How Lead Generation Works in Affiliate Marketing
Lead generation is the holy grail of growth businesses. But we all recognize that lead gen is more than a slam dunk when it comes to truly engaging a real person to take the time to learn about, and feel compelled by, a product category or brand they may not know enough about.
There is so much content around the buyer journey, where lead generation fits in that cycle, and what to do after a lead is procured to help her make the best buying decision.
What Is Affiliate Marketing Lead Generation?
When it comes to affiliate marketing, there’s more to the process than “click on this link and buy my stuff.” It’s really all about understanding buyer intent and leveraging the right partners that bring high value context to the right spot in the buyer journey.
In fact, context is the unique leverage point in the affiliate channel. There’s no spam in a customer inbox, no waste in the snail mail recycle bin, no irrelevant messaging in a social media feed based on creepy demographics or questionable privacy workarounds.
The context for seeing an offer from a brand is the actual publisher site where an offer is made. Publishers and their partner agencies – those with whom they have proven, reliable relationships – provide relevant content where a brand’s offer simply makes sense and is aligned with the integrity of the publisher site.
It’s this relevance that provides credibility when a paid offer is made to an audience who is on that site because they have interest and intent that may drive further engagement, and eventually, a purchase.
Types of Affiliate Marketing Leads
When businesses think about affiliate marketing, they may have the impression that allocating resources to the affiliate channel is all about coupon codes, sale deals, and other transactional engagement moments in the buyer journey.
It’s true that the affiliate marketing business started this way. But today, it’s the [insert factoid about the growth in affiliate across industries here]
In fact, today businesses across verticals and audience types are using partnership and affiliate relationships to engage and a variety of points on the customer-engagement spectrum. It all depends on the objectives each affiliate campaign sets to measure the value to its brand, and the results desired.
Determining the Value of Affiliate Leads
The value of an affiliate lead is going to be determined by the goal set out in campaign development.
If the campaign is time sensitive, such as a program developed to bolster Cyber Monday, the holiday season, or a new product introduction, the marketing and sales funnel for this campaign is shallow; the offer will be specific; it may have a coupon code or a discount element that drives a visitor directly to a purchase opportunity.
However, if a campaign is set to build a less transactional relationship with a potential buyer, the campaign design may include a deeper funnel based on information sharing, educational content, or registration to an event or for event specific notifications. In these cases a successful transaction may not be a purchase, but instead a variety of avenues for staying in touch with the prospect based on his interests.
This is where intent comes into play, and where the right publishers provide relevant context for engagement offers.
What Successful Affiliate Lead Generation Looks Like
Here is an example from the PartnerCentric roster of clients:
As a relatively new startup and digital disruptor in their industry, this digital will company had not yet entered the affiliate and partnerships space. They wanted to work with an agency that understood the full landscape and could recruit and nurture the partnerships that would help them scale and grow. The results spoke for themselves:
After they launched in October 2018, they saw consistent revenue growth of 58% monthly in 16 months with our management. With the addition of a solid lead gen campaign, active publishers grew by 174%.
Brands can have different objectives for their affiliate campaign, so the value of each lead fulfills a different goal. In some cases, it was to spur time sensitive purchasing; in others, the value of a lead held a longer timeframe and was an investment in future awareness, new engagement opportunities, and loyalty purchasing.
Strategies for Generating Affiliate Marketing Leads
Identify a Target Audience
Whereas with some channels, like social media in particular, targeting is based loosely on demographics and other ‘look alike’ metrics. This runs the risk of, plainly speaking, getting it all wrong. We’ve all been on our own social portals only to receive an irrelevant or inappropriate offer based on some random demographic measure. This is not only ineffective – it can actually damage brand integrity and credibility.
In partnership marketing, brands work with their affiliate partners to identify the publisher platforms that connect a brand and a customer on a much deeper, intent-based level.
Nugs doesn’t need to get into your customers’ business to see previous entertainment purchases acquired by buying a list from a data broker. They know that if someone is on their site, reading their content, and exploring options that appeal to them; so an offer on the Nugs site that connects with a like minded site visitor has a better chance of engagement based on true customer behavior, not sketchy web scraping or questionable privacy practices
Success lies in the deep relationships agencies have with their publisher partners; truly understanding a publisher’s audience helps agencies align client offers where relevance and intent have a better chance of making the brand-customer connection.
Define Measurable Goals
While many brands seek out leverage in the affiliate channel for near-term revenue success metrics, some see value in setting longer-term engagement measures of success.
For example, a brand that generates most of its revenue around the holiday season may have contra seasonal goals for their affiliate program. They may aim for an increase in email sign ups for future sales or content; this allows them to invest in list building off season so they have a larger audience for high season right after Thanksgiving.
This requires brands to adjust program metrics differently throughout the year. While engagement during first and second quarter may not demonstrate an immediate lift in purchasing and revenue, significant increases in the size of their database may be the success metric they need then, to prepare for the holidays. Then, in third quarter, the metrics may change to measure website visits as gift-giving exploration begins; then shifting again to purchasing when the high season finally arrives.
While this is only one example, it reveals the importance of:
- Establishing clear objectives that acknowledge the reality of the buyer journey
- Framing ROI for the affiliate program over a strategic time period where different behaviors suggest different types of success
- Having the patience to see a campaign through to its most opportunistic moment as a customer moves along the purchase cycle.
Get Attribution Data Right from the Start
Since most brands we work with support multi-channel programs including paid search and paid social, it’s important to be sure the conversion data you receive from your partners reflects accurate attribution results that align with your internal data sources.
In the affiliate space there are oh-so many data sources claiming successful conversions from a specific channel. This can lead to errors in attribution and related overpayment to publishers that don’t reconcile with your internal source of truth.
Partner with High-Quality Publishers
Over the last few years, a big trend in affiliate marketing has been to focus on full funnel opportunities–and for good reason. Not only will a diverse affiliate portfolio help you maximize results at every stage of the customer journey, but it will also help you reach a broader audience and broaden your revenue streams. Hanging your hat on content-only affiliates will not only hinder your reach but also increases your risk of losing a potential buyer in the purchasing funnel. Make sure your affiliate portfolio has a good mix of anything from content, deal and coupon affiliates to loyalty, search and conversion optimization partners. It’s also important to think about budgets and commissions to ensure you are paying valuable publishers more than low-performing ones.
Create Lasting Relationships
If you want to have a successful affiliate marketing program, you must work with the right affiliates for growth. Affiliate is not a numbers game and the more affiliates you have doesn’t translate to higher growth and more sales.
Rather, it takes finding and nurturing the right affiliate partnerships to see and benefit from true growth. So what is a good affiliate? It all starts with your goals. Are you looking for top of the funnel awareness or bottom of the funnel sales? That will determine your ideal affiliate partnerships.
Test, Measure, and Adapt Along the Way
When working with lead gen publishers, it is important to always be testing. Brands want to be sure that the leads they are getting are actionable and strong. These should be people who actually want to purchase a new music streaming plan or a new insurance policy. It’s a good idea to have small testing budgets with different types of publishers in order to track which ones are driving the highest quality leads. Excellent reporting will be able to attribute which publishers drove which leads and you can then pay higher CPLs to better quality publishers.
Challenges in Affiliate Lead Generation
Cost of Lead Generation
Many brands either overspend on underperforming publishers – or waste manpower on manual adjustment reports after the fact. In a world where time is money, this further dilutes the revenue generating power of the affiliate channel.
See more about FUSE attribution technology.
There are many questions to ask yourself before you begin an affiliate marketing program because competition is fierce and your competitors might have considered the below points before they started:
- Do you have a plan to focus on brand recognition initiatives via other channels outside of affiliate?
This is important because large and well known partners like Hearst and Meredith often want to work with brands that have some sort of footprint already.
- Do you have the budget to secure placements with top partners to kick-start their launch?
As in many situations, you get what you pay for.
- Have you developed a proof-of-concept that substantiates significant interest in your product?
The affiliate channel works best when target audiences have been identified, since very niche products and narrow audiences can be difficult to sell into the best partnerships
- Have you already developed creative, promotional calendars, and editorial content?
Establishing even just a framework of these in advance will get you up and running in the affiliate channel faster
Check out our Affiliate Marketing Startup Checklist to learn more about what it takes to succeed in the affiliate channel.
Generating Quality Leads
When thinking about generating quality leads, it’s important to think about a few key points.
How open are you to considering a broad portfolio of publications, and a wide range of relationships? Because flexibility is key here as opportunities may reveal themselves differently, depending on the challenges a brand may face in the marketplace. Come to the table with an open mind about who will serve your brand best. A diversified partner mix is often the best strategy.
Additionally, have you quantified your demographic audience and your competitive set before launching? Surprisingly, many brands believe their competition is one sector, when it really might be another.
Need Help With Your Affiliate Lead Generation Efforts?
Provide a brief summary of all the points outlined above, and outline how ParterCentric can partner with your business to help with more effective lead gen.
If you are an established brand in almost any industry that is looking for the right leads and has robust growth goals, affiliate marketing is a high-ROI driving channel that you should be considering.
At PartnerCentric, we believe experience matters. Our account managers have the highest experience level in the industry. That’s a big deal, especially in today’s world where fast ROI and results are paramount. Our team has the experience and relationships they need to find the right partner opportunities for you and, if necessary, to quickly make strategic changes. They know their stuff, and they deliver real, measurable results.