Advertisers: Basics of Running an Affiliate Programme

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No matter the size of your business, there are several key aspects to understanding and running a good affiliate programme. Working with brands and publishers of all sizes across the Awin network in 15 global territories, we’ve put together our key thoughts on how to work towards a strong affiliate programme in this ever-developing industry.

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One of the key USPs of affiliate marketing is the payment model.  Traditionally, this has always been a ‘last click wins’ CPA (commission per acquisition), although this has now begun to shift to incorporate new types of publishers and broadening of the channel.  We see advertisers looking at attribution models, or alternative payment methods to ensure that publishers are rewarded fairly, but the fundamental idea behind affiliate marketing remain the same. 

1. Know your KPIs 

Before you begin to tackle any tasks, lay out your goals and objectives for the programme.  Each retailer will be looking to achieve something different, be it increased transactions, increased order value, more traffic to site or greater brand awareness, or a combination of all of these. 

2. Identify your key metrics 

Once you have a programme live, you will need to understand what metrics would mean your programme is performing well.  Set out your budget and targets and have an idea of what looks like a realistic achievement.  Make sure your targets match the KPIs you’re looking to achieve as this will be your primary measure of success.   When putting together your targets, start with a focus on your key metrics and work the remaining figures back from there. 

For example, the below targets have been calculated alongside each other, and therefore should see all targets worked on together.  200 transactions, at an average commission rate of 5%, will result in a £500 spend. 

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These targets have not been calculated alongside each other but instead focus on a maximum achievement for each metric separately.  Whilst it’s important to have individual targets, these metrics are all intertwined and, in this method, despite hitting transaction, revenue and average commission targets it would still be possible to show an extreme miss in AOV and overspend in commission. 500 transactions at an AOV of £150 would mean a £75,000 revenue target, and with an average commission of 5% would mean a spend of £3,750. 

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 3.  Ensure your programme is as attractive as possible to affiliates 

There are lots of retailers offering affiliate programmes, and a key step towards operating a successful programme will be attracting the most engaged affiliates.   

  • Ensure your advertiser profile is filled in with as much relevant information as possible to distinguish your brand, and inform affiliates of your history, key selling points, ideals – the points that make your business unique.  Particularly for a smaller business, your advertiser profile is your first opportunity to showcase your brand to an affiliate.   

  • Offer an attractive CPA.  Although every business has different running costs, it’s important to assess the market when considering setting CPA rates.  Leave enough room within your budget to offer increased for additional exposure or promotions where you can, but ensure you set rates at a sensible level which will be scalable as your programme grows. 

  • Have a clear idea of what you can offer.  Affiliate marketing is widely known for its vouchercode and cashback activity; however, the industry can offer so many other opportunities and routes to market, with nearly a quarter of all sales now being referred by content publishers.  If discounts are a possibility, know how often you’ll be able to use these.  If CPA increases and tenancy are available, have a clear idea of what you’ll be able to spend. If you have access to gifting, ensure you have a solid process in place for distribution and collating these.  If you will be offering standard messaging, ensure this is regularly communicated to your affiliates so their copy and offers are always up to date.  Although none of these are compulsory for your programme to run efficiently, these can be a great help with any conversations you have, and immediately remove key barriers that might inhibit a publisher from promoting your brand. 

  • Validate in a timely manner and ensure invoices are paid on time.  Being a ‘pay on performance’ channel, means that many publishers are inputting spend into their own marketing to support advertiser campaigns several weeks before they are paid for their work. Therefore, ensuring validations are carried out regularly, and as soon as possible, helps publishers to see that you are committed to working well with them and value their time and work on the programme.  Equally, delays in invoice payments can cause publisher payments to be delayed which can also be a source of frustration for publishers as campaign work has often long been completed.  Awin operates a traffic light system for advertiser payments, which can be read here.  The Awin platform gives visibility to publishers on average validation and payment times for each advertiser and therefore it is easy for them to know which programmes will be easier to work with and provide regular and reliable payments.

    When setting up your programme, ensure validation times are reasonable, as well as taking into account a suitable period for customer returns policies as well as internal processing to compile the relevant information for validations. You should also ensure that this is not too unusual from your sector average, as this could mean you look unfavourable to work with compared to competitors.  Awin also offers a number of automated services to help with validations, speak to your account manager if this is something you’d like to know more about.  Most importantly, advertisers should be as transparent as possible with validation times. For example, the travel industry holds naturally long validation periods, due to users booking holidays well in advance, and therefore most holiday companies will disclose that validations are not carried out until stays are completed. 

 4.  Offer creative

One of the greatest ways to attract customers is for them to see your product.  The more creative – product images, banners, logos, lifestyle imagery – you can offer, the more views it can gather.  Ensure you update creative regularly in line with seasonal and messaging changes, new collection launches or brand updates. 

5. Utilise the Awin tools available

The interface is designed to offer both advertisers and publishers as much opportunity as possible to grow their affiliate activity. 

  • If you have more than 20 products, produce a product feed and upload it to the interface.  This is a quick and efficient way for affiliates to keep their site updated with a range of products and can be easily connected to update automatically with price changes and stock information.  This can be updated multiple times a day to keep information as accurate as possible.  You also have the capability to add multiple feeds should you wish, and this can be broken down into the best categories for your business to optimise usage.  Even including a bestsellers feed can be a great way to highlight key products to your affiliate base. 
  • Communicate with your publisher base.  The easiest way to ensure your publishers are promoting your messaging, offers and products it to communicate.  Using Awin’s News Manager, try and send at least one communication a week to your publisher base detailing your brand’s key focuses for the week, or weeks ahead.  These can be edited as simple text or include HTML, and including Awin affiliate links within the email will ensure publishers have all the correctly tagged links ready to add to site.  You can also add this messaging to the Awin Hub, and contact local marketing teams to be included in weekly publisher newsletters, which are sent to a subscribed and engaged user base.  The more notice you can provide affiliates with, the more likely you will see your brand promoted across sites. 

  • Upload your key offers.  My Offers provides publishers with an API of all advertiser offers, with links, descriptions and live dates.  This is an easy way to ensure your offers are promoted on as many sites as possible, by uploading your offer it will automatically be included on any site using the API and filtering to include your brand.  Once the offer has expired, it will be removed from the API, so also provides a quick solution to remove messaging once expired. 

  • Publisher tagging is a great way to keep your reporting in line and gives you an easy way to filter through Awin reports with a set dataset.  Tags are fully flexible and can be set to any categories you need.  Recommendations would be to utilise publisher categorisation or product categories to create correlations between performance and datasets.  Publishers can also be given more than one tag should they fall into two or more categories. 

  • Use Opportunity Marketplace.  This tool allows affiliates to advertise key promotional opportunities on their sites in a central location within the interface.  This is a quick and easy way to find out the opportunities available at the time and provides all information about each opportunity at a glance.  As an advertiser, you can search the listings by cost, vertical or keyword to find an opportunity that fits your campaign.  By clicking through the listing, you can communicate directly with the publisher and negotiate as necessary.   

 6.  Get to know your affiliates

Every affiliate site has a different demographic, style and way of working and it can be very difficult to work with them all in the same way.  It’s important to be flexible in your approach and be open to face-to-face meetings and calls.  A strong working relationship is a great way to build partnerships between advertiser and publisher.  To aid with this, Awin offers a range of themed ‘Awin Days’ to bring together advertiser and publishers from certain sectors, provide insights on the industry alongside opportunities for networking with some of our key partners and account managers. 

7. Don’t be afraid to try something new

Awin aims to develop new tools and features to help aid the progression of the affiliate channel.  One of the latest of these features is ‘voucher attribution’ which allows an advertiser to work with a specific publisher, and ensure they receive payment for every use of the code they are allocated, no matter what channel this has been attributed to.  The tool can be found within the ‘My Offers’ section of the interface, and allows the addition of a code and attribution to publisher ID which will ensure all uses are reported correctly.  This is a great way of working with influencers and content publishers who can often lose out on last click attribution, as they function as an inspiration and research resource in the earlier stages of the purchase cycle.  If you’re unable to offer exclusive codes, another option to work with publishers who feature higher up in the purchase funnel is ‘payment on influence’. 

Within the interface Awin offers visibility on which publishers have encouraged users to click through to a retailer without securing the final purchase themselves.    Upper funnel publishers are just as important as last click converters and utilising the payment on influence method can be a great way to work closer with this genre of publisher.  Using the tool, you can allocate a fixed payment per influence touch point to a selection of publishers or your entire publisher base.   Read more here about how Superdry France incorporated this into their strategy for the year.   It’s also possible to work with affiliates on a tenancy basis, offering a fixed sum in exchange for scheduled guaranteed exposure.  This is one of the most common ways to increase promotional opportunities and ensure your brand features in some of the highest traffic areas of publisher sites. 

The affiliate industry is ever-changing, and we see the continual release of new technologies and ways of working through our publishers, advertisers and networks across the space.  This means it is essential to have a strong basis to your affiliate programme, leaving your brand in a prime position to take advantage of these progressions and excel within the channel. 

If you’d like to know more about any of the tools available to you, contact your local account management team.