Have you ever purchased an item by clicking on a link in an influencer’s blog post? Do you use a loyalty rewards website like ebates (now formally Rakuten)? If the answer is yes, you’ve likely engaged with affiliate marketing.
Affiliate marketing, also known as partner marketing or performance marketing, has the power to take your business to the next level of growth by driving more targeted traffic, higher basket values (AOV) and conversion.
This marketing tactic has continued to evolve in recent years — and has become an industry within itself (valued at over $32 billion worldwide) — with both partners and brands implementing affiliate marketing strategies as a method of promoting healthy and engaged business growth.
I’ve learned a lot over the past 15 years of working in affiliate marketing so, without further ado, let’s dive in.
In 2009 I started my company, All Inclusive Marketing — a full-service affiliate management agency.
When I sought out to build my business, my vision was — and still is — to help brands reach, engage, and convert their buyers online by working with strategic partners (aka affiliates).
Fast forward to 2019, All Inclusive Marketing is a global, award-winning team of 25 affiliate marketing specialists, all working to facilitate best-in-class, pay-per-performance programs for leading retail, ecommerce and travel & hospitality brands.
When people ask me, “What is affiliate marketing?” I offer this simple definition.
Affiliate marketing is basically partnership marketing, where you get to work with independent people or companies that work on a pay-per-performance basis.
This marketing tactic can bring a variety of benefits to your business, such as:
New loyal customers, and
What many ecommerce businesses enjoy about this marketing approach is that you’re only paying for promotional activity once a customer converts.
In simple terms, affiliate marketing follows a low-risk/low-cost model, making it a great way to expand reach, conversion, and customer engagement. Plus, you gain high value, targeted content that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to produce or distribute on your own.
Affiliate marketing can actually come into play for companies of pretty much any size and at any stage of ecommerce growth.
With the evolution of affiliate marketing, there has also been growth of a very dynamic ecosystem of different types of partners. Think of social influencers, loyalty companies like Rakuten, bloggers, YouTubers or even private community groups, such as on Facebook.
These partners (affiliates), coupled with brands, technologies, agencies and service providers, have expanded the affiliate marketing approach into an industry of its own.
Historically, it used to be that only coupon and loyalty programs engaged in a pay-per-performance model. Now there are many different types of partners. If they’re not a direct competitor, they could be an affiliate partner if they’re willing to work on a pay-per-performance basis.
For partners, affiliate marketing has become a passive earning opportunity. In fact, this marketing approach has enabled these businesses to work smarter, not harder, as they have a chance to earn a passive income stream as well as build fast growth companies using this pay-per-performance model.
For businesses looking to tap into affiliate marketing to increase growth and conversion, they also need to be realistic about their current business performance.
If you want to succeed at affiliate marketing, you’ll need to have baseline conversion already in place. You’ll find this to be helpful for a lot of different stages of your business.
Let’s say you’re at the beginning stages of your business with the goal of growing your market share or brand exposure — affiliate marketing can be your key to success.
If you’re at the stage where you need to add on new marketing channels because you’ve maxed out everything you can do in paid search or social efforts, a strategy to uncover revenue growth in new channels, then it’s time to implement an affiliate marketing strategy.
And if you are experiencing large growth in your business, affiliate is also the answer. This marketing tactic will enable you to scale up as much as you possibly can, even expanding internationally — plus, it doesn’t cost you anything up front in most cases since it is a performance based model (you pay online after your desired action takes place).
Launching an affiliate marketing program requires a few moving pieces.
Before you can start an affiliate marketing program, you’ll want to make sure you have a brand and ecommerce website established. Having some brand awareness and a user friendly ecommerce store will not only increase conversion, but will attract top performing affiliate partners to your program.
Next, you need a technology that will help to track the transactions and the interactions between the affiliates and yourself, the brand. This is also where you upload your creatives, your banners, and your text links.
Affiliate networks also serve as a technological resource by providing a platform where partners can log in and see how many people clicked on that particular link or how much commission they’ve made on a particular product.
These networks can be large and global or local and niche. Some may focus on a specific type of partner, such as bloggers or social influencers, like rewardStyle, while others may lead in a specific vertical — like Avantlink does in the outdoor space.
From here, you’ve got the brand voice, the stellar ecommerce website, and the powerful technology to equip your team with success. Now you just need someone who has a crystal-clear understanding of how affiliate marketing works and how to drive that entire ecosystem.
Let me give you an analogy:
Let’s say your affiliate network is a car.
The car takes you from A to B, but without a driver or gas, the car won’t go anywhere by itself.
You need a driver who knows where it’s going and how to get the fuel. Right?
An affiliate marketing agency or affiliate manager is the driver with the gas. They are also the person who knows where to pick up all the passengers who should be traveling together.
So, you have your agency or affiliate manager picking up all of their affiliate friends along the way, and then they go to where they want to get to together, all while having a comfortable, hassle free ride and smooth trip to their destination, thanks to the driver and the car getting them there.
Hiring someone with a little (or a lot) of expertise in the space, whether it’s in house or an agency, will help speed the entire process up, crate more efficient growth, reduce “accidents” and lengthen the impact of your affiliate marketing strategy for long term revenue, brand, and consumer acquisition growth.
Affiliate marketing has the power to serve as a great marketing approach for your business and its continued growth.
In my experience leading and shaping All Inclusive Marketing, I’ve learned that affiliate marketing is ever changing. That being said, its impact and ability to enable growth remains strong and continues to add valuable results to companies every day.
When creating an affiliate marketing strategy for your business, pay attention to your brand, ecommerce store, technology, networks and partners, so you can drive online growth and awareness to your brand. And if in doubt, ask for help. We’re here to help you and we look forward to seeing what you and your company can do in the affiliate marketing space to drive your business and your brand.
Sarah is an award-winning business and digital marketing thought leader, ranked in the Top 40 Under 40, Top 100 Fastest Growing Companies in Canada, Top 100 Female Entrepreneurs in Canada, and Top 40 Digital Marketing Strategists of 2012. She is recognized as an expert in performance marketing by the New York Times and is listed in the Top 50 Industry Players and Most Influential Affiliate Marketers of 2018. In 2009, Sarah founded and currently leads All Inclusive Marketing (AIM), an award-winning performance marketing agency known for delivering innovative, experience-driven results. In 2018, AIM won the Global Excellence Award in Performance Marketing at the PMA Awards in London, achieving recognition for setting the standard of excellence in affiliate program management worldwide.