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3 steps to a well-planned affiliate program

By Expert commentator 16 Feb, 2018
Essential

Affiliate marketing’s outlook in the not-so-distant future should perk up any entrepreneur’s ears

While some naysayers have prematurely eulogized affiliates, a Rakuten Affiliate Network study estimates they’re on target to grow by nearly $7 billion by 2021. So when marketers claim affiliate is on its way out, what they’re really admitting is that they lack the patience necessary to make a program work.

Affiliate marketing isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it process but one that, like any successful business approach, requires regular monitoring. Marketers must foster teams of ambassadors who authentically sing your products’ praises to their audiences not because you told them to, but because they feel aligned with your company.

Ironically, most individuals working in creative departments recognize the power of having affiliates. Ninety percent of advertising professionals surveyed by Rakuten acknowledge affiliate marketing’s intrinsic value and reveal that it accounts for no less than 20 percent of yearly corporate income — proof that affiliate marketing pays both immediate and long-term dividends.

How can you reap the benefits that come from this method of quickly distributing information, engaging consumers, and building a brand? Here are a few starting points.

Affiliate marketing

1. Start with internal buy-in

Look internally rather than externally when trying to bring people on board with your affiliate approach. Marketing will obviously play a major role in keeping affiliates armed with content, but don’t stop there in setting up your internal support system. Identify key decision makers in your IT and financial departments to help move your affiliate program along. Bring in IT colleagues to assist with the tracking of affiliate codes and vetting of tech vendors, then direct the finance division to comb through monetary particulars such as structuring an appropriate commission payout schedule.

Not long ago, my company worked with a coupon system supplier that used an inefficient automated affiliate process. The business managed and tracked its affiliates somewhat but cut some internal players out of the process, which slowed down follow-through and caused most creation, distribution, and payments to be handled on a manual, as-needed basis.

We helped the company backtrack and fill in its procedural gaps so it could fully customize each affiliate’s experience without duplicating services, leading to sizable growth within about two months. Staff members can provide top-notch advocacy for a brand. Use that familiarity to get staff members aligned with your affiliate approach in order to stabilize your campaign’s foundation.

2. Vet potential affiliates and grow relationships

Establish a vibrant affiliate program that pinpoints which personas your goods or services will want most. Perhaps you want your affiliate team to have an air of exclusivity; in this case, you’ll need to reach out to thought leaders who fit certain niches. On the other hand, you may want to initiate an internetwide affiliate program like Amazon, which has paid off beautifully for the online retail giant. With more than 900,000 affiliates representing 1.2 percent of available websites, Amazon has solidified itself as a large-scale affiliate leader.

Chances are strong, though, that you don’t have Amazon’s clout, which means you must be prepared to curate and foster connections with relevant people and their sites. Affiliate marketing software platforms allow you to automate communications, enabling you to quickly and efficiently keep your partners in-the-know about updates, new offerings, specials, and upcoming webinars. Have only a handful of affiliates? Use that to your advantage by taking the time to get to know each of them with in-depth, one-to-one communication opportunities.

3. Stay up-to-speed on your numbers

A well-tracked affiliate marketing program will provide a constant flow of data, so it’s up to your team to analyze and interpret it. For instance, is your current payout structure still appropriate? Would bonuses make sense? What is your typical customer acquisition cost for those who came in through affiliates? How about those customers’ lifetime values? Who else could you bring on to increase your network and continue incentivizing affiliates without hurting your margins? Answer these questions regularly to stay ahead of the game.

As one business leader notes, his company’s affiliate marketing program wouldn’t have continued to hit higher and higher goals without consistency and data analysis. Each time his marketing team reached out to new and existing affiliates, they examined the results and adjusted approaches. Their data-driven diligence led 18 percent of their target affiliates to sign on.

Like all powerful marketing strategies, affiliate marketing requires your attention. Nurture it from the beginning, and it’ll not only blossom, but it’ll also provide you a regular flow of inbound sales and traffic. Yes, it takes some time, but that’s just what makes the rewards even more gratifying.

By Expert commentator

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