At start-business-online we are great proponents of affiliate marketing programs and have recently posted our own guide on forex affiliate programs specifically, detailing why and how they could turn into very lucrative opportunities. Today, we return to the topic of affiliate marketing programs largely spurred by some comments received that such programs are outdated and do not actually constitute viable options for profit making.
Prior to delving further into the matter, let us firstly refute the outdated characterisation. Many can vouch to the fact that word-of mouth marketing strategies do indeed work, especially if the affiliate has access to an extensive network of people he or she can influence and sway. In fact, we have heard stories of students joining affiliate networks and through referring their friends and fellow students, managing to achieve such earnings, allowing them not only to pay off their student loans, but actually convincing them to change their entire career path.
Besides such real life stories, the notion that affiliate marketing is far from dead and outdated is further supported by the whopping nearly one million worldwide members participating in Amazon’s affiliate programs, which are in turn used by almost 1,5% of all websites worldwide. In short, it becomes evident that affiliate marketing can prove a catalyst in terms of customer growth for any business, which can benefit from the hordes of indirect advocates driving new customers its way and thus boosting sales and revenues.
If the potential of affiliate marketing programs is undeniable, what would be the factor that holds some marketers back from resorting to these then? The answer lies in the nature of affiliate marketing programs themselves, since by default they do require a lot of work to be setup and effectively and efficiently operate. Unlike other marketing strategies, affiliate marketing programs are not a one-off, set and forget method, but require instead a constant and time consuming effort to be properly created and defined in detail and down to specifics which will yield the best possible results for each different type of business. Besides the initial setting-up phase, affiliate marketing programs also require continuous management on a daily basis, which takes into account feedback and implements changes and improvements as they become evident. This is why most firms running successful affiliate marketing programs, have dedicate staff whose main task is the fine tuning and constant evolution of such programs.
Though the time and effort required for affiliate marketing programs is substantial this should by no means work as a deterrent. In fact, every good marketer should be up for the challenge of setting up and running a successful affiliate marketing scheme, since the benefits to be had in terms of ROI are indeed remarkable. Achieving such amazing results through an effective in-house affiliate marketing program is a sure deal, provided the endeavour is based on the following best practices:
- Developing a proper plan
- Having your numbers right from the start
- Successfully inviting affiliates
- Educating affiliates and building long-term relationships
- Analyzing the results and feedback and acting accordingly
Now, let us explore each of the above further, to best illustrate the best way of going about crafting your own successful affiliate marketing program.
Developing a proper plan
The first step of every successful endeavour is a careful, well thought-out plan that allows you to have a clear direction and be well prepared for every eventuality, thus making the launch as smooth as possible and maximizing the chances for success. The initial planning phase entails identifying all in-house stakeholders and assigning them their clear roles in the execution of the program. Though primarily a project for the marketing team, especially when it comes to content, you also need to involve your in-house tech team to handle tracking affiliate codes and other technical aspects, while also having on board the finance department is essential for setting up a viable and competitive commission structure. An effective plan with all involved on board and on the same page will ensure the long term viability and success of the endeavour.
Having your numbers right from the start
Since affiliate marketing aims at driving positive and efficient ROI for your company it is imperative that you have all your numbers right from the beginning of the endeavour. By this we mean having an accurate picture about both the average customer acquisition cost for your firm across an array of other marketing channels to be able to make comparisons with those acquired through affiliate marketing. Moreover, you will need to have a clear picture about the lifetime value of customers acquired through each channel. Having the numbers right, will allow you to create an affiliate structure that will both give adequate rewards to affiliates, enough to incentivise them, while at the same time leaving a healthy margin for you too. Having accurate numerical data will also help you figure out the most suitable incentive structure and help you decide whether incentives will be in the form of a percentage of a total sale, or a specific amount for each client. In forex affiliate programs for example, often affiliates are rewarded not per customer referred but according to the amount of funds deposited in their trading account, because that serves forex brokers better.
Successfully inviting affiliates
Once the plan and numbers are all clear, the next step entails taking a crucial decision with regards to the kind of affiliates you will aim at. One option would be to launch an internet-wide affiliate program, open to potentially all that may be interested, by posting all the relevant information online, publicly on your website and take it from there. The other option would be to keep your affiliate program more closed and exclusive and reach out only to specific influencers and thought leaders. The decision should be based on careful thinking and you should go with the option that best suits the nature and type of your specific business as well as the profile of your target audience, i.e. your potential customers.
Having said that the decision should be based on your own specificities, we strongly believe that the most effective affiliate marketing programs are those which are based on the partnership approach. This entails the establishment of working relationships, following an evaluation process, directly with the most relevant and influential people in your industry or niche, in other words with those whose endorsement would be most likely to influence your potential customers to convert or purchase. Through such a partnership approach your brand is not renting out affiliates from a third-party network, but is actually the direct owner of this relationship, ensuring it has much greater chances of proving mutually beneficial.
Educating affiliates and building long-term relationships
In terms of the maintenance of your affiliate program you can either rely on manual processes, such as spreadsheets, or better yet invest in dedicated affiliate marketing software which will allow you to reap all the benefits of automation. Whichever method you choose to adopt, what is of crucial importance is to make sure that all your affiliates are continuously educated. Since your affiliates are supposed to bring in new customers and ensure more sales, you need to treat them similarly to how you treat your in-house sales team. This means that affiliates need to be always up-to-date, informed and fully aware about your offering, including new product launches, new services or any offers or promotions you may be running at each time. You should aim to build long term relationships with all your affiliates, based on mutual trust, transparency and reciprocity. To achieve this, you could utilize electronic means such as emails, newsletters and webinars, but also hold face to face meetings, in groups or on an 1 to 1 basis, in order to be able to go over all details in greater depth.
Analyzing the results and feedback and acting accordingly
One of the benefits of using dedicated affiliate marketing software to manage your affiliate program is that it can provide you with valuable and insightful data and metrics. However, merely having the numbers there is not enough, unless you can properly interpret them and use them to reach valid conclusions. It is therefore imperative that you dedicate enough time at regular intervals, e.g. every week or every month, in order to analyse the metrics and data obtained, to be able to discern who are your most successful affiliates and how this success is achieved. Having a deep understanding about what actually works and what doesn’t and being able to understand the emerging trends will allow you to take wiser decisions, for example whether to offer affiliate bonuses. In this way, the management of your affiliate marketing program can render it the spearhead of your overall marketing strategy, helping you arrive at unprecedented growth.
Adopting the partnership approach for your affiliate marketing endeavours
The success or failure of any affiliate marketing program, largely depends on finding the right and most suitable affiliates for your specific products or services, ensuring they value your offering as much as you do. An easy and fast way to hook up with affiliates would be to sign up to an affiliate marketing network. There are many of those around and they could instantly give you access to hordes of affiliates, which will most probably produce a predictable lift in your traffic.
Though fast and simple, this method bears the drawback that it does not allow you to have direct control of your relationship with your affiliates, nor does it allow you to select them yourself. In fact, you are highly dependent on fluctuations and changes brought about by the affiliate network, which acts as the middle-man between you and the affiliates.
Another downside is that when running an affiliate marketing campaign through a network you are forced to pay more for your content or ads to be displayed, since you will be competing with bigger sharks, like those willing or able to pay higher percentages to affiliates. In short, success may be reachable but at a higher cost.
Therefore, a better way to approach affiliate marketing would be to avoid resorting to networks and agencies, but building an organic affiliate program instead. Though significantly more labour intensive, such a solution will allow you to harness valuable relationships with your affiliates and chose those affiliates who are better suited to become the ambassadors or your specific brand of products or services. For such a partnership approach to yield the best possible results, you should ensure that working with your affiliates is based on the following key steps:
- Step 1: Find affiliates who can strongly connect to your brand and share your values and vision
- Step 2: Encourage your affiliates’ creativity with their content
- Step 3: Clearly invest in your affiliates without paying them upfront
Now, let’s explore each of those in greater depth.
Step 1: Find affiliates who can strongly connect to your brand and share your values and vision
The vetting process of potential affiliates is the most crucial phase of creating an organic affiliate program. As first reach out to those with an existing affinity to your brand. Loyal customers for example, are more likely to already be vocal about their preference and already be professing this either in their own social media accounts or by posting reviews on your site. In fact, the best and most impactful content is that created by affiliates themselves as it is bound to be genuine and original. A campaign disseminated through affiliates who serve as partners and not mere ad servers is much more likely to lead to boosted conversions, sales and revenues.
Step 2: Encourage your affiliates’ creativity with their content
Appealing and effective affiliate content should be more than just a social media post or repost. In fact, as much creativity as is put in the better the results will be. Your affiliates may write posts about your offering on their own blogs, websites or social media channels, or even be featured on your own channels as well. In this way, their audience will be directly attracted to your own platforms, thus making you more visible to potential customers. Creative content creation is a win-win situation for both your own brand, and the “brand” of your affiliates, while co-ownership of the content and the synergies created facilitate the cross-influencing of your respective audiences.
Step 3: Clearly invest in your affiliates without paying them upfront
For your affiliates to feel valued and appreciated and better incentivized to produce results, it is necessary that you invest in them and be clear and fair in how and how much you reward them. This does not necessarily entail paying them upfront as this puts you at risk and allows them to easily move to the next brand that is willing to pay more. Instead, you should guide your investment on affiliates willing not only to talk the talk, but walk the walk as well and are prepared to engage in a long term partnership relationship with you, based on clear and mutually accepted terms. It is imperative that when entering such a partnership the expectations are clearly stated and understood from both sides.
In a nutshell, the proposition here is that the partnership approach is indeed a better way to manage an affiliate marketing program, since it is built on the notion that quality wins over quality. The end aim should not be to have many affiliates, but to have the best affiliates. Affiliates who are personally invested in your brand and your relationship and you are implementing a more personal marketing approach. If that is coupled with automations based on dedicated affiliate marketing solutions, then the results are bound to be better, especially if all stakeholders share the same commitment to creativity and transparency. The golden rule is that the right and most suitable affiliate, when given the proper motivation and tools and sure do wonders for your brand!
To find out more about how to devise an organic affiliate marketing program contact our team today and let us help you find the help you need on your way to success.