Growing channel revenue is difficult, and the life of a digital marketer is a busy, fragmented one. If you’re not executing campaigns, you’re reporting on the last one and planning the next one. No wonder that CMOs everywhere are shifting their online marketing presence from siloed channels to a unified, programmatic approach. The last thing you want is for the person in charge of your display ads to be misaligned with the person in charge of your search ads. Or for these people to be misaligned with the person in charge of social media.
By knocking down barriers between these relevant parties, you allow communication to thrive. Ad copy is consistent across all channels, and customers are not confused by different messages. When communication thrives, you can bet on success.
Obviously, aligning your automated digital marketing channels is better than executing campaigns in a vacuum. But before you go live on your next campaign, I want you to take a step back and think carefully about how you go about planning and executing one of your most valuable channels: affiliate marketing.
If your brand has an affiliate presence, chances are it’s one of many marketing channels but probably not your largest. So the temptation is there to draft a message to your affiliates — in some cases — just hours before a new offer is published and hit the send button just like you would change your paid search keywords, execute bidding on display positions, or schedule an email send.
But affiliates don’t work like AdWords or an RTB portal. There are real humans on the other end of that email, and they’re not going to make your changes at 4:30 p.m. on a Friday. If you want to increase your revenue through affiliate marketing, you have to first think like an affiliate.
Affiliates Aren’t Software
This is a key differentiator between affiliate marketing and your other digital marketing channels. You’re not interacting with a user interface when you change your campaigns — you’re communicating with people.
Consider how you handle a situation where you receive many emails within a short time period. You go into triage mode and react to each one according to its need. Just like you, affiliates are responding to multiple messages from many different people. The link changes and promotional copy you’ve asked to be swapped aren’t going to be happen immediately.
That’s why you need to communicate your plans for campaigns (and changes to those campaigns) with enough lead time for affiliates to be successful.
So if you plan on changing your product lineup on April 1, affiliates should be made aware no later than March 1 or March 15 at the latest. If you want your end-users seeing the same copy on an affiliate’s site that they’re seeing in retargeted banners, you’d better start early and send reminders along the way. There’s nothing worse than hurriedly auditing affiliate sites after a key launch date. It’s costly and ineffective.
You’re Not the Only Gig in Town
Affiliates come in all shapes and sizes. Some are full time bloggers, some have set-it-and-forget-it offer feeds, and others have full-time jobs outside of promoting your products. It’s a completely different relationship from even that of an independent contractor.
While you’re used to sending instant messages to vendors, clients, and coworkers and receiving almost instant responses, your affiliates are juggling multiple merchants, multiple verticals and multiple careers. You’re a fraction of their income, so expect only a fraction of their attention.
This brings me to the great misnomer within “affiliate management” as a practice. An affiliate is not like your normal colleague or a subordinate that you manage on a day-to-day basis. If affiliates liked being managed, they’d be working a nine-to-five job like you and me. With that in mind, your focus should be on removing the barriers between your marketing strategy and the strategy of your affiliates.
For starters, make sure your methods of delivering marketing assets remove as many steps to completion as possible. If you’re emailing tracking links to a new landing page, consider sending it as a mail merge or using an email personalization platform in order to autofill their affiliate ID. As an added bonus, your emails will feel more personal and you can address each affiliate by their first name.
If you have individual relationships with your top affiliates, send separate emails that appeal to their personal promotional methods. In other words, don’t send the same content to your blogging affiliates as you would to your top coupon site.
Removing barriers means not always relying on assets sitting behind a password wall. Sure affiliates can research your website and get everything they need on their own, but why not save them some time and help them get your message out to their audience much more quickly.
“Life finds a way” – Dr. Ian Malcolm
It is common to start an affiliate relationship where you go, “These are the three products I want you to sell, so these are the only three products I am going to commission you on.” The problem with this type of deal is a situation where your affiliate links to a landing page on your site instead of sending traffic straight to your cart, and the customer purchases a different item than the one the affiliate was advertising. Even though this sale was outside of your agreement, you should still incentivize those affiliates for bringing you additional sales outside the scope of your agreement.
Just like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park found a way to multiply, the consumer will always “find a way” to buy things from you that you didn’t intend. If this happens, don’t penalize your affiliates for referring sales that you didn’t anticipate. Affiliates will generally link to the products that you prioritize, but the consumer will dictate what they actually click through to buy.
Therefore, offer a commission on all products that add value to your program. If you’re using the cleverbridge Affiliate Center, you can set up Campaigns to reflect your prioritized products while keeping your broader product lineup listed within your Commission Configurations. If you want to deprioritize something sold on your site, make it harder to find. Or create an alternate landing page that changes the click path to your preferred product offerings for affiliates to use.
Marketing with affiliates poses unique challenges to your digital strategy. Unlike your other channels, your success is only as strong as your relationships with individual affiliates. But once you treat your affiliates as partners and as real people, you can harness their efforts to do what they do best.