How to Start an Affiliate Program
In previous posts we’ve discussed how affiliate marketing works and how to develop an effective affiliate marketing strategy.
Before your program can start bringing in customers, there are three critical steps you need to take: establish your management team, select an affiliate network that will support your strategy, and finally set up your program.
Establishing a Management Team. In our first post in this series we outlined the management options available, either managing the program in-house or turning over management to the affiliate network or an external agency sometimes referred to as an OPM (outsourced program management). Which management option is best depends on the size of the company, the resources available, and program growth goals, among other factors. It’s important to be realistic about the resources available for the program and its potential for success. Oftentimes we hear from companies that are surprised their program has not been a huge success, when it’s being managed in-house by someone without affiliate marketing experience as 20 percent of their job. Program performance depends on the amount of resources and expertise applied to it.
Selecting a Network. In affiliate marketing, networks act as trusted intermediaries, handling all tracking, reporting, and payments. Networks host your program’s creative (banners, links, etc.) and make your affiliate program available to a large pool of affiliates who are members of that network.
Which network you work with depends on your overall strategy. Some networks are better for working with certain types of affiliates, others provide extensive tracking options to support more advanced needs. Therefore, when choosing a network, it’s important to conduct research to get an understanding of the associated costs and pros and cons of working with each network or consult with affiliate marketing experts. Assess the types of affiliates you want to work with, the types of tracking you might need, and even how you want your newsletters to look and function.
Setting Up a Program. Program setup is a multifaceted process, but essentially it involves having your tech team install a pixel on your checkout page, testing it to ensure that it’s working correctly, and creating program materials such as program terms and conditions, banners, text links, deals, and a data feed. It is imperative that the terms and conditions outline both desired promotional methods and those that are not allowed so that affiliates know which tactics they may employ and you have recourse if an affiliate operates in a way that is not acceptable for your brand.
Once a network is selected and all administrative items are complete, you’re ready to get started developing affiliate relationships that will drive revenue for your company.
A New Generation of Affiliate Marketing
In the past, affiliate programs were often treated as a set-it-and-forget-it marketing channel. Affiliates applying to a program would be auto-approved with no screening and with little to no content oversight. Relationships were not cultivated and objectives were not aligned. As a result, low-quality affiliates were left to their own devices and often damaged companies’ brands, as well as exposed them to fraud. This type of affiliate marketing left many companies believing that affiliate marketing couldn’t work for them – and understandably so.
Fortunately, affiliate marketing has come a long way since those early days and has officially earned its place among the ranks as one of the most effective marketing strategies.
With that said, affiliate marketing is still a complex channel with dozens of networks, millions of affiliates, and constantly evolving technologies, tactics, regulations, and more. To ensure that your affiliate marketing program is successful, well-run, and generates high ROI, it’s vital to properly strategize, launch, and start your program with the right knowledge, experience, expectations, processes, and team in place.
Read our e-book Affiliate Marketing Grows Up for more information about the industry’s transformation.