This July, I am marking a 14-year milestone for working within the affiliate channel. When I started working in affiliate marketing in 2002, the industry was very different to how it is today but one fundamental principle has always stood firm – driving sales via a large network of diverse affiliates. Over this time, I have been able to see what makes a truly successful affiliate marketing programme. Below are four key principles to achieving affiliate marketing success.
Principle 1 – Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket
I will not beat around the bush; many advertisers that approach us have a huge reliance on a handful of affiliates, most often (but not always) in the cashback and voucher space. This is a risky strategy for a number of reasons:
• Diminishing returns – there is only so much traffic that a few affiliates will have; if you keep hitting that same traffic, you will see a progressively lower response. Advertisers can be pressured by large affiliates to increase commissions, but the result is a higher cost for less return. This is not sustainable for most.
• Loss of competitive advantage – it is likely your top affiliates are also your competitor’s top affiliates. You do not have any real competitive advantage here, unless you perhaps pay more commission, but there are only two winners from that – the publisher and the network.
• Risk to sales – what if one of your key partners cannot promote you any more, perhaps because of an exclusive deal with a competitor or an enforced regulation? Last year, cashback was banned by Ofgem for energy suppliers, which left a large hole in many energy affiliate programmes.
A long-term successful programme will work with a large network of diverse affiliates that can be relied upon to generate a consistent and increasing level of sales. This takes time, resource, continual recruitment and optimisation but will avoid the risks outlined above. Principle 3 tells you how to do this well.
Principle 2 – Communicate effectively with your affiliates
Affiliates get hundreds of emails daily from the 4,000 advertisers with affiliate programmes in
the UK. In order to get noticed, you need to ensure your communications are targeted, relevant and personalised; otherwise forget it. Think of affiliates as customers: segment and profile them to tailor your communications depending on what they are likely to be interested in. Many advertisers and their affiliate networks and agencies blanket-email all affiliates; you would not do this for customers as you know it is ineffective, so don’t do it to your affiliates.
Remember, you are persuading affiliates to promote your brand to your prospective customers. Give affiliates everything you have access to including creative, video, content, product launches, PR, product feeds, blogs. Affiliates are more likely to entice your customers if they are provided with good quality materials. Ensure you are constantly updating content and creative, keep it fresh and aligned with your online marketing campaigns.
Principle 3 – Recruit, activate and optimise affiliates all of the time
Recruitment and optimisation of affiliates is a simple process but many affiliate marketing programmes get it wrong, particularly as they do not have an ongoing strategy and a publisher team that are central to coordinating the process.
We have two clear processes at affilinet for recruiting affiliates and optimising them once they are on-board the network. Both take place on a network wide level (managed by the publisher team) and at an advertiser level (managed by the account manager and designated publisher manager on that account). There is a clear planning strategy that takes place to determine where we have gaps within the network or advertiser programme, such as the type of affiliate (bloggers, content, price comparison) or vertical (finance, retail, telecoms) and more granular content areas such as sports, football, Euro 2016. Planning is also carried out on a seasonal basis looking for affiliates to drive traffic around events such as Easter, Mother’s Day and Christmas.
In terms of optimisation it is a similar approach. We have a clear ongoing process that is deployed at network level and advertiser level in which we use the decision tree (below)
to analyse affiliate activity.
By having this process in place it ensures a regular review of the affiliate base, optimising those that are already active and activating those that are not. Without this process you can fall into the trap of working with only a few affiliates and the risks outlined in Principle 1.
Principle 4 – Understand the unpredictability of the channel and the influence affiliates have on acquisition
The most widely used payment model in affiliate marketing is to pay a commission on a sale generated to the affiliate which had the final touchpoint before sale – or as its better known, the ‘last-click CPA model’. Being based on sales there are a number of changing factors such as traffic, conversion rates, order and values. It is not always an easy channel to forecast and you can get it wrong. It is important to have a plan B and C that you can use if you need to drive more sales or even stem sales. Be open-minded and flexible with your budgets. Payment is on cost per sale so you should always try and maximise budget where you can, as it is one of the few channels where you have a guaranteed return.
It is vital to understand where affiliates are driving awareness and customers higher up the purchase funnel, resulting in the final click being driven by another affiliate or channel such as search or retargeting. Many networks provide this insight at an affiliate channel level but analytics are required across all of your channels in order to understand this across the wider digital mix. It is extremely important as you do not want to underestimate the value an affiliate may be driving by just looking at last click. If it is driving value higher up the funnel this could be a key lever to generating more sales.
I like to use a football analogy to bring this point home. Let us consider Mesut Özil, a midfielder for Arsenal. In the Premier League this season (at time of writing) he has made 24 appearances, scored 4 goals and assisted in 17 goals – that’s nearly an assist a game. He is a key and influential part of the Arsenal team and without him they simply would not have scored as many goals. Some of your affiliates are ‘Özils’ and it is important you recognise
them and work with them to make your affiliate programme more successful.
That concludes our four principles for achieving affiliate marketing succes – if you follow these, you will create a marketing leading affiliate programme. If you would like to discuss more about how affilinet could help you achieve affiliate marketing success please feel free to get in touch.