Five Factors To Consider When Launching An Affiliate Program

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Affiliate marketing is not new. In fact, the practice dates back several decades and is still widely leveraged by marketers today. Affiliate marketing boils down to one thing: collaboration. A relationship is established between a brand and relevant partners, and the partners are incentivized to spread the word. Tracking mechanisms for all sales generated are implemented, and affiliate partners are rewarded with commissions. It’s a win-win.

Affiliate marketing still is still prevalent today and has become seamless for brands of all sizes to utilize with great success. Here are several reasons this tactic may benefit your marketing strategy, along with some factors to consider.

Quick Return

Affiliate program statistics are compelling. Several brands I support are seeing around 20% of their e-commerce revenues stemming from affiliate marketing, mere months after launching their programs. This quick return can be compelling for marketers when considering the cost and time search engine optimization (SEO), paid search and email marketing strategies take to perform.

Given the speed at which an affiliate program can ramp up, it is good practice to start slowly. Consider onboarding partners in bite-sized batches to ensure inventory levels can accommodate and fulfillment teams are at the ready.

Performance-Based Model

Affiliate programs are low risk due to the performance-based, pay-when-there-is-a-sale model. I find that affiliate partner commission percentages are also attainable, often ranging from 10-20% per sale, as an example, depending upon the type of product and industry. Two apparel brands I support offer a healthy and enticing 20% commission to all vetted affiliates.

Additional costs to consider are promotional offers, such as free shipping or discount coupons affiliate partners can share with their communities to entice referral sales. Lastly, depending on your brand, product sample and shipping costs must also be considered to generate excitement and fluency with your product among affiliate partners. This firsthand product use experience forms the backbone of the storytelling affiliates will do on your behalf.

Setup, Implementation And Built-In Features

In the current Shopify era, setting up an affiliate program can be as simple as selecting an app and adding it to your store. Most affiliate apps have negligible costs per month, yet still yield a suite of important built-in features. Look for the following fundamentals when choosing the right affiliate app or platform for your brand.

• A custom-branded affiliate portal that allows affiliates to generate referral links, rename coupon codes, check all sales generated and connect payment methods for easy receipt of commissions.

• Seek out flexible per-product or per-affiliate commission configurations, important for brands with collections that have varying margins. You will want the ability to stage affiliate commissions on a sitewide or per-product basis, or to exclude certain products altogether if necessary. This has proven important in my experience, as margins can vary widely depending upon the product category. In some circumstances, it has been crucial to exclude products or configure a range of commissions throughout an assortment.

• Mobile-ready convenience is a fundamental must-have so affiliate referral sales can be tracked wherever they occur — mobile or desktop.

• Multiple tracking methods and real-time tracking are also key considerations, as you will want to be able to track affiliate conversions via both referral links and coupon codes instantaneously.

• Link-sharing ease goes without saying, as you will want affiliates to be able to share their links and coupon codes seamlessly via social, email campaigns and blog posts.

User-Generated Content

One of the most potent reasons, and biggest benefits, for launching an affiliate program, in my opinion, relates to user-generated content. Consumers today are increasingly impacted by unbranded stories and posts from real users. These third-party endorsements breed a level of trust and credibility, more difficult to achieve via branded communications.

Encouraging affiliates to post authentic, informal stories with their own created assets showcasing your products in use versus relying purely on brand-provided assets can produce powerful results. A suggested posting cadence coupled with a few strong examples from existing affiliates can help set clear expectations and spark ideas for newly signed affiliate collaborators. This information can easily be woven into the customizable affiliate sign-up forms.

Affiliate Vetting: Curation Is Key

While the broader the affiliate partner base, the wider the potential visibility for your brand, curation is crucial. In order to ensure that your affiliate base will generate high-quality and relevant referrals, it is best to turn off the auto-approval functions most affiliate apps offer.

Take the time to research each affiliate website and social platform. Better yet, when feasible given your team bandwidth, have introductory calls. While time-consuming and tedious, this level of curation will ultimately yield more fruitful partnerships and mitigate risks such as low-quality traffic and affiliate fraud.

Affiliate marketing is an excellent way of generating visibility and sales, regardless of company size and budget. When executed meaningfully, the results are beneficial to all parties: brand, affiliate partner and end consumer. Your brand can take advantage of an affordable method to kick-start sales and build online engagement from third-party advocates. Affiliate collaborators enjoy product testing and storytelling to their existing community base, which ultimately converts into healthy commissions. The end consumer benefits from firsthand product experience gleaned from the affiliate, along with promotional offers.

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