The Core Pillars of Affiliate Strategy

core pillars of affiliate strategy
core pillars of affiliate strategy
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By Alex Fitzpatrick

Affiliate marketing is a performance-based marketing channel wherein online partners receive a commission on sales they refer. This channel can be an incredibly cost-effective option for brands looking to capitalize on existing brand loyal users and reach new media partners who may be interested in promoting your brand. Affiliate, at its core, is a relationship-based marketing medium; good relationships with your affiliate partners and a keen understanding of their goals will sustain program success.

This channel is a long-standing component of brands’ conversion initiatives and has seen vast change over the years as a result. Specifically, changes like the ITP 2.0 release and CCPA have forced affiliate marketers to be agile and adapt with industry updates. With that, the industry has seen constant shifts in top performing strategies and a hunger to test new initiatives for success.

So what are the key components of affiliate strategy based on the current landscape? We’ll outline a few below:

Affiliate Communication

  • Providing frequent brand updates, promotional planning, and support to your affiliates is crucial to program success. Many affiliates rely heavily on these communications to plan their promotions month-to-month and gain refreshed ideas for brand content. Offer additional support and promotional assets when needed.
  • Develop program-wide newsletters that communicate general updates and provide tracking resources. If possible, do not use your affiliate program-branded newsletters; try to develop a custom template that fits your branding.
  • Use the newsletter scheduler available in your affiliate platform to improve efficiencies. Avoid over-communication: affiliates are inundated with emails from multiple programs. Be brief and to the point, focusing mainly on promotional details that may be of interest.
  • In addition to sending program-wide newsletters and having a defined cadence on that front, send direct emails to key partners on the program with additional details and clearly outlined next steps. As some of the bigger players in the space will not sign up for these newsletters and may not receive important information, it’s important to ensure they are aware of updates.
  • Send quarterly emails to your top performing partners providing them with brand updates and requesting any optimization opportunities they recommend. Allow the affiliate to lead the strategy here as they know their audience best, but provide suggestions and guidance along the way. Make sure affiliates are clear on the best point of contact for inquiries and the additional assets available for their promotions.

Incentivizing Via Your Commission Structure

  • Your commission structure is the main method of driving affiliates to promote your brand. Conduct industry and competitor research to identify an attractive baseline commission that will foster inbound program application and give prospects a reason to promote your brand over competitor brands.
  • Segment your commission rates by partner category in order to protect margins with the volume-driving partners and further incentivize upper funnel partners with a higher commission rate. Implement a mid-range commission with cashback and loyalty partners to capture high kickback rates for users.
  • Leverage affiliate bonuses to drive partners to complete certain milestones that are meaningful to your brand. Allow affiliates who complete stated goals to be considered for increased rates or program benefits like product sends.
  • Ensure that your affiliate program is always funded sufficiently – on-time payments are a huge component of a strong relationship. Conversely, late payments (both for paid placements and commissions) can negatively impact your relationships and even drive affiliates to leave your program or spread reviews.

Leverage Promos

  • In a recent survey taken by Shane Barker Marketing, it’s reported that 97% of users look for a deal when they shop. As deal-seeking behavior is such a prominent part of the consumer journey, embrace it! Use promo seeking to your advantage and be strategic about which offers you will promote through the affiliate channel. If you don’t participate in this stage of the consumer journey, you risk forfeiting those users to competitor brands.
  • Make data-driven decisions about the types of promotions and sales you will run through the affiliate channel. As offers are a key component of a high performing program, be intentional about sales and messaging.
  • Review your top performing historical offers and identify the potential causes of success. Tailor your ad messaging around a clear call to action and make sure affiliates are aware of the expectations for their promotions.
  • Consider promotions based on your goals. For example, if your brand is focused on new customer acquisition, create an affiliate sale available to new customers only and offer an increased commission on new user sales.
  • Ensure that affiliates are notified of the promotions well in advance of the live dates. Some affiliates plan their content weeks ahead – you want to secure those promotions with plenty of time to spare. Additionally, providing proactive notice allows you more time in the event that there are questions around the promos or additional assets needed on the brand side.

Execute On A Full-Funnel Strategy

  • The world of affiliate marketing has been commonly boiled down to one partner type: coupon sites. While lower funnel partners are undoubtedly important to program performance, it’s also smart to engage partners at other areas of the marketing funnel. Enter:  consideration and awareness affiliates.  
  • Once you’ve onboarded key lower-funnel affiliates and provided them with the necessary assets for promotion, begin to develop a list of target upper funnel and consideration based partners.
  • Try to envision what potential customers may search for in your industry and work to partner with top ranking sites for those queries. Provide those sites with relevant product information and identify ways to make your brand stand out.
  • When working with review sites or being shown alongside competitors, make sure unique selling points are clearly communicated and provide an additional incentive for users to convert. Work with your affiliate contacts closely to identify things that are meaningful to their respective audiences and focus on those points in reviews.
  • Analyze audience data and existing content on upper-funnel sites to find affiliates that would be a good fit for your brand. While many of these marquee publishers will require a flat fee for partnership, you may be able to incentivize their promotions by working through subnetwork sites.