Intent Marketing

What’s the Difference Between Intent and Affiliate Marketing?

By Sarah Pritzker
Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Affiliate marketing has had its time in the sun as a popular marketing tool, but now times are changing. Affiliate marketing is no longer the first choice for premium brands looking for high-quality, high-converting traffic. Instead, you might turn to intent marketing, a fast-growing marketing strategy that brings proven results.

If you’re wondering about the differences between intent marketing and affiliate marketing, and why you might switch from one to the other, here’s our answer.

What is Affiliate Marketing?

Essentially, affiliate marketing involves a partnership between a product owner (the partner) and an individual (the affiliate). The product owner pays a commission to the affiliate every time that the affiliate drives business to the product owner’s site. An affiliate carries out various promotional and marketing tactics to drive visitors to the partner’s site, like placing online ads on their blog or website, or recommending an affiliate product in the course of a blog post or social media post.

There are a few different models for affiliate marketing campaigns. The main difference depends on whether the affiliate is paid per click, or per sale. Pay per click (PPC) affiliate marketing campaigns are easier for the affiliate, because not everyone who clicks on the link makes a purchase. But understandably, the commission for PPC affiliates is lower than that paid for clicks that lead to a purchase. 80% of affiliate programs use a pay-per-sale model.

What is Intent Marketing?

Intent marketing is more than a marketing tool like affiliate marketing. It’s a far-reaching marketing strategy that uses SEO tools, analytics, and deep behavioral data to create effective marketing campaigns. As the name indicates, intent marketing works by understanding the intent of consumers to buy your product or service. Once you’ve understood the intent of different users, you’ll tailor your marketing campaign to focus on the keywords, phrases, and queries that identify them.

How Does Intent Marketing Work?

Intent marketing is based on mining search engine queries for clues to the user’s intent. Intent marketing generally recognizes 3 different types of intent:

  • Informational intent is when a user is looking for information about a topic. They may or may not be ready to make a purchase
  • Transactional (or commercial) intent refers to potential customers who want to buy a particular product
  • Navigational intent means that the user is using the search engine to reach a specific place

For example, imagine you are selling hiking backpacks. Someone who runs a Google query ‘Which is better internal or external frame backpack’ shows informational intent. They might go on to buy an external-frame backpack, or they might still be deciding whether or not to make the investment. If they search ‘buy external frame backpacks online,’ they’ve shown transactional intent. If they then Google ‘external frame backpack Amazon,’ they’re showing navigational intent to go straight to Amazon and buy their backpack.

A good intent marketer researches the queries and search phrases used by your ideal customers, and then plans your content, social media posts, paid AdWords, mobile, and other pillars of your marketing campaign to target potential customers at every step.

What are the Differences and Similarities Between Intent Marketing and Affiliate Marketing?

Intent marketing and affiliate marketing are really very different types of marketing, but there is a little overlap between them. Both of them are marketing strategies that aim to connect with people who are already likely to be interested in buying your service or product.

In the case of affiliate marketing, the affiliate promotes the partner’s offering to his or her audience. When affiliate marketing works well, the affiliate already has a loyal following which trusts his/her opinion and is looking to buy a product in the partner’s niche. For example, a company selling external-frame hiking backpacks might enter an affiliate partnership with a hiker who has a popular hiking blog, because the hiker’s audience already has an interest in buying external-frame hiking backpacks.

When it comes to intent marketing, the product owner—or its marketing partner—specifically targets internet users who have an existing intent to buy this product. For example, intent marketing campaigns might include well-written content that answers Google queries about how to choose the best external-frame hiking backpack, or what to pack for a 3-day hiking trip.

Why is Intent Marketing Better than Affiliate Marketing?

Intent marketing finds suitable users with informational, transactional, or navigational intent, and delivers the right ad or content to match their interest. In this way, intent marketing converts at a higher rate than affiliate marketing. It’s more accurate at identifying the internet users who are the most likely to be interested in your product.

Intent marketing is a much more versatile marketing tool. In fact, as mentioned above, it’s more than a tool—it’s a wide-ranging marketing concept. Affiliate marketing doesn’t work for every business. It’s much more successful for consumer-facing businesses, products, and coupon and deal sites. Amazon and Groupon are two well-known affiliate marketing partners. But many service industries and most B2B companies can’t use affiliate marketing successfully. In contrast, every type of business can leverage intent marketing. Whether you’re targeting hikers in the hills or wholesalers in the factories, you can identify your ideal audience, analyze their search queries and phrases, and market to their intent.

Intent marketing is also suitable for almost every type of marketing campaign. Content marketing, email marketing, social media marketing, mobile marketing, PPC ad campaigns, and more can all be made better with the injection of intent marketing tactics. Intent marketing coupled with your existing marketing campaigns work to boost their ROI and your bottom line.

On top of this, affiliate marketing has developed a negative reputation in the last couple of years. Partners have complained that costs are high, but they aren’t always matched by results. Some affiliates have used fraudulent tactics that tricked partners into paying for fake clicks. Customers have also complained about affiliate marketing links, such as when bloggers claim to give an objective, honest review of a product but turn out to be getting paid for every reader who clicks on the link.

Intent Marketing is the Market Leader

While intent marketing and affiliate marketing overlap in targeting users who have the intent to buy a specific product, they are really very different marketing styles. Intent marketing is more versatile, more effective, and more accurate than affiliate marketing. Without any of affiliate marketing’s bad reputation for fraud, fake results, and unreliability, intent marketing is the marketing tactic of choice for 2019.

Whether you’re focusing on content marketing, email marketing, PPC, or any other type of marketing campaign, intent marketing is key. Intent marketing gives you an insight into your audience and delivers better ROI for all types of brands, businesses, and companies in every vertical.

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