seven decades later as affiliate and influencer marketing.
The start of influencer marketing is before you think it is
Influencer marketing isn’t new. Gladiators were celebrity influencers in Ancient Rome, endorsing everything from oils and wines to tunics, long before anyone heard the word ‘Kardashian’.
What is new however are the opportunities as we enter the next stage in the evolution of influencer marketing.
Unlike Lord Tupper, brands in our digital-first world tend to treat affiliate and influencer marketing as mostly separate programs. But the real power of the pair can be unleashed when you bring elements of both together.
Affiliate marketing is big. Investment in it in the US alone hit US$9.1bn in 2021 and drove US$71bn in e-commerce contributions. Half of Australia’s advertisers and agencies (57 percent) increased their spend on affiliate and partnership marketing last year – and one in five are getting more than 15 percent of online revenue from it.
Affiliate marketing in influencer programs is not so big. It’s under-utilised by most brands.
Why? Because they aren’t using incentives as a carrot for influencers to sell. The focus is on driving engagement and awareness, not sales.
The vast majority still use a ‘pay to post’ model where the influencer collects their fee, no matter how their content performs.
Affiliate thinking to drive influencer selling
As influencer marketing matures, brands should be thinking about following Tupper’s lead and creating deeper connections with influencers by giving them a portion of the sales they generate.
The timing is right. Influencers are looking for more from their partnerships and expanding their role as creators beyond one-off content plays.
Applying affiliate thinking to influencer selling would reward those creators for the sales value they deliver (and incentivise them to keep doing it).
The new ROI – return on influence
Everyone wins. Influencers earn a commission from sales they generate when followers shop directly from their posts. Brands gain sales, new customers and can track and measure their ROI – return on influence. It’s what marketers want. IAB Australia’s 2023 review found advertisers rated ROI the most important success metric in affiliate marketing, brand awareness the least.
The era of the customer influencer
As the circle of influence evolves, the opportunities are two-fold. One is in leveraging an affiliate marketing model to drive incentivised, attributable sales by influencers.
The other is in broadening the spectrum of who those influencers are and how you engage with them. And that should include your OG fan base – your current customers.
We know you don’t need to be a big celebrity, social media name or have a huge number of followers to be an influencer anymore. Driving sales or bookings is what matters. Micro influencers can be powerful – those with less than 20,000 followers consistently achieve higher engagement rates than those with more.
Trust, transparency and authenticity
Your day-to-day consumer advocates give you something most big names can’t. Authenticity. They use your products. Their recommendations are genuine and credible.
Consumers know celebrity and top tier influencers aren’t always users of products they’re promoting (or weren’t until they were paid to use them).
The voice of fellow consumers is heard above all others. Recommendations from people we know, and reviews are the most trusted source of product information. And people will trust a brand that comes with a recommendation (even from strangers online) over one without an endorsement any day of the week.
You can leverage your customer advocates to deliver those recommendations by building an affiliate program. Offer discounts and rewards for the user generated content (UGC) they create, for documenting their experience with your brand, and for the sales they might generate.
It works. People want to see content from people they relate to and they buy into it. Marketers that embrace word of mouth marketing and social media to source UGC drive 29 percent higher web conversions over campaigns or websites that don’t.
You can’t measure what you don’t track
To measure program effectiveness and reward influencers for sales they generate, you need to know how much they’re selling.
Yet a surprising number of brands don’t put tracking in place to measure that. While many still measure influencer effectiveness on reach and views, you can directly attribute sales and calculate the ROI an influencer delivers using promo codes, tracking links or whitelisted ad analytics.
P&O Cruises Australia does it well. When an influencer goes on a cruise, the partnership is set up in such a way that engagement and activity generated from the influencer’s content is tracked, subsequent P&O sales are attributed correctly, and ROI calculated.
Other tools are facilitating the evolution of influence on a bigger scale. Brand advocacy platform duel.tech powers social commerce and helps brands measure, manage, reward and scale their communities of advocates. Partnership automation platform, impact.com, offers a partner discovery marketplace, as well as the tools for marketers, agencies, talent managers and creators to manage and scale their relationships.
A share of the sales – or the business?
Some brands are going even further. Instead of using affiliate marketing tactics to offer influencers a portion of the sales they generate, they’re offering them a portion of the business.
Rather than seek a small number of investors with deep pockets, start-ups are using Australian equity crowdfunding platform Birchal to build a large community of engaged supporters from the get-go. The crowd-sourced funding enables invested, passionate customers to buy into a business, creating an instant army of advocates and ambassadors who cheerlead for the brand. It’s an approach eco-soap success story Single Use Ain’t Sexy used to great effect in 2021. It reached its investment target within two days of opening its doors to micro-investors as eco-conscious fans got behind the brand that is now going global as part of travel amenities company Buzz.
We are in a new stage in the evolution of influencer marketing – the age of the customer influencer. It’s time for marketers to consider a wider spectrum of influence – one that puts your current customer base of advocates at the centre of digital communities that drive conversions. One that integrates affiliate marketing opportunities into your influencer programs and explores new ways to build deeper connections with them, including revenue sharing partnerships. And one that ensures the tools are in place to track the effectiveness of your influencer program so you can measure and manage your true ROI – return on influence.