Affiliate Marketing vs Influencer Marketing: Which Is Best for You?

The way businesses market their products has changed a lot because of online shopping and social media. Older methods like ads in newspapers are becoming less popular, with a big drop in revenue over the past six years. Now, new methods like affiliate marketing and influencer marketing are taking over.

Some people think affiliate marketing and influencer marketing are basically the same thing. It makes sense because they both use online creators to sell products and promote brands. But if you look closer, they’re actually quite different.

Let’s talk about how they’re different, including what they are, how they work, the strategies involved, and the benefits of each.

What is Affiliate Marketing?

Affiliate marketing is when someone like a blogger, YouTuber, or social media influencer promotes a company’s products or services to help them sell more products or get more attention.

For instance, imagine a sneaker brand teaming up with a fitness blogger. The blogger tells their fitness-loving followers about the shoes, leading to more people visiting the sneaker company’s site and buying their shoes. Some of these buyers might even become regular customers.

One great thing about affiliate marketing is that it’s cheap for businesses. They can offer their affiliates benefits like:

  • Commissions: A cut of the sales they help make.
  • Freebies: Giving them free stuff to try out or give away.
  • Special Rewards: Exclusive perks for doing a good job.
  • Networking: Opportunities to meet other important people.
  • Training: Teaching them how to do better.

Affiliate marketing isn’t totally new, but these days it’s mostly about online stuff. Affiliates share links to products or services online and get paid a percentage of the sales or traffic they bring in. According to Statista, businesses spent about $8.2 billion on affiliate marketing in 2022.

How Does Affiliate Marketing Work?

Affiliate marketing usually has four key players, each with their own role:

  1. The Affiliate (or “Publisher”): This is the person or group that promotes the product or service of the seller.
  2. The Merchant: The one who’s actually selling the product or service that the affiliate is promoting.
  3. The Affiliate Network: This acts as a go-between for the affiliate and the merchant. While they don’t always need a network to connect, it’s a common way for them to team up. Check out our list of the best affiliate networks.
  4. The Customer: This is the person who buys the product through the affiliate. The merchant partners with affiliates to reach the affiliate’s audience and turn them into buyers.

The affiliate connects with merchants through affiliate marketing programs. They might find these programs on their own or through networks. Sometimes, it happens naturally, like when a merchant reaches out to an affiliate who’s a good fit for their product.

Now, affiliates can recommend products in various ways:

  • On Websites: They might write articles or blog posts and include affiliate links.
  • On YouTube: They can put affiliate links in video descriptions.
  • On Review Sites: There are dedicated sites that review products and include affiliate links.

For example, you might see affiliate links on websites like or in YouTube videos like MKBHD’s tech reviews. Review sites like Gear Patrol and Wirecutter also use affiliate links to recommend products to their audience.

Benefits of Affiliate Marketing

Here’s why affiliate marketing is a popular choice for business owners to promote their products:

  1. Low Start-Up Costs: You don’t need a big ad team or to buy ad space. Your affiliates create the marketing content for you, saving you money on ads.

  2. Low Ongoing Costs: Since affiliates handle most of the marketing, you only pay them when they bring in sales. No upfront costs, no worries about cash flow interruptions.

  3. Low Risk: Because costs are tied to sales, you’re not risking a lot of money upfront. Perfect for businesses watching their budgets.

  4. Targeted Traffic: You get to choose who promotes your products, ensuring that the people visiting your site are actually interested in what you offer.

  5. Flexibility: You can easily adjust the size of your affiliate program without spending much. Plus, as your business grows, you can scale up your affiliate program accordingly.

  6. High ROI: Affiliate marketing often gives a better return on investment compared to other marketing methods. Your product gets promoted by influencers who have a direct line to your target audience, leading to more sales.

Learn more: Pros and Cons of Affiliate Marketing

What is Influencer Marketing?

Influencer marketing is when a brand works with someone who’s popular online, like a YouTuber or Instagrammer, to promote their products. Sometimes they team up to boost brand recognition.

For instance, PewDiePie, a big YouTuber, once partnered with a movie about the catacombs in Paris. He made videos exploring the catacombs, which his 111 million fans loved. The videos got way more views than the movie trailer. It was a win-win situation for everyone.

Basically, it’s like a famous person teaming up with a company to advertise a product, but instead of a quick TV ad, it might be a series of longer online videos.

How Does Influencer Marketing Work?

First, you need to find the right influencers for your business. Let’s say you’re selling facial moisturizers. Look for influencers who are good at promoting skincare products. Their followers are interested in what they recommend, so it’s a good match.

Once you’ve found a suitable influencer, reach out to them and see if they’re interested in working with you. You might offer them a commission on the products they sell for you. For instance, you could give them 10% of the sales they generate.

But before finalizing anything, make sure the numbers add up. You might even want to team up with more than one influencer to boost your influencer marketing strategy.

Benefits of Influencer Marketing

  1. Establish Credibility and Trust: Building trust with customers can be tough for businesses. But by teaming up with influencers that people already trust, you can quickly gain credibility. When followers see an influencer they trust endorsing your product, they’re more likely to believe in it too.

  2. Cost-Effective: Influencer marketing is budget-friendly. If you pick the right influencers, you can get a big return on your investment. Compared to traditional advertising, influencer marketing often costs less and can still deliver impressive results.

  3. Attract Quality Leads: When you run influencer campaigns, you reach people who are probably interested in what you’re selling. This means you’re more likely to attract leads who are genuinely interested in your products or services. It can make converting them into customers much easier.

  4. Boost Brand Awareness: Partnering with influencers gets your brand in front of a large audience fast. Some influencers have millions of followers, so you can quickly spread the word about your products or services. It’s an effective way to raise awareness about your brand.

What’s the Difference Between Affiliate and Influencer Marketing?

Affiliate and influencer marketing might seem similar, but they’re actually quite different. Here’s a breakdown:


Anyone with an online presence, like individuals or businesses, can join as affiliate partners. They usually promote products through blogs, websites, apps, or social media. Brands work with multiple partners on a shared platform.

Influencers are usually individuals (or sometimes couples or bands) with a big following on platforms like Instagram, TikTok, or YouTube. Brands engage with influencers directly, negotiating deals one-on-one.

Lead Generation

Affiliate marketing primarily revolves around driving sales or conversions. While some affiliate networks might offer rewards for actions like generating cold leads or increasing web traffic, this isn’t common practice.

Influencer marketing campaigns have a broader focus. They aim to boost brand exposure, enhance brand awareness and credibility, drive more web traffic, increase engagement with target audiences, and ultimately result in more conversions over time

Compensation Model

Influencers can earn money through various means besides affiliate links. They often charge brands for individual posts or establish long-term partnerships with perks like cash payments, bonuses based on performance, and free products.

In affiliate marketing, partners only earn commissions when they generate sales. They receive a percentage of the sale as their compensation.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Tracking and measuring ROI in affiliate marketing is relatively straightforward due to its primary focus on sales. Key metrics include:

  • Click-through rates (CTR)
  • Conversion rates
  • Average order values
  • Revenues
  • Customer lifetime value (CLV)

Measuring ROI for influencer marketing campaigns is more complex due to their broader focus on brand awareness and authenticity. Key KPIs include:

  • User engagement levels
  • Click-through rates (CTRs)
  • Website traffic
  • Conversions
  • Audience growth
  • Reach and awareness, among others.

How to Choose Between Affiliate Marketing and Influencer Programs?

In the digital marketing realm, affiliate and influencer marketing are both highly valuable. Instead of seeing them as rivals, marketers should consider them as complementary tools. With the rapid growth of online commerce, a more relevant comparison for marketers would be eCommerce versus affiliate marketing.

For content creators, the decision comes down to personal preferences and abilities. Influencers lead a different life from affiliate marketers, often being in the spotlight and constantly engaging with their audience. While some thrive in this competitive environment, it’s not for everyone.

For brands, the choice depends on the product/service, target audience, and goals. If focused on conversions, affiliate marketing is ideal, while influencer marketing offers broader reach and exposure.

However, businesses and content creators don’t have to choose one over the other. They can use both strategies simultaneously to achieve their objectives.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Affiliate Marketing the Same as Influencer Marketing?

Nope! Affiliate marketing and influencer marketing are different. People often mix them up because they both involve third parties promoting stuff.

The big difference is how they get paid. Affiliates earn a commission only when a sale happens, while influencers usually get a flat fee, regardless of sales.

Can Influencers Use Affiliate Marketing Strategies?

Absolutely! There’s no rule stopping influencers from giving affiliate marketing a shot. Actually, many influencers make money from both affiliate and influencer marketing.

Take TikTok influencers, for example. They team up with brands for influencer campaigns and also make cash from affiliate links in their content.

Which Is Better, Affiliate Marketing or Influencer Marketing?

Neither one is necessarily better. Both can bring in good money and have lots of potential for growth. It depends on what works best for a business or content creator.

Sometimes, online marketers do both at once. Look at Instagram – lots of people use it for affiliate marketing and influencer gigs.

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