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The benefits of affiliate marketing can be a real game-changer. Here’s why.
There are a number of reasons why brands haven’t leaned head first into affiliate marketing (also known as “partner marketing” or “performance marketing”). Almost by virtue of its name alone, it’s managed to earn a negative, albeit entirely undeserved reputation. A big part of this stems from the fact that many people still don’t have a firm grasp around what it is or the kind of value it can deliver. Many marketers just don’t realize that building, growing, and nurturing a strong affiliate marketing program can be the game-changer for them. It can be that missing “trick” in the bag that enables brands to dominate digital “shelf space” like never before. That is, as long as the program is managed efficiently. Unfortunately, the opposite is more often the rule than the exception. This is a big reason why affiliate marketing, in spite of all its benefits, has regularly become an afterthought in the face of more tried-and-true paid advertising.
Fortunately, there are many ways to avoid the pitfalls of a poorly managed program. We’ll get to that in a second. But first, it’s worth taking a moment to brush up on the basics and clear up any confusion around what affiliate marketing really is. Simply stated, affiliate marketing is a way for a company to sell its products by signing up individuals or companies (“affiliates”) who market the company’s products for a commission on leads or sales. It’s essentially like on-boarding a third-party sales force to get your brand in front of more consumers. For this to be successful, you have to not only select the right affiliates to promote your brand, but also take a hands-on approach to managing that relationship every step of the way. That’s the only way to get results.
Unfortunately, starting a program on your own can oftentimes feel a bit overwhelming. Many brands just don’t know where to start or which affiliates to reach out to in the first place. The good news is that LQ knows a thing or two about managing a healthy affiliate marketing program – and can alleviate a lot of these “unknowns” for you. We also take a lot of pride in our unique approach. For starters, we like to say that we measure our partners “beyond the pixel.” What does that mean? Simply put, we seek to understand the total value of the customers being generated by affiliates by looking beyond the transactions – leads and sales – happening only at the platform-level. We examine the business models of our affiliates to assess which partners generate the most valuable traffic vs. those who simply operate at the lower end of the funnel. And even in those cases, if a low funnel partner is the right strategic fit for one of our customers, we’ll consider it. What this all basically means is that we don’t approach affiliate marketing programs in a one-size-fits-all manner. No two customers – or affiliates, for that matter – are the same; how we craft a program for different customers shouldn’t be either.
To prove that this approach really works – and trust us, it really does – here’s a story about one of our customers in the meal kit delivery service category. Before coming to us, this customer had taken a one-size-fits-all approach for managing their affiliates. The problem with this, as we hinted at above, is that doing so does not allow you to drive the most value from those partners or truly understand the real value that can be extracted from each partner. So, to change things up, we cherry picked a few affiliates who were already running non-brand paid search campaigns and decided to take the reins on managing payouts and optimization. Now, here’s the fun part: back in August 2017, these partners were generating roughly 100 orders; today, they are projecting over 2,000 orders. Because we were better able to identify the overall value of these partners and have the know-how around how best to work with them, we were able to blow our customer’s expectations out of the water – and at a lower cost than they would have ordinarily paid for direct search campaigns.
As you can see, nothing about running a successful affiliate marketing program is done on “autopilot.” The more you put into your program, the more you’ll get out of it. When done right, affiliate marketing, as part of your overall digital marketing strategy, can be a huge catalyst for growth and help you extract the greatest amount of value from every digital marketing dollar spent. If you haven’t considered building an affiliate marketing program in the past, here are a few reasons why you should reconsider doing it now.
First, affiliate marketing is an effective way to expand reach in ways you couldn’t do on your own. For example, you may not have a full marketing team at your disposal to manage brand promotion every day. Even if you do, you may have hit a plateau with your current digital advertising efforts or have simply exhausted all of your available marketing channels. Affiliate marketing essentially opens up a new avenue for driving leads and generating sales. It’s also a great way to expose your brand to more of your most profitable customers. Given that most affiliate sites are “specialists” in their respective categories, you’re almost guaranteed – more so than with your paid search and display efforts – that the consumers visiting those sites are specifically looking to engage with a brand like yours.
Second, affiliate marketing is a more economically-efficient way to use your digital marketing dollars. Affiliates get paid by multiple brands and, therefore, have larger combined digital marketing budgets to work with. This also means they have more leverage to bid for prime ad inventory at a lower CPA than any one brand would have on its own. So, why go at it alone, trying to get top spot at a higher CPA and ultimately compete with these affiliates, when they can do this all for you at a lower (blended) cost? You shouldn’t. Just avoid overlapping your digital advertising efforts with those of your affiliates; doing double duty on the same consumers in a perceived effort to get top billing or drive more leads won’t double your results. It’ll just sap your marketing budgets – and fast!
Third, you pay affiliates a commission to do the heavy lifting – even more if you’re asking them to do the bulk of your digital marketing for you. The expectation is that they’ll drive real results for your brand. And once you see that happening, you’ll likely spend more with them to keep the momentum going. Unlike your own SEM efforts, however, where you pay for clicks with no guarantee of purchase, you can potentially minimize your risk with affiliates by only paying them for leads that convert into a purchase. This is the biggest benefit of affiliate marketing programs. When it works, it really works. As more leads and sales come through, you’ll find yourself dedicating more time, money, and resources into managing and growing that program.
And lastly, the more you build your relationships with affiliates, the more your rankings and reviews will improve on their sites. The more your rankings improve, the more positive influence your brand will have over the consumers that visit those sites. The more influence you have, the more interactions you’ll get. It’s a “halo effect” and a “domino effect” at the same time. For lesser known brands, affiliate marketing can truly be make or break. In fact, we’ve seen this make an unknown brand go “mainstream” quickly – and actually compete successfully against larger competitors. Affiliates lay it all out there for consumers to compare and contrast. Rubbing shoulders with the big guys on an affiliate site is not only a great way to get noticed, but also an effective strategy for gaining credibility, even more so if you don’t have huge marketing budgets to work with.
Affiliate Marketing Really Works
If you haven’t caught on by now, affiliate marketing can be a true game-changer for you brand. It can lead to tremendous brand growth by getting your brand in front of more of the right consumers, generating more valuable leads, and driving more sales than you could have ever achieved through your own digital advertising efforts alone. However, this is only possible when you do it right. Building a healthy affiliate marketing program takes time, patience, technical expertise, and a willingness to be hands-on from start to finish. Fortunately, with LQ by your side, you can rest assured that any steps you take to build your affiliate marketing program will be done with only one goal in mind: to grow your brand in a big way.