The pressure is on for today's marketers who are on the hook to demonstrate real value for every campaign.
Perhaps that's why affiliate marketing has become the go-to strategy for driving sales and brand awareness; it is, after all, one of the most easily measured strategies. It's no wonder experts predict it will generate $5.37 billion this year, a 12 percent jump from 2016.
Measurable tactics make marketers' jobs easier because they can monitor in real time what’s working and which partners are delivering the greatest return on investment. And the most effective affiliate campaigns involve cross-channel strategies that are closely monitored and optimized at every opportunity.
Why affiliate marketing works
There are literally thousands of options for establishing and measuring affiliate campaigns. But whatever methods you choose, the goal is always the same: driving traffic and sales.
Traffic doesn’t come free, and with so many brands vying for people’s attention, it’s increasingly difficult to break through the noise. Affiliate marketing partnerships enhance your efforts — but only when they’re executed with precision.
Ongoing split testing and optimization will always outperform even the cleverest creative campaigns. People might be intrigued by an interesting or funny ad, but they’ll forget it over time. They might become distracted and navigate away before they’ve even had a chance to click.
But split testing and close cooperation with affiliates will ensure that the right message reaches customers at the right time and gives them a compelling reason to convert. Most importantly, split testing allows you to track audience response and adjust your tactics so you don’t waste time or money.
Oftentimes, your affiliates will promote your products across different channels based on what resonates with their audiences. Cross-channel strategies are widely proven to drive up conversion rates and boost brand advocacy — but only when they’re monitored carefully. The more intimately you know your metrics, the better and faster your decisions to optimize your affiliate relationships will be.
A bump in the road to affiliate success
While affiliate marketing offers powerful opportunities for getting in front of larger audiences, it’s not without its challenges. Thanks to rapidly evolving consumer purchasing habits, the goalposts move all the time.
People become better informed about products and brands every day, and they use that information to refine their buying habits and decisions. The most successful companies are those that stay agile so they can respond to these rapid shifts. They’re also the ones that use customer data to make their responses as targeted as possible.
It’s a coupon world, and consumers are always looking for discount codes and promotions to ensure they get the best price. The harsh truth is that even if a customer finds your brand or affiliate first, she’ll likely search around for a better offer. Even if your affiliate’s ad had the sleekest copy, she’s probably going to convert on the last link she tries.
Affiliate partners must also contend with traffic jacking, in which marketers use keywords and pattern interrupts to distract prospects. They might redirect them to videos or ads that lead them away from your affiliate’s offer just as they were getting ready to buy.
Customers’ increasing reliance on testimonials and reviews present obstacles as well. People buy from other people, and your average customer can outsell a salesperson easily with the right reviews. Unfortunately, not all customer reviews are genuine. Companies can insert themselves in forums disguised as fellow consumers to get in front of prospects and draw them away from legitimate affiliates.
Overcoming the obstacles
So how can you and your affiliates navigate those challenges? Think and sell like a customer.
Go beyond demographics to find out who your customers are. Subscribe to social media groups and lists they frequent and learn how they think, what they struggle with, and what types of products they need. Identifying the traffic source first and selecting the product to sell after generates far better return on investment than trying to market a product that may or may not meet the audience’s needs.
Another way to get the best of misleading affiliates and brands is to offer incentives. If everyone is offering the same discount, you risk losing customers to the last link they clicked. But if you promise them a bonus gift that they’ll receive after they purchase, they’ll be more likely to buy from you. The value you offer extends beyond the initial transaction.
Effective targeting is also crucial, and it comes down to tracking, measuring, and optimizing. Here’s how to boost all three in your affiliate campaigns:
- Install pixel tracking codes. Use tools such as Facebook Pixel to track conversions on different variations of your ads. Compare the performance numbers and identify which elements persuaded people to click and which correlated with high abandonment rates. Better still, analyze performance across devices to see which browsing contexts yield the best results.
- Retarget nonbuyers. Create audience segments based on behaviors, and build retargeting campaigns around those who looked but didn’t buy. Up to 99 percent of your site visitors will navigate away before taking action, so you leave an incredible amount of opportunity on the table if you don’t recapture those prospects. Retargeted ads are 400 percent more likely to inspire clicks than cold traffic ads, so prioritize this tactic in your affiliate efforts.
- Remarket past buyers. Don’t let your relationship with existing customers fizzle out. Run ads for similar or congruent products to stay top of mind and encourage them to buy again. People are inundated with ads and offers, so even if they were happy with your brand when they first purchased, it’s easy for them to forget about your other products. Nudging them with a relevant ad is highly effective for drawing them back in.
- Implement a sales funnel. This is what separates the affiliate big dogs from the newbie pups. Capture buyers' email addresses and put them through an order process. Build an email list from your ads that you’ll be able to monetize over and over. A recent study on inbound marketing found that 44 percent of sales professionals surveyed said improving funnel efficiency was a top priority for increasing their conversions. Affiliates should adopt the same mentality.
Affiliate marketing can be incredibly lucrative when executed correctly. Some advertisers attribute 20 percent of their yearly revenue to affiliate sales, and for good reason. People like to buy from other people, and the better you know your customers, the better you and your partners can meet their product needs. By tracking and optimizing your affiliate strategies, you’ll increase affiliate sales momentum and see your return on investment skyrocket.