By now, you’ve most likely heard of affiliate marketing. While many people credit the Amazon affiliate program for starting the marketing trend, affiliate marketing has been around for over 30 years and it has been proven to be a successful business tactic for marketers around the world.
What is affiliate marketing?
Brands use affiliate marketing to connect with new customers and drive more sales by working with individuals — the affiliates — who promote their products in exchange for commission. Through blogs, social media posts, and other referrals, affiliates get more people to become aware of a brand, visit its website, and eventually make a purchase. Brands typically provide them with affiliate links or unique codes to track their sales, and affiliates get paid for every conversion they bring in.
This strategy is a win-win for both parties involved. Brands get increased awareness, traffic, and sales, while affiliates have a source of passive income coming from a brand that they love. As an added bonus, consumers, too, get exposed to amazing products or services that they never knew they needed.
Today, we’ll give you a step-by-step guide to building a foolproof affiliate program, as well as a few tips to expand your affiliate pool.
5 steps to building a successful affiliate program
Step 1: Do your research
When building the foundation for your affiliate program, it’s important to create an affiliate community that is attractive for people to join, yet still yields profit for your brand. So, where do you begin?
Start by conducting research on the payment system you want to use. Consider factors such as:
- Frequency: how often you’ll pay affiliates
- Minimum or threshold: how much an affiliate must earn to generate a commission
- Levels: how much commission can increase based on performance
- Structure: what metric will measure the affiliate’s performance (sales, leads, clicks, etc.)
Some companies pay their affiliates a flat fee for bringing in a customer, while others offer recurring payments for every purchase that customer makes. While the latter has a higher chance of cutting into your profits, it may incentivize affiliates to bring in higher quality customers with higher retention rates.
Step 2: Recruit the best of the best
Once you figure out how to pay your affiliates, it’s time to look for those valuable brand partners.
Just as it is with any other partnership — whether that’s between two brands or a brand and an influencer — authenticity is the key ingredient to success when it comes to affiliate marketing as well. In other words, you need to find affiliates who align well with your brand. Here are some simple dos and don’ts:
- DO look for affiliates in a relevant market. This will narrow down the pool of potential brand partners to those who have audiences you most likely want to reach. For instance, if you are a beauty brand, search for the people who are a part of your niche within the industry — skincare professionals, makeup artists, hair stylists, and so on.
- DON’T just work with people with a large following. While it is tempting to work with macro-influencers, other members of your brand community — such as industry experts and loyal customers — wield a lot of power among their own circles. As a rule of thumb, try to recruit a few quality affiliates rather than a million affiliates with large yet irrelevant audiences.
- DO create an attractive opportunity to join your affiliate program. Show them how much they can earn with your competitive commission rate and how the program is a win-win for both parties. Better yet, provide more opportunities to get to know your company and build a community around your brand — we’ll touch more on this later.
- DON’T look for people who are just financially motivated. Instead, look for those loyal fans who can talk about your brand with passion. Through their positive experiences with your brand, they will be able to provide social proof and inspire others to purchase and try out your products.
Step 3: Thoroughly educate your affiliates
Now that you have a solid army of affiliates, it’s time to educate them on your brand. This step is crucial in helping affiliates communicate your brand’s value to their audiences. Discuss how the company was founded, how the products can make people’s lives easier, and how the products are made. Sharing what goes on behind-the-scenes will not only provide transparency, but also show how your brand differentiates from your competitors.
Take note from Seed, a direct-to-consumer probiotics brand. Last summer, the company launched Seed University, a crash course that all of its brand partners must pass in order to join its affiliates program. The six-unit course fully educates the affiliates on its products and tests their knowledge at the end.
Don’t forget to educate them on your guidelines and policies as well. Clearly communicate your expectations and tell them how they can be a successful business partner.
Step 4: Engage your affiliates to build a true partnership
You should turn your affiliates into true brand partners to leverage the power they have among their own communities. At the end of the day, your affiliates aren’t just machines that generate leads for your brand. They are real people who are growing their own personal brands. And while financial compensation is great, it’s likely that they wouldn’t mind some extra attention.
For example, repost their content, ask them for product feedback, and give them special privileges like early access to products or invitations to exclusive events. Affiliates who experience such perks firsthand will love the brand even more and therefore talk up the brand to their friends and family organically. Plus, these activations will allow them to get to know the company better and build a relationship with the people behind the brand.
Step 5: Expand your affiliate pool
You should be engaging your wider brand community and recruiting community members like customers, industry experts, and even employees to be your affiliates. Historically, many companies have enlisted popular bloggers and influencers as their affiliates, due to their big followings and perceived trust. That’s why there’s a lot of confusion in the industry regarding the differences between influencers and affiliates.
However, every individual has the power to influence, even if they’re not a social media influencer. Those who love your brand are already raving about it to their friends and family, repurchasing your products, and perhaps even posting about it on their social media. So, why not reward them?
The best affiliate programs include all members of the brand community. Dig around and find your biggest fans and turn them into affiliates, regardless of their following size. Then, rinse and repeat steps 1-5 for fruitful results.