How Nontraditional Partnerships Are Transforming Affiliate Marketing


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Every year when the holidays roll around, the ringing of your doorbell is almost as predictable as holiday music’s radio takeover. Neighborhood kids offering to sell you gift wrap or chocolates to benefit their schools are practically as ubiquitous as holiday lights and carols. However, they’re often selling you something you really don’t need or want.

In essence, this is an affiliate relationship where the organization is being paid a percentage of the sales generated. As more retailers move online, they are looking for ways to emulate these sort of partnerships in the digital world.

Smart retailers are able to leverage their existing affiliate programs to drive more nontraditional partnerships, and many are using a new tool known as a “storefront.” In a storefront, a retailer offers products directly from the website of another group, often a nonprofit or a school. The storefront is co-branded and drives extra sales for the merchant. Further, the school gets a commission, and the customer gets the product she wanted.

Storefronts are just one example of the trend in nontraditional partnerships, which are quickly transforming the affiliate space. In this article, I’ll discuss:

  • Human and strategic elements of affiliate marketing centered on giving back while still making money
  • A few new types of nontraditional affiliate marketing gaining in popularity
  • Benefits of these new approaches for merchants, charities, and consumers alike
  • Results that nontraditional affiliate marketing efforts are already driving

Everyone Comes Out Ahead

Nontraditional affiliate marketing ensures that the merchant, affiliate, and customer all benefit in some way without having to take risks like paying for marketing up front or holding inventories. For instance, consider this CrossFit gym in Decatur, Georgia. Members are able to buy gear directly through their gym (or “box,” as it’s called in CrossFit), which then is paid a commission on products sold through its Reebok storefront.

Everyone wins: CrossFit enthusiasts purchase the gear they already wanted, the gym gets a commission, and Reebok makes a sale (and defers the cost of marketing until after the sale).

Giving Back This Holiday Season

During the holiday season, people are already in the frame of mind to buy gifts and support charities, making it the perfect time to consider launching an affiliate program of your own.

Some organizations even support nonprofits year-round. For example, Shutterfly lets schools raise money when customers they refer to a school-sponsored “storefront” buy Shutterfly calendars, photo books, and other personalized products. And AmazonSmile allows shoppers to support charitable organizations of their choice with each purchase. A nonprofit can encourage supporters to select its organization as a recipient of donations.

Strategies like these not only promote goodwill, but they also increase profits. The commission aspect of traditional affiliate marketing is still there, but there’s far more opportunity for fundraising because nontraditional affiliate marketing is:

  • Tech-friendly. The network handles payment, reporting, and tracking, giving the merchant a better digital experience. The customer also has a more seamless purchase process because she’s able to quickly log in online and complete her purchase. This method resonates especially well with Millennials, 30 percent of whom donated through an online platform in 2014.
  • More efficient.Time and marketing are the biggest commitments, but compared to other types of affiliate marketing, they don’t require as many man-hours — more of the onus is on the customer to actually visit the affiliate site and make a purchase. Plus, your nontraditional partners who will benefit from the fundraising will do the legwork of getting the word out to their supporters and driving those sales.
  • Many people would rather donate money to a school rather than buy something they don’t need in order for the school to get a small cut. These programs offer products that consumers already wanted to purchase or are familiar with, rather than giant buckets of popcorn, magazine subscriptions, or gift wrap. This drives more sales for the merchant and keeps customers coming back when they find other products they’re interested in as they browse the site.
  • The perfect branding vehicle. These forms of marketing typically place the name of the merchant right next to the name of the nonprofit organization, which cultivates a more positive and socially responsible brand image.

For all of these reasons, nontraditional forms of affiliate marketing allow nonprofits to raise money more quickly and efficiently, regardless of geographic location. And it seems to be working; in 2014, online giving increased by 8.9 percent, compared to 2013.

This holiday season, you may want to consider a nontraditional affiliate marketing strategy for your business. After all, 31 percent of annual online giving last year happened in December — with 12 percent of the yearly total coming in on the last three days of the year!

People are obviously ready and willing to buy gifts when it allows them to give back to charity at the same time. This is the perfect time to start a nontraditional partnership strategy — and it gives you the chance to expand and bolster your brand image, improve real-time reporting, and simplify the partner process just in time for the upcoming year.

Would you consider implementing a nontraditional affiliate marketing strategy for your business this year? Why or why not?

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