This article was originally published on CMO.com.
Would you object if a package of money landed on your office doorstep every month?
Probably not, but that doesn’t mean it’s a reliable way to earn revenue. Yet this is how many companies used to treat their affiliate marketing channels. Upstart, pure-play e-commerce businesses that were unconcerned with their brand image or their affiliates’ behavior dominated performance marketing. As a result, brand perspective was largely overlooked or ignored in the majority of affiliate programs.
However, because spending onaffiliate marketing has grown by 256% since 2007, brands can’t afford to ignore their affiliates anymore. Instead of coming from sites with generic, keyword-based URLs—such as pets.com—the growth of e-commerce is now coming from mainstream brands with large e-commerce operations. The brand teams at these companies are far more involved in the affiliate channel, and the two groups don’t always see eye to eye.
Often, the behavior of affiliates isn’t aligned with the image the brand team is trying to project. Without proper oversight, affiliates could use outdated logos, promote sales that no longer exist, or use promotional strategies that your company doesn’t support. The bottom line is that aligning your branding and performance marketing is an opportunity that you can’t afford to miss.
Unite Performance Marketing And Branding
Affiliates that do use proper messaging and brand elements can drive sales and brand awareness. Affiliate marketing can act like a separate PR channel that promotes your broader marketing strategy to new potential customers. However, finding that harmonious balance between performance and brand marketing will require effort. Here are four steps your company can take to make these channels work together:
1. Invest in program management: It’s practically impossible to have one manager run a healthy, productive affiliate marketing program. You need to invest in active, high-quality program management that engages affiliates and has time to monitor compliance. Whether you choose in-house management or a third-party agency, this system needs program strategy, recruiting, activation, and operations.
To keep stress at a minimum, limit your program to fewer partners. This will increase transparency and ensure that you don’t have so many affiliates that you can’t keep track of them or their promotional methods.
2. Find the right affiliates: Plenty of affiliates are out there, but not all of them are interested in functioning as an extension of your brand. Seek out affiliates that are willing to develop a transparent relationship with your company. These affiliates should be highly engaged, productive, and willing to work on your terms. The better your affiliates, the more you’ll be able to tap into their audiences of interested consumers.
3. Create clear guidelines: If you already have the right people on board, a clear set of promotion guidelines should help the affiliates sync with your company. Use the guidelines to explain how your affiliates can promote your brand. Let them know about products and deals they should focus on.
For instance, a new product launch can be turned into an event that affiliates and partners can promote. You can even provide the affiliates with sample blog posts they can use to promote the deal.
4. Integrate your affiliate channel into your brand strategy: When you have a group of trustworthy affiliates that know how to work with your brand, the final step is to integrate that channel into your larger strategy. Inform affiliates about the important promotions and initiatives going on in the marketing department. Brainstorm creative ways to use the affiliate channel to accomplish these goals, and keep your program information and creative updated frequently.
Lululemon Athletica is one brand that does an excellent job integrating affiliates into its overall strategy. The company has strict guidelines about which affiliates are allowed in the program and expects them to act like brand ambassadors. This has helped the company successfully integrate this effective marketing channel after holding off for years due to concerns about its branding.
While ignoring the way your affiliates sell your products could lead to sales, it’s a better long-term strategy to ensure performance marketing is aligned with your brand. When your affiliate channel works well with branding, customers benefit, your affiliates excel, and your business can thrive.