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Older affiliate programs always have untapped potential and room for improvement. There are new strategies for growth and profitability that most merchants haven't considered yet. Today I'll review some of those ideas and talk about the state of affiliate program management.
Q & A
If your affiliate program has already gone through the launch period, it's time to do a deep dive. Look at your last monthly report and answer some foundational questions.
The Management Team
Who is your affiliate manager? Do you even have one? Who runs the day-to-day? Is it …
… someone from your marketing department babysitting the program?
… just the owner or the CFO watching the billing?
… an ad agency that handles all of your other digital channels?
… an outsourced program management agency?
Or, (I hope not) did a network convince you they were the best to manage your precious affiliate relationships?
How many targeted recruitment pitches were sent last month to relevant content partners to join your program? This is a very different number than the number of affiliates who applied to your program and who you then approved. Recruitment is essential every single month because content partners come and go. Many of them join and never send one click. You have to keep looking for the right ones constantly.
Types of Affiliates
Are your sales coming from coupon and cashback affiliates only? We see a handful of these affiliates as essential to the customer journey, but they should not dominate the channel. When I do audits of older programs that have not had proper management, I nearly always find an imbalance between content affiliates and coupon and cashback affiliates. A program that does not focus on growth through content partners can still grow, but that growth is organic with the brand. Therefore, there is no added value.
Apogee manages mature programs with 0% of the traffic from coupons and cashback. But our typical rate is about 30% of that kind of traffic. Our affiliates are not riding the wave of organic growth, they are introducing a significant number of new customers each month.
How many affiliates sent clicks and sales compared to last month or last year? Look at the list and see if the top 10 or 20 have changed. If it's the same group as last year, then there is no effort being done to educate and activate those new affiliates that are approved. If you don't send informative newsletters or constantly try to engage your affiliate community, they won't remember they joined your program.
The Apogee Way: Recruitment, Activation, Education
Affiliates need inspiration. They need to hear what works and what doesn't. They need leadership from an affiliate manager who advocates for them as well as for the brand. From influencers on Instagram to big media publishers with millions of readers, Apogee builds those relationships for our clients. We keep the machine moving.
We have a growing library of educational videos that teach the basics and introduces our clients to the community. Our team goes live on Facebook weekly. We send monthly newsletters and talk to affiliates daily. That's what it takes in 2020 to get affiliates active.
You have lots of options for affiliate program management and you need to find what works with your company culture, margins and strategy for growth. My recommendation is to talk with real experts. I want you to understand how to move the needle with affiliates and you don't have to take my word for it. If you want a list, I'll send you introductions to my in-house manager friends and even some competitors. If you choose a respected competitor, awesome. You'll be in good hands and that's all that matters.
Affiliate Program Management Options
When it comes to affiliate management, here are the different options you have. My personal biases are included.
- Managed in-house by the owner, the marketing staff or whoever is available. It is the most common and in my opinion, the one most likely to fail. This is the “build it and they will come” mentality — launch the program, auto-approve everyone and see what happens. Affiliate marketing isn’t easy and it’s better to hire professional help, even if it's just to teach the in-house staff best practices.
- Managed in-house by an experienced affiliate manager. If the brand has the budget there are ecommerce recruiters who will match you with the most qualified candidate. Some of the best affiliate programs in the world are managed in-house by affiliate marketing legends. Many of them love to mentor young affiliate managers and share best practices.
- Managed by the network that handles the affiliate tracking. This is the least desirable for everyone involved except the network. In most cases, the network caters to the lowest common denominator, coupons and cashback affiliates. They dominate and inflate sales, which ultimately helps the network make more money. There is no quality attached to this expensive service because working with content affiliates is hard and not profitable in the short term.
- Managed by an agency. A well-respected affiliate management company comes in different shapes and sizes.
- Apogee is a dedicated mid-sized agency. We win awards, we speak at conferences. We participate in mastermind groups with other managers. We have the right tools, experience and strategies to find relevant content partners for any niche. Quality beats quantity because quality breeds quantity.
- An advertising or digital agency sometimes runs an affiliate program as an add-on service. Merchants love to combine invoices and let one team handle all their digital channels. My best analogy – would you let your dentist perform heart surgery? I’ve had to clean up the mess after and it’s often a brutal process. Again, there is no focus on quality, just organic growth.
- Then there are the biggest agencies with the flashiest sales presentations. If the pitch is salesy and aggressively guarantees 130%+ growth immediately, run. These large agencies have more sales staff than account managers, and those individual managers are responsible for dozens of programs each. Those managers tend to be inexperienced and overworked.
The Bottom Line
The best programs are run by dedicated affiliate managers who have been trained by people that care about the business model. They focus on the quality of traffic. They understand the client's company culture and customer journey. When a program launches without a professional strategy, the program will never be as profitable as it could be or grow as expected.
Apogee managers are those managers. We stand ready to help your affiliate program realize its full potential.