When it comes to building out successful affiliate marketing programs, one of the trickiest elements is finding the right affiliates who value your product as much as you do. Sure, you can sign up for an affiliate marketing network and almost instantly gain access to hundreds or thousands of affiliates. Once you upload content and assets, all you have to do is wait to see the results (which will likely be a marginal lift in traffic). It’s fast, easy, and fairly predictable.
So what’s the drawback?
Your brand doesn’t have direct control over those affiliate relationships: you aren’t hand-picking your affiliates, and because you’re renting your relationships, you’re subject to fluctuations in contracts from the network or agency, which is acting as the middle-man.
Furthermore, the success (and cost) of campaigns run through networks is highly dependent on how much you are willing to pay an affiliate to display your content or ad. For example, if you’re an online swimwear boutique and are competing for ad space on an affiliate’s fashion website against a larger retailer, like Nordstrom, chances are you’re going to lose that battle. Most likely, Nordstrom’s affiliate commission budget is higher than yours and if they are offering to pay affiliates 8% of sales that convert and you’re offering only 5%; you can bet the affiliate is going to display Nordstrom’s ad over yours.
So, what’s a better way to approach affiliate marketing?
While an organic affiliate program is more labor intensive, it’s also more likely to build valuable relationships with people who are well-suited to represent the brand.
Here are three key steps that can help you take a partnership approach to working with affiliates:
1. Seek out affiliates who connect strongly to your brand, its products, and values
If you decide to create an organic affiliate program, it’s time to start vetting potential affiliates. Seek out people who have an existing affinity for your brand—for instance, loyal customers who are already vocal about their love for you on social media or in product reviews on your website. The best affiliate content is created by affiliates themselves. By locating affiliates who are willing to serve as partners with a stake in your success, rather than just ad servers, you increase the likelihood of your campaign paying off with conversions and sales.
2. Get creative with your affiliate content, and encourage creativity among your affiliates
Nowadays, affiliate content is more than just an Instagram post labeled #sponsored. Creative initiatives also include affiliates writing posts about your brand on their blog or website, featuring the affiliate on your own social media channels, or letting them do a takeover of your feeds for the day. When you attract your affiliate’s audience directly to your own platforms, you gain potential customers, and affiliates are very likely to share content that features them and their brand. Both sides of the equation have a brand to enrich, and creative campaigns are a good way to let both affiliate and company take ownership of the content and encourage cross-pollination among their audiences.
3. Invest in your affiliates and be clear about terms, but don’t necessarily pay them upfront
Investing in your affiliates makes them feel valued and further incentivizes their participation. That said, unless you feel strongly that it will negatively impact your affiliate relationships, there is no reason that affiliates need to be paid upfront. This practice makes it too easy for affiliates to get paid, deliver a post, and then move on to the next brand that’s willing to pay them. That’s not really what you’re looking for in an affiliate anyway. Instead, turn your focus to investing in affiliates who will view your brand as a genuine partner, and establish clear guidelines around payment schedules, number of times they will mention your product, what platforms they will employ, and other relevant expectations.
A Better Way to Manage Affiliate Marketing
Now is the time that quality over quantity really matters. The shift towards this more personal marketing approach delivered by automated affiliate marketing is driven by relationships built on connections, creativity, and transparency. When you equip your affiliates with motivation and tools - like affiliate software - to succeed, they will deliver!