How to Start an Affiliate Marketing Program
Launching an affiliate program – by which we mean building an affiliate program for a brand from the ground up – is not a one-size-fits-all process. It requires careful consideration of the goals for the affiliate program, technical capabilities, requirements and the desired partnership mix a brand wishes to see reflected in their program.
An affiliate program is only as strong as the foundation it is built on. Let’s dive into what these foundational facets are as well as why they are so important for setting your affiliate program up for long-term success.
Goals and Expectations
Establishing clear goals and key performance indicator (KPI) expectations for your affiliate program at the very start is truly critical. Taking this step helps ensure the key stakeholders (within your company and within your affiliate program) are on the same page as to how the program will support your brand’s marketing efforts.
Launching an affiliate program takes time and resources; ensuring realistic expectations are communicated at the outset can help prevent miscommunication and uncomfortable conversations down the road.
Finalizing your affiliate program goals first will also help ensure that the budget you’ve allocated for the program aligns with the expected growth rate.
Most brands have a target return on investment (ROI) or return on ad spend (ROAS) goal for their affiliate programs. Depending on the brand, the channel costs may or may not include affiliate technology tracking fees or personnel dedicated to supporting the affiliate program.
An affiliate program should have clear guidelines for your affiliates to follow with regard to what they can and cannot do as a partner in your program.
These guidelines are what we refer to as your affiliate programs’ terms and conditions.
Your terms and conditions are a binding agreement that should be created to ensure your affiliate partners have a clear understanding of how they can—and cannot—promote your brand, as well as what the potential consequences are should they not adhere to your terms.
As such, the language within your terms and conditions is extremely important so that your expectations are being clearly communicated to your partners.
For example, most brands’ terms include restrictions on branded pay-per-click (PPC) bidding campaigns as well as requirements for Federal Trade Commission (FTC) disclosure statements on content that promotes your brand/business.
Affiliate Program Support, Reporting and Technical Capabilities
In affiliate marketing, there are a variety of options when it comes to affiliate technology providers, program management agencies and technical support.
However, when it comes to choosing options that are best for your company, brand and affiliate program, it’s important to understand what your specific needs are – especially when it comes to your KPIs, in-house resources, experience and expertise with affiliate marketing, and affiliate partner goals.
For example, if you want more robust technical integration for your affiliate program to support unique insights and performance-based actions through mobile app tracking, an affiliate technology provider that can offer those features may be a good option for your program, versus a provider that offers more standard affiliate technology.
Alternatively, if your brand is focused on developing and optimizing performance-based partnerships with influencers and content partners, or on generating high-value leads and maximizing customer lifetime value, then partnering with an experienced affiliate program management agency that has a deeply connected, high-touch publisher development team could be the best option to help you launch your affiliate program—and also grow, refine and expand it in the future.
Understanding what your brand’s competitors are doing with their affiliate programs can help you establish a program that’s as appealing to high-value affiliate partners – if not more.
Here are some examples of this:
- If your competitor offers a 7-day cookie window for their program, you might consider offering a 14-day cookie.
- If they are offering an 8% commission, you may want to consider launching your program with a 10% commission.
- If your competitor’s average order value (AOV) is $100 and your AOV is $200, your affiliate program could be more competitive at the same commission rate.
Of course, no two brands are identical. Your specific KPIs should be taken into account when establishing your commission structure. Highlighting potential earnings to potential partners can also go a long way toward tipping the scale in your favor.
Affiliate Partnership Opportunities
Recruitment of affiliate partners is the final step in launching a new affiliate program. It’s important to understand that affiliate partners are as diverse as the brands and business that they promote.
What’s more is that the advanced capabilities of affiliate technology providers now allow for strategic partnerships with all types of partners – far beyond the “traditional” content, loyalty and coupon partners that many brands associate with affiliate marketing (although it’s important to note that these types of partners are still very much a part of many highly-successful affiliate programs and have far more sophisticated and incremental capabilities than they did in the past).
Attracting and accepting the right partners into your program is both an art and a science, which is why having access to an experienced, knowledgeable Publisher Development team is so vital to the short and long-term success of an affiliate program.
Without affiliates, there is no affiliate marketing.
It’s also why establishing clear guidelines on the types of partners you’ll approve into your program can help you accelerate the growth of your program while ensuring partner transparency and performance.