Affiliate is more than a platform
Columnist Adam Weiss says an affiliate program should be more than just the platform behind it. You need to have a solid team that has access to scalable technology and data that can deliver cross-channel insights.
When I look at the affiliate business, I see it has truly grown in prominence over the last 10 years. Today, affiliate marketing gives brands nearly limitless opportunities to expand their partnerships, diversify distribution and reach new consumers.
And the importance of this channel for marketers will continue to grow. Forrester Consulting, in a study commissioned by my company, projected that US affiliate marketing spending will reach over $6.8 billion by 2020 (PDF). Of course, as someone who works for an affiliate network, I’m biased — but I have good reasons!
The marketing touch points that are afforded by this channel illustrate that affiliate is more than just the platform on which a program runs. Today, affiliate marketing has evolved to become the gateway for brands to create and nourish business partnerships. In fact, there is almost no one you can’t work with through an affiliate marketing relationship.
Now, I agree that a powerful affiliate platform is still integral to managing campaigns. Having sophisticated technology for tracking, payment processing, link generating tools and reporting is foundational for a thriving affiliate program.
But if you want to grow your brand, dominate market share and gain new customers, then you need an affiliate program that is much more dynamic than the platform that powers it. This is where an experienced network team that has the vision and resources to innovate scalable technology can help brands succeed in driving incremental profitable sales.
Let’s examine the ways that affiliate marketing can unlock more opportunities for brands.
Facilitating business development
Today there are almost an infinite number of publishers that brands can access. The challenge often becomes, “How do I connect with the ones that are right for my brand?”
That’s where an affiliate network comes in. Having an entire team of network development specialists, whose job is dedicated to actively seeking valuable partnerships, will allow brands to access higher-quality publishers and unique opportunities.
As brands grow and expand their program beyond “traditional affiliates,” it’s important that they start to use the channel more creatively, as a network for growing and tracking business development deals.
Advertisers, think for a moment beyond your current campaigns — who else would you consider a fan of your brand? Maybe it’s a unique customer segment, a group of influencers or your own store associates who you want to ensure they get commissions for what they sell.
An affiliate network can help identify and manage business relationships with individuals working with a brand on a pay-for-performance basis, even those who might not already be familiar with affiliate marketing.
In a recent global study (PDF) my company conducted, we found that 80 percent of US consumers believe advertising is valuable when it aligns with their needs or interests. The survey found that better customization to likes, lifestyle and interests is one of the top two things customers wish would change with online ads — especially among men, who were 28 percent more likely than women to rank it as number one.
As marketers continue to look for ways to provide a personalized message to their customers, affiliate campaigns should not be overlooked. Well over half of retailers in North America plan to make personalization their top objective for engaging customers this year, according to eMarketer.
With the advancements in tools and technology, affiliate is one of the best places to start. Publishers can now customize the content they serve to their visitors, based on deep consumer intelligence from vast amounts of data that’s processed every second.
Publishers who work with a strong network can use an affiliate consumer graph to craft curated offers designed around the attributes of a consumer visiting their site. Additionally, brands could provide publishers with unique feeds of product data — like content in a consumer’s native language or currency.
Giving advertisers the ability to slice and dice their product catalogs allows a publisher deeper customization of the products they feature to align with their audience.
Delivering cross-channel marketing insights
Many networks provide spreadsheets of data and graphs, but that’s just one piece of what is necessary for measuring and optimizing an affiliate strategy. A data dump by itself isn’t valuable — it requires analysis, visibility across channels and analysts who translate data into actionable insights that can be used to improve both affiliate and cross-channel campaign strategies.
For example, we manage search and affiliate campaigns for our client, JanSport, and, through our insights platform, we were able to provide transparency into how these two digital marketing channels interact. Armed with this insight, we identified several trademark terms to optimize and allowed select affiliates from JanSport’s publisher network the right to bid on those terms. One of the publishers testing this strategy has already seen 600 percent month-over-month growth in sales.
Understanding your brand
Having account teams with vertical and category expertise can help a brand improve their affiliate campaigns. For example, if you’re a luxury brand, it’s important to have a team that understands the sensitivities of luxury retailers and can supply benchmark vertical data to support strategic recommendations.
Additionally, heavily regulated industries such as financial services can benefit from teams that have expertise in this category, and can develop innovative programs that comply with regulations and requirements.
One more thing…
Affiliate publishers have helped shape and change the way consumers shop online. And the influence that affiliate marketing will have on consumers will continue to evolve. There are no limits to what you can do through the channel to drive incremental, profitable sales.
Because affiliate is more than a platform, a strong team that has access to a scalable platform and robust data can provide brands with business development opportunities that empower marketers to deliver curated experiences for their consumers.