WHAT IS REWARDSTYLE?
One thing we noticed come up time and time again at our Summit was rewardStyle. Launched in 2011 by husband and wife team Baxter and Amber Ventz Box, the business was the first of its kind within the industry.
Previously, affiliate marketing was viewed as a “business to business” entity that used a language that was not only misunderstood by influencers, but also largely not translatable. If you were able to demystify the terms and login processes, further user experience (UX) on the platforms was almost impossible unless you had professional experience. If you were one that managed to unravel it all, the very process of inputting affiliate links into your content was clunky, unfriendly and generally difficult. Affiliate Managers were often unable to understand the creativity behind an influencer’s content and essentially just wanted them to plant a banner advert on their websites - resulting in a very real breakdown in communication and understanding of each others’ potential.
Where rewardStyle was a stroke of genius was it took these problems and combined them with the need for influencers to make revenue from the sales their links were generating. With Amber’s experience as an influencer she was able to create brilliant ways to make influencers’ lives easier – building a friendly site-interface that not only helped influencers create links, but actively encouraged them to. Concisely; it was a performance marketing platform that didn’t need professional expertise to navigate beyond the ability to “be” an influencer and create content. And so the bespoke platform was born.
Fast forward to 2018 and rewardStyle is widely considered an essential tool for any brand or influencer looking to “make it” in the retail sector. However, with its costs on the rise and questionable access to performance data, what it does and its part within the influencer marketing sector is becoming hotly debated.
What is Affiliate Marketing?
Affiliate marketing is a type of performance-based marketing in which a business (often called a “merchant”) offers a publisher (in our case, an “influencer” but this can be any kind of website – the Daily Mail as an example) a reward for driving traffic to their own website. Rewards can be based on a number things, such as:
CPA – “cost per acquisition” – Publishers/Influencers are given either a % of value of sales they create for the Merchant/Brand (most common).
CPC – “cost per click” - Publishers/Influencers are given a fixed amount every time a customer clicks on their link and visits the Merchant/Brand’s website.
CPM – “cost per mille” - Publishers/Influencers are given a fixed amount for every thousand impression a banner advert gets on their site (least common).
Merchants (brands and retailers) pay an “affiliate network” to create an “affiliate program.” This means they can incentivise publishers (websites, influencers, etc) to create content for their brand by being able to offer them commission in return. As a business model, it’s a fairly simple and economical structure: brands pay the network commission that its affiliates have generated for the brand. The network is therefore incentivised to have as many publishers as possible driving sales for its merchants. The more sales generated, the more the merchants pay out to the network and the more money the network makes.
rewardStyle is called a “sub network”, meaning that it cannot create a program for you, but rather it can run your existing program alongside another network (Ratuken, Awin, Commission Junction) within its own programming. As an example; Topshop’s affiliate program is managed by Awin. As Awin doesn’t have all of the tools (we’ll get to this) that rewardStyle has, or even the network of influencers signed up to their system, Topshop also works with rewardStyle to make it as easy and appealing as possible for influencers to promote its brand.
What rewardStyle doesn’t do…
If you are a brand reading this please be aware that we asked a selection of influencers, some within rewardStyle’s Top 100 converters, how they use the platform. The question that received an overriding ‘no’ was “Do you use rewardStyle to find and discover new brands?” Everyone said “no”. So, if you are thinking of using the platform to position your brand or get under the eyes of influencers, it isn’t the one. rewardStyle heavily push brands to increase their commission in return for “exposure” in the form of inclusion on their blog and newsletters, but the fact is this content is rarely viewed or considered when influencers are creating content.
Where rewardStyle are brilliant are the tools they offer an influencer. Only with rewardStyle can you use LIKEtoKNOW.It (the app which allows followers to screenshot images in Instagram, upload them to the app and gain immediate access to the products featured; similarly, if you “like” a post, you receive an email with shoppable links) and various widgets, which look hugely professional within an influencer’s content. Most importantly, their exclusive “Link Ninja” tool, which allows influencers’ to “pin” products whilst browsing a Merchant’s page and add them into their content seamlessly, is what (in our view) sets rewardStyle so far beyond that of any other affiliate network.
Essentially, as it was created by an influencer, it’s the only platform which has taken the time to consider what they need to help them grow and monetise content. Compare that to the wider affiliate industry, where professionals largely fail to comprehend how an influencer works, it’s not hard to see why rewardStyle grew at the rapid rate that it has.
Can a brand see who drives them sales?
This is a huge bone of contention for brands and retailers; rewardStyle doesn’t offer any visibility to a brand on the traffic and sales their influencers are generating, unless a “merchant” is prepared to sign their ‘Collaboration Agreement’, which details that all merchant-influencer partnerships must go through rewardStyle.
This therefore prohibits any direct partnerships and requires a spend of £60,000 or more on sponsored content, excluding influencer commission on the platform. When you consider that they will already be paying for another affiliate network to host their program, and these networks provide merchants with full transparency as standard practice, showing brands exactly who generates them sales – this is where rewardStyle becomes frustrating.
If you are an influencer, please do realise what we are telling you here; it is very likely that the brands you are generating sales for are unaware of this if you are using rewardStyle links. So, be proactive and get in touch with the brands you’re promoting to share the content you’ve produced and your rewardStyle stats of how it’s performed. Equally, do not be offended when they ask for statistics to “prove” your followers are interested (and purchasing) in their brand.
Another key difference between rewardStyle and other affiliate networks (for example Awin, Rakuten), is that other affiliate networks offer alternative opportunities for publishers to make commission. Firstly, you can negotiate your commission with the merchants on standard affiliate networks, for example if you’re generating a lot of traffic but not always getting the sales, or in exchange for additional exposure.
This isn’t possible with rewardStyle; brands can increase their commission on rewardStyle to 10%, 12%, 15%, 20% or 25% commission in order to gain additional ‘engagement opportunities’, i.e. increase their visibility to influencers. These include being featured on the ‘Brand Update’ promotion on rewardStyle blog for a 12% commission rate, to being featured in the rewardStyle quarterly newsletter for 8% more. This is solely managed by the brand and rewardStyle though so as an influencer, there’s no opportunity for discussion on the platform.
Furthermore, many affiliate networks now offer commission on influencing and assisting sales - meaning that the influencer’s chance of earning revenue is increased. This is due to brands appreciating the value influencers bring and wanting to ensure they are remunerated.
When a customer clicks through from an influencer’s content to an influencer’s website but doesn’t make a purchase, but within the cookie window of the merchant (typically 14-30 days), the customer clicks through from another publisher’s content and makes a purchase, the second publisher, who was the last click, gets the commission for the sale. However, with a commission-on-influence partnership set up, the publisher that generated the original sale would still receive a commission for the sale.
How does rewardStyle make money?
This is something we see brands complain about constantly; rewardStyle are very unclear as to how it splits out the commission that goes to the influencer, and the % they take for themselves.
It is widely known, but rarely discussed, that rewardStyle splits the commission made from the sale between itself and the influencer. What it doesn’t do is tell the influencer this, or disclose this % split to the brands involved. As an example, when a programme is advertised as having a 15% commission rate, it is often the case that 7.5% goes to the influencer and 7.5% goes to rewardStyle. This is absolutely not the standard case in affiliate marketing with other networks providing a much more appealing split, usually offering a majority % to the publisher – rewardStyle is unique in its structure here, and a very unusual way to structure themselves.
As explained above, the other way it makes money is by retaining analytical information and charging the brands/merchants an additional amount to be able to know the true success of their own program.
When is an Influencer approved onto rewardStyle?
This is one thing we feel rewardStyle has been absolutely incredible at: creating a reputation within the influencer world that being accepted by the network is something of an achievement when in reality, it is often down to when they need to bring new potential revenue generators (influencers) on board – rather than them requiring you to be of a certain follower size or standard.
Your approval speed and likelihood is the same as any other affiliate program; If you are creating content that they like and discussing products similar to the ones they “represent”, you’ll be considered as any other useful publisher. It’s worth bearing in mind that there are numerous accounts, known to have bought their following, who have made it onto rewardStyle easily enough. We don’t want to burst the bubble here, but try not to get caught up in believing that presence on the network affirms you with a sanctimonious status...
Also don’t be fooled or put off by their “You can’t sit with us” style branding strategy – and expect a decent wait time (often up to 6 months) before hearing back. Essentially, they’ve created something you want a piece of and at the moment can’t get anywhere else, so be patient and wait.
As we wrap this up we thought it might be a good idea to dispel a few other myths in the affiliate marketing space :
1. “When an influencer’s content drives a sale, the % they take in commission does not affect the customer who has made the purchase.”
We cannot be clearer; it does not make a price difference to the customer.
2. “Some brands on rewardStyle do not have the LinkNinja ability, but are found within the search functions of rewardStyle.”
This is because of the rate the merchant/brand is prepared to pay to rewardStyle. Take John Lewis as an example who are listed on rewardStyle. Their products are visible by logging onto the rewardStyle app and searching for them in their search tabs. However, as John Lewis do not pay the suggested commission rate (that is anything below the 10% commission), rewardStyle stops them from being able to use the LinkNinja functionality.
3. “Influencers need paid collaborations to make any money on rewardStyle.”
We’re not going to proclaim that you can make outrageous salaries here, but there are hundreds, if not thousands of influencers earning a fairly good wage from commission without paid collaborations behind their content. By demonstrating to a brand that you’re able to generate sales - remember you have access to this info and brands often don’t - you’ll be considered for sponsored content as you’ve already demonstrated that your audience resonates with the brand.
In conclusion; rewardStyle is undoubtedly the best option in terms of technology for influencers and user experience. It is the only affiliate network built exclusively with influencers in mind and for that reason has accrued the attention in the sector as the “hero” network to be a part of. However, as detailed it does have its pitfalls, and we expect other networks rise to the challenge in creating an attractive proposition for brands and influencers alike. We think the affiliate marketing space is ripe for picking…