For many marketers, the thought of managing an affiliate program in-house, is highly appealing as it allows brands to retain control of all the day-to-day aspects of program management. From strategy to execution—you’re in the driver’s seat. Although appealing in theory, the thought of hiring an experienced in-house affiliate expert coupled with the internal stakeholders‘ own limited knowledge of the channel, may make outsourcing affiliate program management seem like the only viable option.
For those marketers who find themselves ultimately wanting to insource affiliate management but need to outsource temporarily while acquiring the education and skill set necessary to execute an affiliate program effectively, Partnerize has the answer. With a choice of service solutions, Partnerize has something for every unique marketer’s needs. This includes a specialized track designed for the growth marketer looking for a guided and comprehensive affiliate management education with flexibility to move in-house based on your timeline. For these marketers, Partnerize will customize an educational training track designed to get you where you want to be with developing in-house expertise in 12 months or less.
How to Get Started Creating an Affiliate Program
The concept of creating an affiliate program is certainly not a new one. Over the years, we’ve seen many exciting partnerships between brands across all verticals. However, there are a couple of pain points that have consistently arisen in the past: how do we make forming and managing these partnerships easier, and how do we measure ROI?
If you’re ready to explore the power of affiliate programs, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve developed this content to help you discover how to get started in creating a robust and repeatable process for forming and driving maximum value from your next affiliate program. In this paper, we’ll provide you with ten key areas to address when planning a successful affiliate program, and offer tips and ideas on how to address each opportunity.
- Objectives and Goal-Setting for Your Affiliate Program
- Audience Definition
- Understanding Your Internal Partnering Capabilities and Resources
- Defining the Best Affiliate Verticals
- Outlining What You Have to Offer
- Identifying Available Resources for Partnership
- Timeline Development
- Success Measurement
- Identifying a Partnerships Champion
- Developing an Initial Affiliate Offer
Objectives and Goal Setting for Your Affiliate Program
Before undertaking any marketing activity, it’s imperative you codify what you’re trying to achieve and how you will measure success. Partnerships are not an “end” in themselves, but rather a means of attaining real brand goals. Before you begin — before you start thinking about potential partners, or working out the details of how you might work together, you need to clearly spell out your objectives and gain team commitment to constantly return to these objectives throughout the process, to ensure you stay on track.
We strongly recommend setting both long-term objectives and short-term business goals for new partnerships. In our view, partnerships should deliver both immediate benefits and be structured to enable further collaboration for the long haul.
Objectives for an affiliate programs are almost always focused around one of three areas. Let’s take a look at both objectives and goals.
- Increasing Customer Acquisition: This objective looks at ways to grow the number of new customers to your business, and is the most common focus for businesses creating an affiliate program. With this objective, you can set specific goals such as “Increase new customer acquisition by 15% over the first three months.” Specific numerical goals are always valuable here.
- Growing Your Customer Database: This objective focuses on increasing numbers; specifically, the number of people opted in for marketing communications in your database. The benefits of this can be great for ongoing marketing activity, as it enables you to turn new leads into lifetime customers. With this objective, it’s best to set a target goal such as “Opt-in 5000 new leads for marketing communications into our database over the first three months.”
- Achieving Specific Revenue Targets: This objective ties in your partnership strategy into your revenue goals. With this objective, you can set specific goals around percentage or in a particular dollar amount such as “Add $914,000 of new customer revenue, specifically from the affiliate marketing channel, over the first three months.”
Objectives and goal-setting are crucial first steps. Many times, great affiliate efforts flounder during the execution phase if goals are not clearly laid out and socialized at the outset.
Understanding the audience you want to target is one of the most important factors to consider when it comes to determining with which brand(s) you’re going to partner. This is particularly critical when you want to target an audience that is different from your primary audience.
If the audience you want to target matches your current primary audience, you can begin to think about which types of brands would appeal to the same cohorts as your products and services.
If the audience you want to target is different from your primary audience, think about specifically which audience you want to target and which types of brands that audience loves. Depending on the resources available to you, you may be able to task a team member to do real research on brands with similar user bases.
Alternatively, you and your team can brainstorm partners with the right appeal. If you are trying to reach the same audience but with a new geography, then working with global brands can be beneficial. Undertaking a persona exercise can also be of real use here.
Understand Your Internal Partnering Capabilities and Resources
If your company has undertaken affiliate marketing before, there are sure to be some lessons learned.
If you have tried creating an affiliate program before, this is a great time to do some analysis on the successes and challenges of past partnerships. Look at what went well and the ways that you measured success. On the flip side, look at what didn’t perform as expected or didn’t happen smoothly and plan how you can resolve those issues going forward to achieve different outcomes. By understanding what worked and what didn’t, whether it’s the path of measurement, the affiliates you partnered with, or the actual set-up and management of the program, you’ll be able to devise your next program better and better achieve success.
If you’re never tried creating an affiliate program before, now is a great time to do some research on other affiliate programs out there. What can you learn from these examples, and particularly from brands similar to yours
Also work with other departments to define a process for negotiating, setting up and managing partnerships. Codify roles and responsibilities so you can work as a team to make significant progress quickly.
Defining the Best Affiliate Program Verticals
After you have brainstormed your targets list, it is essential to prioritize options and focus on the highest potential collaborations first. In many cases, it can be helpful to focus first on identifying verticals other than your own that can deliver exceptional sales and branding benefits. This also allows you to form partnerships that can be more interesting to consumers and therefore will be more likely to help you achieve your goals. For example, as an airline, you might want to partner with a swimwear brand to co-promote when customers are heading on a beach holiday.
Outlining What Your Program Has to Offer
Now that you’ve worked out your objectives and thought about some of the opportunities affiliate presents, it’s time to consider things from your prospective partner’s point of view. After all, every successful partnership confers benefits on all participants.
First, it’s wise to understand the types of partners you can undertake. Here are three of the most popular approaches.
Cross Promotion: This strategy involves both brands co-promoting, often in a bundled scenario. For example, if you’re a furniture retailer, you could promote home insurance to customers who purchase new furniture for their home. In turn, the insurer could promote your furniture range to customers who have recently bought home insurance. Brand as a Revenue Partner: Here the focus is on identifying partners that will promote your products and services in exchange for commission or fees. This is a popular strategy in the travel business. For example, an airline can promote a hotel chain on-site when a customer purchases a flight to a specific location. If the customer books with that hotel, the chain will then pay the airline a fixed dollar bounty or a percentage of sales as compensation.
Commission Reinvestment: Here the concept is for one brand to gain new customers by offering a coupon or voucher to an affiliate partner in exchange for a new customer sign up or other desired action. For example, a bank could appeal to potential new customers to open a specific bank account by using a retail voucher. If customers take up this offer, the bank acquires a new customer, while the retailer gains incremental sales through the use of the coupon.
Each partnership strategy has its own merits, but the most common undertaken is cross-promotion. Whichever approach you take, accurate measurement of performance will be critical.
Identifying Available Resources For Your Affiliate Program
Any affiliate program requires commitments and resources to be successful.
Here are a few to consider:
- Internal Team: Do you have people in your team or elsewhere in the organization to manage the affiliate program? Assess the time commitments you and your team can make to ensure a program is successful. If the resources are in other teams, ensure you have alignment and real engagement from those teams before you begin affiliate outreach.
- Online/Offline Assets: Can you support an affiliate program with offline assets or your website/app? This is important because it helps you define what you can — and cannot — offer to an affiliate as part of a collaboration.
- Access to an EDM Audience: Do you have a marketing database where customers have opted in to receive communications? This can come in handy when you’re cross-promoting a brand. Don’t forget to gain buy-in from your email team and ensure everything is data privacy/GDPR compliant.
- Bespoke Tech Platform: Do you have a technology/tool to manage these affiliates? Managing the affiliate program means you’ll need a platform that can generate tracking links, measure clicks and conversions and provide reporting on the success of your partnership.
To keep affiliate partner development projects on track, it makes sense to lay out and gain agreement to timelines across your organization. Set realistic goals rather than blue sky lightning fast schedules for best results. Consider also:
- Timing In The Year: Work out when you’d like to launch/run the partnership in the calendar year. If you’re in retail, you might want to avoid Q4, because many brands have code freezes and other constraints due to holiday sales efforts. Also, Q4 tends to be when teams are already overtaxed with other priorities.
- Time To Set Up: Next, you’ll need to plan out what sort of time frame you’ll need. This is particularly important if you involve other teams, as you’ll need to factor in their workloads. Giving yourself a clear timeline will aid in conversations with your affiliates when planning the partnership and helps to set realistic time frames with everyone involved.
- Length of the Partnership: Finally, you’ll need to align your timeline to short-range goals and long-range partnership objectives. This exercise must tie back to your original objective and be part of your SMART goals. Ensure you have enough time to achieve the goals you’ve set yourself. This will also help in planning with your affiliates as you can work to agree to a timeframe.
Measuring Success of Your Affiliate Program
At the start of this guide, we mentioned that one of the biggest challenges when implementing an affiliate program is measurement. Therefore, it’s imperative that you select and implement the right tool to help you.
To successfully measure your affiliate program you’ll need a platform that can:
- Generate specific tracking links with advertiser references to link back to. This allows you to understand performance on specific placements
- Measure clicks and conversions on specific placements
- Provide reporting tools to measure the outcomes of your affiliate program
Take the time to find a platform that can accommodate any form of program or affiliate that you may wish to work with and covers the key points above. You may even already have one.
Identifying Program Champions
Setting up an affiliate program can be complicated, especially for your first partnership. Finding an internal program champion means you have one key owner within your business who is always focused on key objectives and achieving them. It can also be helpful to have an internal champion in both organizations to speed things along.
Your internal champion should be involved in all stages of setting up the partnership, from planning to execution to outcomes. Their primary focus is to ensure things run to schedule, operate against the objectives and that the partnership is on track to achieve results.
The best brand champions strongly believe in partnerships, have tenacity and diplomatic skills, and exhibit a strong desire for results and accountability.
Developing an Initial Affiliate Invite Offer
Finally, it’s time to think about the best ways to attract an affiliate.
Firstly, look inward and decide if there are specific products or categories you wish to promote? For example, you might want to focus on higher-margin product lines/brands to drive stronger revenue results.
Secondly, look outward and work out what your most compelling partnership would look like. For example, it might benefit you to promote a slow-selling product line, but this won’t be so enticing for your affiliates.
Working out your potential offers before approaching a brand will help speed up the implementation process and ensure there are no unpleasant surprises in the execution phase.
Affiliate programs present substantial growth opportunities and the chance to innovate your traditional partner tactics. The above steps will help you on your way to set up a successful affiliate program.
If you’re interested in further exploring affiliate programs, or need some help to get started, please get in touch with us. We’d be happy to help, just contact us.
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