Affiliate marketing has ridden the steady wave of eCommerce growth, gaining digital market share thanks to technology and our attachment to it and in part due to the performance-measured cost model it provides brands. The steady growth wave mutated by way of the “2020 lockdown-online shopping surge” into a tsunami, propelling affiliate marketing into a global force exploding global affiliate marketing spend to over $12 billion.
However, this spend was not a complete outlier, as a recent Fetch Profits study estimated that Affiliate Marketing now contributes 16% of all global eCommerce sales. Affiliate marketing has evolved into a performance marketing media channel used by skillful merchants to increase brand awareness, boost cart values, and keep existing customers engaged.
Diving headfirst into and riding the affiliate marketing growth wave might sound like a surefire way to boost revenue while protecting costs; but, diving in without preparation and starting an affiliate program can cause you to wipe out. Before dipping your toes in without looking, check out these 7 steps to keep your head above water:
1. Trust the experts or become one. If you do not have an experienced in-house affiliate manager, look for a skilled professional to help guide you through the process. Performance marketing agencies, like AIM, with affiliate expertise, offer various levels of service from hourly consulting to full managed program services. Going it alone? Spend time researching and educate yourself on all things affiliate marketing. Like most things in life, you don’t know what you don’t know, so try to find someone who does to help.
2. Turn your inspiration into your operation. What prompted the affiliate program idea in the first place? What is the main goal for your new program? Traffic, revenue, customer engagement? Do you have specific goals and expectations for your affiliate program? By actively thinking about the expectations and objectives tied to the decision to start an affiliate program, the reasons and answers should form an outline of the type of affiliate program you want, as well as to better outline performance expectations.
3. Now that you know more about what you want from your affiliate program, it’s time to investigate the competition. In order to enter the affiliate landscape with an offer compelling enough to attract the attention of good affiliates, it’s time to put your detective hat on and investigate brands similar to yours.
- Do my competitors have affiliate programs?
- What affiliate platforms do they use?
- What commission do they offer to their affiliates?
- What are their program terms and conditions?
- Who are they working with and how?
4. With your research efforts underway, the plan for your affiliate program should be far enough along to choose an affiliate network to help manage your program. Outlining the options offered by the different affiliate networks could fill a decent-sized novel, so the advice here is simple. Do a little more research, google the question, and read what other businesses think of the networks they use. Also, be sure to look at your competitor research and look into those networks. Then reach out and meet with several networks, have a guided tour highlighting the platform capabilities, ask a lot of questions, compare pricing, etc. and then go with the solution that meets your needs, fits within the ability of your internal technical workings, and comes in at a price you can stomach now as well as a year from now if all your revenue dreams are fulfilled. For a quick overview of what could be right for you, read our blog article The Network Dating Game.
5. Next, to launch an affiliate program you will need to find some affiliates who you want to work with that also want to promote your brand. Keep in mind, picking the players only gets them on the team, motivating them properly gets them to sign a long-term contract. For affiliates to join your program, it will need to be operational, not just conceptual, and your offer must be motivating enough for affiliates to take a chance on a new unproven program. Remember, they have the audience you need, so you will need to inspire prospective affiliates with an offer strong enough to persuade them to choose promoting your brand over someone else’s.
6. Recruiting affiliates to join your program is one thing, keeping them actively engaged is another. The key to keeping affiliates motivated and dedicated to your brand starts and ends with the relationship you build between you and your affiliates. Communication is step one, make sure to keep affiliates informed about upcoming promotions, opportunities to earn extra revenue, and especially any upcoming changes to the program. Make sure you provide them with something to promote (quality banners, text links, brand news, product launches, etc) to inspire your affiliates to reinforce your brand message to their audience. Your affiliates are more likely to put in extra effort when they feel like they are part of the team.
7. Trust the experts. Yes, it is that important that it takes up the first and last spots on this list. Like any other profession or skill, mastering affiliate marketing comes with a learning curve and nuances that only time and experience will reveal. Digital marketing and eCommerce are very much like the technology that powers them both, evolving, expanding, and advancing at a rapid pace. Find someone who not only knows about Nexus Law but knows what it is and how it might affect your program. Bring on an expert who understands the nuances of cookieless tracking and celebrates the introduction of affiliate tracking for influencer platforms. A marketing geek that gets excited about troubleshooting tracking challenges is far more likely to drive your program strategy and implementation toward success.
Following these seven steps to start an affiliate program are only just the beginning. Like everything else in life, not all affiliate programs or program managers are created equal. The difference between starting a program and launching a successful affiliate program goes beyond the skill of the players in the game. Whether you are starting, developing, maintaining, migrating, motivating, or revitalizing an affiliate program, doing it well requires research, planning, expertise, skill, knowledge, experience, and sometimes plain luck.