Differences Between Affiliate and Influencer Marketing

affiliate and influencer marketing differences

Influencer marketing is one of the trendiest solutions for advertisers these days. It brings brand awareness, recognition, and a positive affiliation with the most important industry authorities. What’s not to love? 

Affiliate marketing has been around for as long as eCommerce. It learned to adapt to people’s needs, and it isn’t shy when it comes to using technology for maximum effectiveness. 

But wait a second. Aren’t affiliate and influencer marketing the same thing? If I had a dollar every time somebody asked me that…

It’s time to sort things out once and for all! Where does the line between the affiliate and influencer marketing actually lie and is there any? 

How affiliate marketing works 

an axample of an affiliate marketer

This is Brian. He’s an affiliate marketer. Just like most of us these days, Brian can work from home whenever he wants to. Brian owns a laptop and loves coffee. He doesn’t necessarily have his own website, or a blog, or an eCommerce store. Neither has he access to any business social media profiles, analytics, or a marketing strategy. Brian doesn’t have to go to any business meeting unless he’s a part of a bigger agency and has several ROIs to keep track of at the same time. 

Affiliates are the third-party advertisers who connect a business offer to the publisher’s space and take a commission for each successful conversion (it may be a sale, a registration, or even a form completion). 

Affiliate deals run backstage. You find an offer to promote, a way to promote it, and the people to promote it to – all completely unrelated to each other. You’re the middleman (or woman!). You’re single-handedly handling what others would pay a digital agency to do. You’re awesome. Yet, unless you’re using a proper software (such as Voluum) you’re also most probably malnourished, lonely, and haven’t had a good sleep in months. 

OK, not quite that bad. But you get the picture. And for now, let’s move on to the other side of the coin.  

How influencer marketing works

an example of an influencer

Now, this is Shannon. Shannon is an influencer. Strictly speaking, she doesn’t even need a laptop, although she takes pride in using MacBook Pro just because she can afford it now. Shannon’s life is a pre-recorded party with hours spent on Lightroom, video editing, and Pinterest style boards. Shannon is famous in the right circles and she’s living every Millennial’s dream. She’s running collabs with brands of all sizes and if you see her using a product online – there’s a good chance it’s a sponsored promo. 

Influencer is a recognized person usually with a strong online presence who can build brand credibility for the businesses and affect their followers’ purchase decisions.

If affiliates directly place each product they are promoting to the center of attention, influencers work with their own image and visibility. They later use their well-developed social status to promote products or services to the group of people who already trust them as individuals. 

So let’s have a closer look.

Affiliate vs influencer marketing: what’s the difference? 

By now you should be getting the general idea of how things work for affiliates and influencers. In fact, the differences are pretty serious. So, how come people still tend to confuse the two so very often? 

To answer that we’d have to look at some of the core similarities they share. 

What do affiliates and influencers have in common?

The core of the problem is that both affiliate marketers and influencers act as third-party advertisers. They aren’t directly involved with the offers they promote.

On top of that, both influencers and affiliates work online. Meaning that all the perks such as remote employment, flexible hours, being-your-own-boss, yada-yada are equally applicable to both. They paint the beautiful picture of care-free digital nomadism which contemporary society values above all. And they both prefer to hide the tremendous amount of work they put off-screen. 

Finally, we live during the times when as long as you’re good at something you can become an authority figure on the subject overnight. And being good at affiliate marketing really isn’t that hard! Which is why more and more expert affiliates jump on the lifestyle gurus’ bandwagon and become coaches, trainers, educators – they become influencers. 

You see how that can blur the already thin line even further. 

Key differences between affiliate and influencer marketing

Most of the actual differences between affiliates and influencers show around the time you start working with (or as) one. After all, most of the differences have something to do with ads’ profitability measurement and campaign performance tracking. Here’s what I’m talking about:

·       Tangible metrics
·       Lead generation
·       Sales, orders, subscriptions
·       Conversion rate
·       New vs returning customers
·       Average order value
·       CPA (cost per acquisition)
·       Uses tracking cookies & pixel to track data on the publisher’s site 
·       Brand-focused advertising
·       Lead generation
·       Potential reach
·       User engagement
·       Social sharing
·       New SM followers
·       CPM (cost per impression)
·       Direct interaction with the publisher’s site

Affiliate marketing campaign is a far more tangible structure than an influencer promo can ever be. It involves creativity, tech knowledge, analytics, and a fair share of luck. At the same time, affiliates can run multiple campaigns at the same time without worrying about competitors’ products, market saturation, etc. You put in a lot of effort into each offer and you hope it will be the one that brings you success.

Influencer marketing campaigns are, once again, revolve around the person behind each campaign. It would be unethical for the same influencer to promote competing brands as, let’s say, Apple and Samsung. The entire marketing effort may be reduced to saying a couple of nice words about the product, yet a tremendous amount of work has to be invested in developing an influencer’s personal brand beforehand.

So you see, what seems to work well for affiliates may be a downside for influencers, which is exactly why it can be so hard to tell the two apart.


Let’s take our good friend Manu Cinca as an example.

Manu’s an affiliate legend who used online gaming affiliate offers to become a millionaire. Later, he took the money he earned as an affiliate marketer and invested it in his personal brand, a business, and a free online affiliate community to help all the beginners out there. 

If a well-known brand – let’s say Apple – came to Manu and asked him for an affiliated advertisement, they’d be asking him for going in front of the camera, holding on to his brand new iPhone, and using his face, name, expertise, and authority to promote the product. As an influencer. Not as an affiliate

As an affiliate, Manu’d have to go back to his old ways, invest in setting up a couple of landing pages, a strong copy, and a meaningful graphics to later place the ad encouraging others to purchase the very same iPhone across the web.

Sure, he could still use his own community or his popular blog for all that, thus avoiding a tedious search for a worthy traffic source. But this form of advertising would have very little to do with him as a person. It would be missing the trustworthiness of a real-life human being vouching for the product they’re trying to sell.

Now, let’s have a look at some real-life examples of the affiliate vs influencer marketing advertisements. You probably encounter both on an everyday basis, but now you’ll also be able to tell which is which. Isn’t that exciting? 

Affiliate marketing: examples

Affiliate ads have many shapes and we pay them all the respects in a separate article. All you need to know for now is that there are native, push, pop, and display advertisements that affiliate marketers strategically place on well-known websites (aka traffic sources) for as many people as possible to see. 

They are literally everywhere. See for yourself!  

Affiliate banner ads example - Expedia webpage

Ads like these are everywhere. It doesn’t really matter how many websites will warn you about banner blindness – affiliate marketers will prevail and banner ads won’t go anywhere any time soon. Displayed in every imaginable corner of your screen, they are the backbone of affiliate marketing and we love them even though we know we shouldn’t. 

Affiliate native ads example - CNN webpage

Another common and – arguably – more effective way of affiliate marketing are native ads. They require a bit more involvement from the advertiser, as you need to create your ad in such a way that it perfectly mimics the style, tone, and thematics of the website you want to display it at. In return, native ads are proven to convert better and are generally perceived as higher-quality advertising. 

Influencer marketing: examples

With influencers, everything is simpler, yet tricker. They are on social media and they will usually openly admit that it’s a promotion right before starting their sales pitch. Unless they are in fashion. Then everything is a sales pitch. 

  • That gorgeous #couplegoals post from Tulum in your Insta feed? Sponsored by the hotel. 
  • A cat compilation on TikTok just happens to feature the same brand of cat food in every scene? Sponsored by Whiskas. 
  • A 5-star review on Dunkin’s Facebook profile by your local celeb? Courtesy the donuts’ empire. 

This is not to mention openly sponsored videos on Youtube content creators need to insert every few minutes to remind you that they’re making money by making you laugh. 

Chiara Ferrangni - Instagram influencer


Celebrities of various levels can use their social media profiles for publishing sponsored content, acting as brand ambassadors for different companies, or simply for growing their personal brand awareness.

Instagram feed and stories, TikTok videos, Facebook posts, even Twitter – all are subject to influencer marketing. After all, if you’re a big fan of Arianna Grange and she claims to love KitKats – you probably have just discovered your favorite chocolate bars. 

Youtube & Twitch

Being a Youtube influencer is slightly different. You’re still getting paid for promoting sponsored content within your videos, yet here you do it in less discrete ways. Think about all the announcements your favorite streamers make in-between and after their letsplays or how much money your favorite style guru saves on all the giftboxes she received to teach you how to create that “effortless morning makeup look”. 

Key Takeaway

The bottom line is – ads are everywhere. You’re just not trained enough to see them in all their glory.

It doesn’t really matter if you prefer affiliate advertising to influencer marketing or even if you feel like doing both. Whatever makes money, right? 

Here’s a quick summary of the key differences and similarities between affiliate and influencer marketing to help you decide which one is the right niche for you: 

  • Affiliate marketing is cheaper for the business owners, hence, it has more offers readily available for you to work with. 
  • You need to become an authority figure in your industry before you can do influencer marketing. It takes time.
  • With influencer marketing, your personal reputation is always at stake
  • Affiliate offers come in all shapes and sizes and you can quickly drop it if something seems fishy. 
  • You can always start as an affiliate and grow your way up to becoming an industry influencer. 

Now, how do you do that last bit? By becoming the best affiliate legend out there, of course! And how do you do that

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