How Leading Companies Are Using Affiliate to Test Other Channels

How Leading Companies Are Using Affiliate to Test Other Channels

Wish there was a way to test out marketing initiatives with less upfront risk?  Even better, what if there was a way to pay only for those actions you want?

I’ll let you in on a little secret … many merchants use the affiliate model to do just that.  Since affiliate marketing is structured on a pay-for-performance model, it can serve as a sort of “chameleon” channel, which makes it an effective testing ground for other channels – especially those with less flexibility.

By leveraging the affiliate model, companies can cost-effectively try out new marketing ideas with carefully chosen partners, all with little to no risk.

There are four main reasons why so many industry-leading companies are employing the affiliate model to test and scale other channels:

    1. The model offers the potential to yield a higher ROI due to its cost-per-action (CPA) compensation structure.
    2. It offers the potential for the company to stretch their budget for a specific channel thereby also expanding brand coverage.
    3. Affiliate marketing helps companies expand the reach of a brand with like-minded performance partners® with new customer pools.
    4. It helps them expanded their brand visibility.

The affiliate model can support many different marketing channels. Here are a few popular ones as well as testing opportunities to consider for your marketing initiatives:

Social Influencers and Bloggers

How Affiliate can support:

Brand Ambassadors: Affiliate networks and software as a service (SaaS) platforms can be used to streamline tracking, assets and payment for these partners.

New Performance Partners®: The affiliate model is ideal for identifying and recruiting new performance partners that align with your brand’s key messages.

Best Practices:

    • Give these partners the opportunity to interact with your product through a few product sample giveaways or a free trial.
    • Give them a hook, which could be anything from a limited time offer or exclusive product, to help them “close” the sale.
    • Structure your CPA attribution to ensure they receive credit where due. Many of these partners will sit higher in the conversion funnel. Under traditional affiliate attribution models, such as Last Click, these partners often do not receive proper credit for their efforts.

Search Marketing

How Affiliate can support:

Budget Extension: Partner with companies that specialize in search and who are willing to operate on a cost-per-sale basis thereby extending your search budget versus paying by the click. An example of this could be working with a partner on a trademark plus campaign to come in at a certain point each day or in the month to assist with coverage.

Long Tail Keyword Support: With these search partners, agree upon a list of terms to use that can help to expand your brand’s reach, such as strong categories, products, etc. that your brand may not be as focused on due to trademark coverage needs.

Best Practices:

When working with a search partner, it’s crucial to set clear rules to maintain the integrity of the relationship and ensure that their efforts remain incremental to your current search efforts.Some of these rules include:

    • The merchant should always display first when active.
    • Bid caps should be set with partners to limit cost inflation.
    • Agree upon a list of approved/unapproved terms for support.
    • Agree upon a schedule for promotion if using for budget expansion support.


How Affiliate can support:

Generating Qualified Leads: Use potential email lists of partners to extend the reach of your own CRM or database through email sign-ups.

Message Testing: If you are looking to roll out a new email campaign internally but aren’t sure how it will resonate, first test the messaging through a newsletter or solo send with an affiliate partner.

Best Practices:

    • Align your payout-per-email with the type of data requested and the number of fields required. For example, if you are asking for only an email, a lower payout is acceptable; whereas if credit card data needs to be submitted, the payout should reflect the number of fields and sensitivity of the information provided in payout. Paying per sign-up is usually best.
    • Establish a system to measure the quality of leads coming through and pay only on new email acquisitions.
    • Establish an email scrubbing system to identify new emails and expand your potential partner range.
    • Ensure that any emails being sent on your behalf follow CAN-SPAM regulations.


How Affiliate can support:

Warm Transfers: If you sell a product or service that is complex or requires additional Q & A, connecting with partners who own call centers can make it possible to cost-effectively set up an inbound or outbound call campaign. Not only can this help you increase the conversion of your product or service, it also gives you complete control of the campaign message.

Click-to-Call: For those products and services that often require a phone call to close the sale, working with affiliate partners to amplify the right numbers can also expand customer reach, thereby increasing call volume to the merchant’s team directly to close the sale.

Best Practices:

Setting up call-in partnerships requires a good amount of TLC. Here are a few key items to pay close attention to and to negotiate during set-up:

    • Script for inbound inquiries.
    • Hours of operation.
    • Desirable action for payment (i.e. what do they need to do in order to get paid). Lead-based conversions work best in this format.
    • Target customer profile.

For Click-to-Call it is also important to understand where the numbers will be posted and shared as well as how lead quality will be measured to ensure that your team is receiving the right type of leads.

Preferred Partnerships 

How Affiliate can support:

Niche groups: Streamline efforts for specialty partners internally by forging the relationship through the affiliate model. Examples of niche or specialty partners include concierges promoting different discounts for travel partners or pharmacies promoting discounts or benefits of a prescription discount card.

Complementing Merchants: Promotion in affiliate doesn’t have to be limited to vendors. Many merchants are also exploring other complementing merchants for cross-promotional partnerships, such as vitamins and gym memberships promoting each other across channel or offering a free sample or trial when making a purchase.

Best Practices:

    • Negotiate a payment structure that is agreeable to both parties.
    • Agree upon how and where the merchants will promote the other brand.
    • Establish specialized terms within the affiliate technology platform of choice to define the terms set forth for the relationship; send to partners entering into the agreement.

While the affiliate model has more than proven its worth and ability to generate incremental sales and high-value leads for companies in every industry vertical, there are even more innovative ways the framework can be used to benefit business.

At its core, affiliate marketing is a framework that allows companies to cost-effectively market their products and services, generate quality leads, have better transparency into their partnerships and pay only on performance.

And who wouldn’t want that?

Want to know more about how brands are using their affiliate marketing programs to test the performance of their other marketing channels? Tune into this Outperform podcast episode