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Affiliate marketing involves the use of mutually beneficial programs that help a brand spread the word about a product or service while generating revenue for the affiliate.
Let’s break that down a little bit.
Affiliate marketing programs are typically structured like this:
The brand (often referred to as the merchant) works with the “affiliates” (sometimes called partners) to leverage non-traditional marketing and, ideally, reach new customers. The affiliate gets a commission for their advertising efforts, and the brand benefits from additional sales.
Your affiliates are essentially your middleman, helping you expand your reach to new audiences.
All in all, it’s a win-win-win setup for everyone! The brand reaches more customers through affiliates, the affiliates make a profit from the brand, and the customers find new brands and quality products through trusted sources.
So while this tactic is less traditional than the digital marketing strategies we’re used to (email, paid social, SEO, and so on), that doesn’t mean it’s any less effective.
In fact, affiliate marketing spend is on the rise and quickly becoming an advertising method to watch.
Sometimes affiliate marketing is confused with referral marketing, since both are third-party marketing methods with a similar purpose. However, these two types of marketing are quite different in function and practice.
Referral marketing will often take advantage of personal relationships and relationships built on trust. Think about that time your aunt recommended a brownie mix and you just KNEW it would be good because your aunt has the absolute best taste in desserts. That’s basically a referral via word of mouth. (And maybe you should see if your aunt can charge a referral fee for those delish brownies, right?) 😋
Affiliate marketing, on the other hand, is a bit more like native advertising. Have you ever browsed a Buzzfeed article titled something like “Top 10 Gifts for a Picky Foodie” with a ton of products linked within? Well that’s an affiliate marketing tactic. The publisher uses their platform to share brands and products in a way that seems totally natural—and it works!
Your affiliate marketing is only as good as the partners you’ve engaged. You’re looking for conversions, and you’re not really going to find them on sites, blogs, or videos with no relevance to your offer. So what’s the best method for finding partners with the right audience for your products?
Do your research. You want to know who your customers are, where they do their research & shopping, and how to meet them there.
Develop resources to support your affiliates. You want your affiliates to be successful, and you’re in a unique position to give them assets to help them get that success.
Plan and implement a tracking system that helps affiliates and your internal team stay aligned with goals, commission, and success metrics.
There are several ways to begin marketing your affiliate program. Some are as simple as adding a link to learn more in your website’s footer, or a blurb in your email signature. However, if you’re ready to actively promote an affiliate program, you’ll want to take time to identify partners that you believe could bring value to your business. Here’s how.
👉 Reach out to bloggers and influencers related to your niche. You don’t need to pitch the affiliate program right away, but you should start building those relationships and nurturing them for a long-term engagement. Make a list of keywords related to your product or service and find the high ranking pages of review bloggers, educational resources, and community forums.
Where to look:
👉 Join niche groups on social media or other community platforms. Demonstrate your expertise and value of your offering to those people who are highly invested in the niche.
Where to look:
👉 Advertise affiliate opportunities to audiences that match your niche via paid social, paid search, or display.
👉 Share your affiliate program in affiliate networks that are already established and connected to proven affiliates.
You might be wondering if you should consider using an affiliate marketing program for your business. Here’s a couple of reasons to consider taking the plunge:
Affiliate marketing spending is in the millions. This strategy isn’t a flash in the pan hack; it’s a tried and true path for revenue growth.
81% of advertisers and 84% of publishers use affiliate marketing in the U.S. Affiliate marketing has become a powerful tool for advertisers and publishers.
Content (such as blogs and social media posts) generate around 40% of affiliate commissions in the U.S. This shows that aligning your program with an affiliate that puts out strong content has big earning potential.
The share of cross-border shopping has grown steadily since 2014, meaning that affiliates have a greater reach to international markets you’re targeting.
Before you implement an affiliate marketing program, you’ll want to ensure that you have a strategy in place. To determine if you’re ready to enlist affiliates, ask yourself these questions:
Determine how your product or service can be promoted to affiliates. What’s your unique value proposition? What commission rates can you offer? Are there sites within your niche that seem like a good fit for you?
Identify the best types of affiliates for getting sales, not just impressions. You want to get quality traffic through affiliate marketing, so you should never rely on an affiliate site that gets a lot of views but not many relevant audiences for your brand.
Do a competitive analysis. Have any of your competitors implemented an affiliate program? What types of affiliate channels have they gotten onboard? Are you able to compete with them in the spaces they already occupy, or can you carve out a different affiliate niche?
Your affiliate marketing model will depend on several factors including budget, internal capacity, and your view toward risk. Basically what you’re trying to determine at this point is: how do I want to pay my affiliates?
Preferred models can be hotly contested (I mean what topic doesn’t have strongly-opinionated camps these days?), but the most important point to consider is what works best for your business. In the end, you might find that a mixed model adapts best to your needs and budget.
In this model, merchants (i.e. your brand) pay out a commission based on sales made by the affiliate. This might be a set dollar amount or a percentage commission of sales. The CPS/PPS model is the most effective for driving revenue via affiliate marketing for eCommerce brands.
This model offers an affiliate commission based on specific actions that are taken on their sites/promotion opportunities. It is more flexible than a Cost-per-sale model, because you can determine which actions will result in a commission for affiliates.
This model is most effective for big ticket items and B2B/SaaS businesses. While your affiliate isn’t expected to bring in complete sales, you are anticipating that they’ll bring in qualified leads that can be nurtured into customers. If you decide to award affiliates for leads, make sure you’re able to weed out spam and other fake sign-ups.
Cost per mille is riskier for the brand. You are essentially paying an affiliate for every 1000 impressions they get on a promotion for your brand. For instance, if a blogger puts a display ad on their site, you’d be paying for every 1000 impressions that display ad receives. While this is a guaranteed income stream for the blogger, we all know that impressions don’t equal sales. You’re most likely to raise brand awareness this way, but not necessarily revenue unless you can improve CTR.
Decide if you want to join an affiliate network that will give you access to thousands of publishers and the tools for tracking campaigns and metrics, as well as payment. If this is your first foray into affiliate marketing, a network is not a bad way to get your feet wet.
Some popular affiliate networks include:
The alternative to joining an already established affiliate network is to build your affiliate program from the ground up. While this takes more upfront work and investment, you get more control over your affiliate marketing strategy. Luckily, there are quite a few affiliate tracking programs with a good reputation to help you manage campaigns and reporting.
According to Entrepreneur, the top 10 affiliate marketing tracking platforms are:
Affiliates are essentially partners. The more successful they are, the more successful you are. You’ll want to take time to find the right patterns for your brand, especially if you’re building your affiliate program from scratch.
Selling the affiliate program to potential partners isn’t unlike nurturing a lead in sales. While you are offering them an opportunity to make a commission, the fact is that they are not your direct employees. They don’t owe you anything outside of the basics, so if you really want to see affiliates succeed, you better be ready to go above and beyond for them so they do the same for you.
The key takeaway about starting an affiliate marketing program is that you get by with a little help from your friends (or affiliates).
Leveraging the power of influencers and highly trafficking and trust resources can help your brand raise brand awareness and even boost revenue, at a relatively low cost. Like with all other digital marketing strategies, you can’t and shouldn’t expect to get huge returns without a solid foundation.