Building the basics of your affiliate program

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Conversion is at the heart of affiliate marketing. The channel is perceived to offer a functional route to market that is low in risk and generates a great return on investment for retailers. It is also mainstream with major advertisers around the globe running an affiliate marketing campaign.

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However, in many senses it has become a victim of its own success. With such a significant focus placed on conversion and the measurability of this, everything else that sits around the purchase is often ignored.

This is why the industry is now making a concerted effort to broaden the focus of the original performance marketing channel. It is important for affiliate marketers to tap into some of the major growth areas in digital marketing that have arisen over the past couple of years.

So much activity sits outside of the conversion that goes largely unrewarded. Consider the role of influencers; bloggers and niche content sites that have been operating within the channel for years but have struggled to work within the confines of the traditional last click CPA model. Only by offering more flexible payment models can we ensure their contribution is fairly rewarded.

Here is a selection of key areas to address in order to ensure you get the most of your program in 2017 and beyond:

1. Identify who your influencers are. With the rise of incentivized activity, it is not surprising to see the major affiliate brands who have established themselves over the past few years are focused on the conversion. Visitors to coupon code, cashback or loyalty sites are aware they are able to get a discount or monetary reward for purchasing so these partners have excelled at converting. Too much focus on these partners however ignores everything that happens prior to the conversion. Think of fashion bloggers for example who love your products and are keen to tell their engaged readers why. These sites may not convert the customer but they have played a key role in generating awareness and interest in the product. The visitor may ultimately convert through another affiliate site or channel, but there is no denying the blogger had some influence over the purchasing decision. On a last click payment model, these sites will often lose out. Consider top up ‘influencer’ payments for these sites or allocate a marketing spend to work with them. Speak to your network about who your key influencers are and how they can be worked with more strategically to grow your programme.

2. Understand the role of multi device usage. Customer journeys are no longer linear, they occur across multiple channels and devices and at different stages of the customer journey. It is becoming increasingly important to understand how devices are being interacted with at each stage of the customer journey. For example, we know that a significant proportion of smartphone activity is in the research phase of customer journeys while desktops site closer to the conversion. But just because smartphones may appear to have significantly lower conversion rates, their role as an influencing device should not be underestimated. This year more than any, it is essential that advertisers are able to understand cross device journeys and reward affiliates for their role in these.

3. Data at the heart of driving decisions. The beauty of online marketing is the way that every interaction is trackable. There is a significant amount of data available for advertisers to make strategic decisions around their program. For example, the previous two points are all backed up with data to allow advertisers to understand who their influencers are and the devices that are driving this influence. Additional data points can also be passed back alongside each transaction to truly understand the customers being referred by each partner. This is incredibly powerful when looking at the affiliates that are delivering the most desirable customers and rewarding them for their ability to do so.

The affiliate channel is changing. The most forward thinking companies are now pushing for the value, rather than just the volume, of their contribution to be considered. The challenge is to work with brands who want to continue to drive that innovation. It’s an exciting time to be investing in the channel. Those retailers willing to take a flexible, holistic view of affiliate marketing will be those driving it forward beyond 2017.