How to Build a Successful Affiliate Marketing Program

July 20, 2023
July 20, 2023 michelledav

How to Build a Successful Affiliate Marketing Program

5 easy steps that will make your affiliate set up for success!

Want to know how to start affiliate marketing as an advertiser? In this blog, I share tips for technical integration, choosing a platform, affiliate management strategy, affiliate promotions, and content, and end with how fun affiliate marketing can be!

The affiliate marketing channel started in the late 90s but became popular in the mid-00s. This industry is now worth $17 billion with 83% of marketers using the channel. In my experience, I’ve seen this channel yield the lowest CPL (cost per lead) while generating the highest ROI (return on investment). CPAs (call per action) make it easier to stay on top of CPLs and CAC (cost acquisition cost) because you measure the desired action you pay out on.

Now that we’ve discussed more reasons why you should set up an affiliate program let’s get into these 5 easy steps.

Affiliates do not have to have access to the same site-wide promotions and offer you give your customers, but this has to be a cohesive strategy. Promotional strategy affects your margins, yet it can be a powerful conversion tool. Every affiliate client that is managed by me and my team gets a strategic content calendar that maps out the partner communication plan including the promotional strategy whether that means coupons and deals or promotional content. If your brand can offer discounts and exclusive coupon codes this still is a tried and true method. What I find the most effective, is working closely with your dedicated affiliate manager. Affiliate programs cannot run alone siloed from the rest of the company and can end up with incorrect messaging and poor results due to a lack of cohesiveness with the brand. This is easily avoidable by including your affiliate manager in all marketing meetings and making sure to meet with them on are regular basis keeping them up to date on your company’s mission, message, and branding.

Step 1. Affiliate Technical Integration

Affiliate marketing technical integrations can be a tough hurdle to overcome if you do not do your homework prior to following the next 4 steps. It is important to understand your back-end tracking platform and how any affiliate platform is going to interact with it. If you have a lead-based program this is especially important because your integration will have to include fraud protection or a process to qualify leads as they come through. There are many automated and manual ways to handle this yet it will all need to be planned out prior to setting up.

Just a tidbit: E-commerce shopping platforms such as Shopify in my experience integrate the easiest with any affiliate platform. I’ve seen affiliate integrations added on Shopify with CJShareASale, and Impact and there is an easy plugin. I’m sure all platforms have these plugins.

Affiliate marketing platforms can integrate with just about anything. I like to always use technical integration as step 1, yet it goes hand in hand with Step 2. Picking a platform will determine your technical integration route.

Step 2. Choosing an Affiliate Network

When choosing an affiliate marketing platform it is important to understand your monthly budget and projections, what niche the platform seems to cater to, and the level of support you and your dedicated affiliate manager need. The most recognizable are the legacy 4; CJRakutenImpact, and ShareASale though there are tons of options for brands. My favorite B2B affiliate platform is PartnerStack. And during my research, I even found this niche platform; Green Affiliates, which caters to the new US marijuana market. If they have a niche network for marijuana there is a niche platform for your brand or you can easily go with one of the legacy 4 platforms. Large publishers will be found on almost all platforms unless it is very niche. At this step, make a short list of publishers you want to work with. If they are small a niche platform will work but if you want to work with publishers like Honey or RetailMeNot you will need to pick a larger platform such as the legacy 4 I’ve listed.

Once you find a platform that seems to fit your unique business model it’s time to consider the price. If you have a budget that’s great, but I also recommend calculating your projected monthly publisher commissions. In my experience, an affiliate program should make up about 10% of the company’s total leads or sales. To calculate estimated monthly publisher commission spend, take 10% of your average monthly sales and multiply that by your rev-share amount. If you are paying for leads estimate the number of leads and then multiply by how much you are paying per lead. All these projections should be based on the estimated amount of spend once the program is mature. You can expect the program to mature in around 6-8 months in this new competitive digital market.

The reason this is important is every platform has monthly minimum spend amounts. This discussion could be an entirely new blog so I’ll keep it short. A monthly minimum amount is based on the amount you pay your publishers plus your transaction fees. If your platform has a $500 monthly minimum that means that if your publisher commissions do not total $500, you still pay $500 for the month. Most older platforms take a percentage of your total publisher commissions not a percent of your total revenue. With new competition comes many new models so do your homework on picking a platform. Shopify put out this informative article that can help. Talk to these platforms’ sales reps, get demos, and read reviews! It’s okay to take your time to find the right platform. You will be using it every day!

Step 3. The Affiliate Program Strategy

Deciding who is going to manage your affiliate program once it is created is critical. An affiliate program needs management and careful attention, especially in the first year. Once the program matures it will start to have its own flow yet a good affiliate marketing manager will constantly be looking for new and exciting ways to engage with their partners. Before your program launches decide who has the time to set up and nurture the program. Most of the time, having someone internally pull double duty will leave an affiliate program left forgotten. If your team doesn’t have the bandwidth, hire an agency (wink, wink, we can help), seek a freelancer, or hire a dedicated affiliate marketing manager.

An affiliate program on average will need 12-15 hours of labor per week during the setup phase which should take between 4-6 weeks. After the program is set up the first 3 months will require a minimum of 10-12 hours to recruit and start optimizing publishers as they join. It is important to spend as much time as possible building the program so it builds momentum. Once a program matures you will still need to spend at least 10 hours per week to stay on top of publisher needs and keep publishers engaged. This again depends on how aggressively you want to grow. I managed affiliate programs for a living so spent 40+ hours on one brand. These are just estimates based on my experience so create goals that make sense to your business.

Step 4. Affiliate Content & Promotional Strategy

Content That Converts: Empowering Your Affiliate Marketing Partners

Once you’ve navigated the platform selection, commission structures, and program details, it’s time to unleash the marketing magic! Affiliate content and promotional strategy is an area I often see brands struggle with. They create fantastic campaigns, but sometimes forget to consider how they impact their affiliate channel. Not all promotions or content are created equal for affiliates, so integrating them into your overall strategy is crucial.

Know Your Partners, Win Their Audience:

Remember, affiliates are your marketing partners, not just another distribution channel. Understanding their audience, content style, and strengths is key to creating content that resonates. Don’t force everything – tailor your content to their specific needs and platforms, considering format, length, and focus.

Variety is the Spice of Affiliate Marketing:

Offer a smorgasbord of content formats like product reviews, tutorials, comparisons, blog posts, social media graphics, and email templates. Don’t just push sales – focus on content that educates, inspires, and entertains their audience. Think “value-driven” instead of “sales-driven”. Real-life examples of successful affiliate campaigns using your content can also do wonders for credibility.

Keep Them Informed, Keep Them Thriving:

Regular content updates are your secret weapon. Provide exclusive content, early access to upcoming promotions, and a steady stream of fresh marketing materials. Remember, brand consistency is key – ensure all affiliate content aligns with your voice and messaging for a seamless experience. Consider creating a dedicated resource library housing all your marketing goodies, making it easy for affiliates to find what they need.

Plan, Promote, Partner Up:

Strategic planning is the foundation of successful affiliate promotions. Develop seasonal and thematic campaigns aligned with key dates or relevant trends, and communicate these plans well in advance. Sharing a content calendar outlining upcoming promotions, new product launches, and marketing events allows affiliates to plan their campaigns accordingly. Early access to promotions, exclusive deals, or bonus commissions can incentivize participation and boost results.

Communication is Key, Community is King:

Open communication channels are a must. Address concerns and feedback promptly, fostering a sense of partnership and trust. Regularly share performance data, showcasing how their efforts contribute to the program’s success. Take it a step further by building a community among your affiliates. Organize webinars, Q&A sessions, or online forums for knowledge sharing and collaboration.

Amplify Your Reach, Track Your Growth:

Encourage affiliates to leverage the power of social media by offering toolkits and training resources. Consider co-op advertising opportunities with high-performing affiliates to expand your reach. Finally, remember that data is your friend! Track the performance of your promotional campaigns and adjust your strategies based on insights and results.

By implementing these tips and tailoring them to your specific program and industry, you can create a dynamic content and promotional strategy that empowers your affiliates and drives success for your business. Remember, it’s all about collaboration, value, and shared goals. Happy affiliating!

Step 5. Have Fun with Affiliate Marketing!

Remember, at its core, affiliate marketing is all about true partnerships, vibrant networks, and celebrating each other’s growth. It’s an opportunity to connect with passionate individuals, share strategies, and fuel your own inspiration. To tap into this amazing community, consider attending industry events!

Two personal favorites are Affiliate Summit East and West, packed with valuable learning and networking opportunities. If your budget allows, explore events hosted by your chosen platform as well. These events tend to be smaller and more intimate, fostering deeper connections with publishers who share your platform ecosystem. Think of it as your chance to introduce yourself, build relationships, and unlock the true potential of your partnerships! So, dive in, have fun, and watch your affiliate journey flourish.

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