Over the past decade, a significant portion of my income was due to affiliate marketing relationships. The best of those relationships are the ones where both sides were motivated to build and improve the relationship. The worst affiliate relationships are the ones where the program manager could care less whether the I sold their product. I’m pretty quick to steer clear of those commodity programs where I’m just another unique publisher ID referring sales, but some program managers don’t seems to understand the distinction.
Julia Barrett gets this distinction between marketing vendor and affiliate partner better than most people. After five years as Director of Affiliate Marketing for Shopzilla, Julia went on to head up the eBay Partner Network for all of North America and Australia. Julia recently left eBay to join Wealthfront as Director of Product Marketing. She shared some of her experience at Affiliate Management Days, where she led a session on creating mutually beneficial partner relationships with affiliates.
Like any relationship, you need to make a good first impression and continue to impress as the relationship evolves. With this in mind, Julia cited three core foundational elements I would consider essential to any longterm affiliate relationship.
Affiliates talk to each other to get the low down which programs work and which ones should be avoided like the plague. If your affiliate program has a bad reputation, the chances of attracting amazing affiliates are pretty slim. Affiliates want to know that your infrastructure is stable, so they know their referrals are being tracked appropriately. Having a rockstar team of people who provide advice beyond sending out the latest batch of promotional copy is also essential.
From my own experience, I know the programs I have the most success with are the ones where the affiliate manager is fully engaged. I’ve had the good fortune of affiliate managers letting me know I have broken links. I’ve had some amazing affiliate managers who recommend market opportunities that wouldn’t have occurred to me. A few of those affiliate managers also dabble as affiliates, which goes a long way to understanding how affiliates think. I offer feedback, sometimes about the product itself, but often about gaps in the program that challenge my ability to sell more product. Some of these affiliate managers have become life-long friends as a result.
Ease of Use
Some affiliate programs are easier to use than others. The terms of service can be complex to the point where creating a campaign is more headache than it’s worth. A lack of creative or a very limited set of creative is another example of making a program difficult to work with.
Some of my own experience in affiliate marketing relies on video. I have a specific strategy for this, so I don’t expect affiliate managers to provide video assets, but I do expect to have a reasonable selection of image and text creative to work with. Making it easy to find promotional offers and keeping those promotions consistent with other marketing efforts by the company are also essential components to making an affiliate program easy to use.
Revenue is always going to play a role in how affiliates respond. It’s not so much how much money that’s important (though that is important), but how easy it is for affiliates to understand what actions result in payment. Almost as important is knowing which actions won’t result in payment. How easy it is to get paid is another consideration, as well as timeliness of payment.
Here again, I’ll draw on my own experience. I have participated in programs of various types over the years. Most of my affiliate marketing falls into the realm of content marketing, so I’m not running up huge PPC bills. Timeliness for me means paying when you say you’re going to pay, rather than making sure I have money in the back to cover my outstanding PPC spend. If I see that checks are the only form of payment offered by an affiliate program, I won’t even think about signing up – so I agree with Julia that getting paid needs to be easy.
Becky is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at TUNE. Before TUNE, she led a variety of marketing and communications projects at San Francisco startups. Becky received her bachelor's degree in English from Wake Forest University. After living nearly a decade in San Francisco and Seattle, she has returned to her home of Charleston, SC, where you can find her enjoying the sun and salt water with her family.