Where some brands have doubled-down on their affiliate marketing, shifted messaging, opened up their program to new types of partners and gotten creative with compensation models, others have decreased spend, paused or shut down their program, reduced partner commissions and extended payout windows to the affiliates within their program.
Every step of the way, affiliate partners have been impacted. Some positively and some quite negatively. For those who faced commissions being set to zero, programs abruptly shutting down and significantly delayed payments, their relationships with the brands who made those decisions may very well be irrevocably harmed.
However, not all is lost. While affiliates have a long memory, they are also human. Many may be willing to forgive some of these short-sighted decisions if important steps are taken by brands to rebuild the relationship.
This will involve regaining their partners' trust and demonstrating that they truly value the role their affiliate partners play in the success of their program, their brand and their overall business.
If you paused or shut down your affiliate program in response to the impacts of COVID-19 and are wanting to reactivate it, our company's Core Values can help guide you in how to re-establish and rebuild relationships with affiliates:
1. Own It
At Acceleration Partners, "Owning It" means being proactive and taking accountability for outcomes, even when variables are beyond our control or ambiguity is present. And it's hard to think of a time in recent history when things were more ambiguous than they are right now.
If you abruptly shut down or paused your program and/or set commissions to zero amidst the uncertainty caused by COVID-19, here's how our Own It core value can be applied to how you reengage with the affiliate partners who were in your program:
- Acknowledge the decision you made and if it wasn't handled or communicated well—own it. Admit any oversights, be candid about the situation and what you could have done better and apologize for it.
- Be empathetic and transparent – and recognize if your initial communications were the opposite of that.
- Convey that you understand and appreciate why your partners were likely upset/frustrated/insulted by how you addressed the situation and how you've learned from that.
- Present solutions for how to move forward. Educate partners on your "reopening" strategy for your program and how you're planning to make it mutually beneficial for them.
In addition to acknowledging why affiliates may be reticent to rejoin your program and owning your part in their reluctance, rise to the occasion for how you deliver that message to them.
One approach to make your communication more personal is to create a video message and send it out to all the affiliate partners who were in your program. If possible, have the message be recorded by someone from your company's leadership team.
Beyond just raising awareness to your partners about your plan to reactivate your affiliate program, it's vital to reassure them about why they should rejoin it and promote your brand and products.
2. Embrace Relationships
Another one of our Core Values, "Embrace Relationships," means focusing on long-term outcomes and genuine connections; relationships built on trust.
What this means for your brand is that, more than ever, it's vital that you find ways to rebuild trust with affiliates and demonstrate that you're committed to contributing to their success.
This will likely take time. Just how much time will vary from partner to partner, the degree that your partners were impacted by your decision to pause or shut down your program and how/when you communicated that decision to them.
In addition to Owning It, as outlined above, some ideas for how to embrace relationships with affiliates include:
- Offering a "make good" solution to potential affiliate partners such as a bonus or short-term commission increase.
- Shorten payout windows to partners.
- If possible, provide partners with exclusive codes to help them add additional value.
- Explore additional opportunities the partner has available that you may not have considered testing in the past such as paid placements and sponsorships.
Ultimately, trust is broken when your actions aren't consistent with your words. Rebuilding your relationship with affiliates will require your brand to take action and do things that will be meaningful to them—personally and to their business.
3. Excel and Improve
Excellence and continuous improvement are inextricably intertwined. This belief is at the heart of our "Excel and Improve" Core Value.
With regard to your affiliate program, if you made blunders in either pausing/shutting down your program OR in how you went about communicating that decision, then it's critical to learn from the situation and improve your processes so that those mistakes are not repeated in the future.
Your affiliate partners want the assurance that abrupt program pauses/shut down will not happen again. Or, if for some reason a pause/shut down is inevitable, they at least want some assurance that it won't be handled in the way it was during the COVID-19 crisis.
While you may not have control over drastic changes to budgets, you can control your methods for communicating with partners. Here are some suggestions for improving your contingency plan and excelling at how you communicate to affiliates within your program:
- Develop a "what if" plan that takes a slower, scaled approach to deactivating a program over a longer timeframe (e.g. seven days versus 24 hours).
- Create processes that include regular communication with your partners and quarterly calls to keep them in-the-know about upcoming shifts to budget or strategy.
- Ensure you're seeing feedback from partners and their ideas for alternative solutions to pausing or shutting down a program.
Remember, these affiliates are your partners. If you're faced with needing to quickly pivot your strategy, leverage their ideas and expertise.
They'll not only appreciate you keeping them in the loop about what's going on, they also may have incredibly valuable solutions that could help you prevent having to take measures as drastic as pausing or shutting down a program and setting commissions to zero.
A New Start
If you want to reactivate your affiliate program, and even make it stronger than before, it's essential that you repair the damage that may have been done to your affiliate relationships. There is no affiliate program without affiliate partners.
Developing a plan to reach out to affiliates in ways that are not only humble but also demonstrate your commitment to the partnership and acknowledges how your decision may have impacted them, will be crucial to your ability to reactivate your affiliate program – and grow it long after this crisis has subsided.
Carmen Moloney is a Senior Account Manager at Acceleration Partners