It’s a Big World Out There: 2 Steps to Take Before Going Global with your Affiliate Program

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“Seek first to understand and then to be understood.” ~ Stephen Covey

Throughout the centuries, brave explorers have travelled by land and by sea to see what lies beyond. Leaving the familiar to discover new information and resources can be thrilling. But it can also be fraught with dangerous twists and turns, especially for those who are unprepared.

Many e-commerce companies are embarking on such an adventure by taking their affiliate program global. In their native environment, their performance marketing (affiliate marketing) program has proven to be a profitable, agile vehicle for driving revenue. So as they expand other aspects of their business into new, global markets, it makes all the sense in the world that they’d want to include their affiliate program in the journey.

While technology has made it easier than ever to operate and manage a global e-commerce business, technology alone is not enough to guarantee the success of a global affiliate program. In fact, companies may find that expanding their affiliate program internationally is anything but simple and straightforward. Common pitfalls include:

  • Network and agency differences
  • Difficulties in establishing brand awareness
  • Varying compliance standards
  • Finding, recruiting and managing local affiliates
  • Language barriers with both publishers and partners

Fortunately, by taking two important steps (outlined below), many of these pitfalls can be avoided.

1.  Walk the Track

In auto racing, many teams literally walk and chart the roads that will be driven on come race day. Before rubber meets the road, walking the track, getting a sense of the landscape and chronicling what’s found has become as important as spark plugs and safety helmets.

In the context of global expansion of your affiliate program, walking the track should involve in-depth market research. Here are a few important questions to ask yourself and your team before entering a new market:

  • Is there a need for our product or service in X market? If you’re looking to expand into an area where people either rarely buy products online or wouldn’t have a strong interest in your products, then even the most well-run affiliate program is unlikely to succeed.
  • Do we have brand recognition? If yes, how strong is it? If you have some brand awareness in a market but it’s not very strong, as well as an abundance of high-quality publishers in your vertical, then your affiliate program could help amplify your brand recognition in the region. However, if there’s little to no brand recognition, your affiliate program will be much slower to start and it may be difficult to get publishers to invest in your program.
  • What are the unique customs and best practices in the region? Audiences differ by country and can be comprised of different sub-cultures. Make sure that someone on your team is familiar with the local customs and best practices – or partner with an agency that is. Companies that fail to address cultural differences often face resistant, skeptical consumers and may have a harder time winning over certain publishers.
  • Are there high-quality affiliate partners in the region? These partners should understand both the affiliate industry and your specific vertical in order to provide insight into how your brand will resonate with the customer base in the region you’re looking to expand into. And since each country has its own laws related to affiliate marketing, taxation and disclosures, these partners should also be able to help you navigate different legal challenges. Without these partners, your program is likely to struggle in that new market.
  • How are the service and technology resources structured? In the U.S. and Canada, networks often charge additional fees for program management, and large marketing agencies typically aren’t very knowledgeable in terms of affiliate marketing strategies or best practices. By contrast, in Europe, networks typically include program management services in tandem with technology services. In addition, large European advertising and marketing agencies tend to have well-developed affiliate management practices and expertise.  These regional differences can result in a confusing assortment of technology and service options that have different levels of cost and sophistication.
  • Do you have current affiliate partners who work internationally? Speak with them and evaluate how they may be able to help connect you with partners and resources who are well-established in the areas you’re expanding in to.

By walking the track before going in to a new market, you’ll be better equipped to identify its quirks and address any nuances, marketing challenges and cultural intricacies that arise.

2.  Choose Your Partners Carefully

The exciting adventure of expanding your affiliate program abroad can turn into a nightmare if you align yourself with the wrong partners. Global expansion is a big move with many steps involved. This is why you want to be discerning about who you choose to take the journey with.

Just because an agency or network says it has coverage in a certain region doesn’t mean they are the best choice. No single network or platform is a global leader in every market. They may be #1 in one market and #11 in another.

We’ve also heard of companies offering a “one-stop-shopping” experience to brands for their global expansion initiatives. While this may make the process sound easy, it’s far from the best. For example, an agency might be adept at affiliate marketing on their home turf, but not in other regions. And a large digital marketing agency may have a global footprint, but lack affiliate marketing experience or expertise. To make it seem like they do, they’ll often quickly throw together an account team by bringing people over from other channels, such as display or paid search, who aren’t proficient in affiliate marketing.

In some cases, an ideal solution might be to partner with a single agency that works with local partners in the country you’re looking to expand in to. If so, that agency partner should have the resources and know-how to serve as your global point person, ensuring you work with the best platforms, networks, and agencies for your business in each region.

When you choose the best partners in each region, you’ll have a much better chance of seeing your affiliate program flourish and grow sales.

Go Global and Prosper

Most of the challenges companies face when taking their affiliate program global can be overcome simply by asking the right questions and working with the right partners.

As mentioned in our blog post last week about why companies are increasingly taking their affiliate programs global, it’s important that your program is part of a larger marketing and brand strategy and integrated with other digital channels.

Have questions about how to proceed with expanding your affiliate program in a new, international market? Reach out to our Affiliate Marketing team.

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