December 16, 2022

Affiliate Marketing: What’s Trust Got To Do With It?

People shaking hands by a door to show trust

Brand stewards are smart. They have more experience with data science. They want to understand the possible culprits in the affiliate channel that could impact their program performance. These include: 

Therefore, keeping agencies at a distance isn’t the right thing to do from a trust perspective, because transparency between brands and agencies makes it possible to craft better affiliate programs. Streamlining communications, disclosing shifts in brand performance across other marketing channels, and getting the inside scoop on important strategic decisions around other growth initiatives need to be shared. It’s this full transparency that gives us the opportunity to build a program that finds the right publisher opportunities to achieve growth goals.

The Brand and Affiliate Agency “Trust Fall”

Last month, I read an interesting Harvard Business Review piece by two authors who’ve spent the last two years developing a “trust platform.” The platform—called HX TrustID—is one companies can use to “predict, measure, and increase trust” between an organization and the other groups in their orbit: employees, customers, and partners. The HX in the name stands for “human experience,” as the whole idea is that brands “can’t elevate anyone’s experience if they don’t trust you.” 

The centerpiece of the platform is a simple survey, where respondents are asked to indicate the extent to which a certain brand demonstrates four factors: transparency, reliability, capability, and humanity. It got me thinking: what happens when we consider the relationship between brands and affiliate agencies through these lenses? Will it boost a brand’s trust in their affiliate program?

Transparency: Is Your Agency Relationship See-Through?

At PartnerCentric, we set our sights a notch higher than transparency—one of our core values is what we call “professional intimacy.” We want to be honest about everything. The good truths, the bad truths, and everything in between. And, it’s important that trust be a two-way street.

This has everything to do with my early experience as an account manager. The best relationships weren’t necessarily the programs that were performing the best. They were the ones where we could have “real talk.” Clients would tell me what was really going on with their business, and in turn, I’d be able to tell them what we were going to need to do in their affiliate program to get their revenue back on track.

One of the most gut-wrenching feelings an account manager can have is when you need to give a client bad news, or show them results that might not look pretty. I didn’t want my team to ever feel afraid to give a client feedback, so we’ve prioritized building transparency early with the brands we work with—and reinforcing that transparency often. That way, no matter how the program is performing, both the agency and the brand are on the same page with how to move forward. 

If the account manager is doing the right work—and constantly pivoting and coming up with new opportunities within the channel, the numbers you’re looking to hit serve as a leading indicator. They give you a place to grow. But when one of you is afraid, it affects your program.

Reliability: How True Are You? 

The HBR article speaks about reliability through the lens of a brand consistently delivering on its promises. Within the affiliate world, I see this directly connecting to the ability to build rapport.

As affiliate agencies, we need to forever be bringing new ideas to the table, and be ready to try a million actions in the event that the millionth and first try is the one that hits—and it’s important that the brands we work with see this trial and error. None of those “behind the curtain” moves. 

And on the brand side of the equation, we need to be privy to information: what’s being said in those meetings and conversations about the program—or about the state of your brand— when we’re not in the room. This feedback is critical for making adjustments to your program. A clean and thriving program relies just as much on relevant, timely information as it does on the appropriate level of financial investment and transparent partnerships. 

Capability: Are The Experts in Your Corner?

Affiliate agencies often get a bad rap because there’s a fair amount of churn. Staff is constantly changing, leading to inconsistency with account managers—and as a result, programs suffer from being passed around. 

Depending on the financial investment of a brand, the reins of the account might be given to a junior-level marketer who might be passionate and committed, but might not have the industry knowledge of a more seasoned affiliate veteran. Or, sometimes a brand is “sold” by an agency’s A-Team—and then promptly gets pushed to the B-Team for account management. 

So, we make sure the brands we partner with never get this kind of bait-and-switch. Our full-service clients get tenured account managers to work with, and they also get an entire team of dedicated experts that also assist with compliance and technical services. On any given day, at least five PartnerCentric team members are touching a brand’s account.

And, we don’t just concern ourselves with your affiliate program. We make it a point to learn about a brand’s entire business. This was my primary role as an account manager. If I was managing an affiliate program for a swim brand, for example, I also needed to know what was going on in the wider pool industry—both from listening to my clients as well as my own research. 

Knowing the answers to these questions helped me create the best promotions and offers for the brands I worked with, and what also made it possible to communicate to partners that our offers were better than the ones from our competitors.

Humanity: Is Your Brand Being Protected?

A good affiliate marketing agency sees themselves as stewards of a brand’s integrity—helping them maintain their image, values, and company reputation through an affiliate program. The great agencies go beyond maintaining an image to elevating it. 

This stewardship takes several forms. Does your agency take fraud concerns and compliance issues seriously? Are they ruthlessly vetting publishers so your brand doesn’t show up alongside content that’s a complete mismatch at best—and damaging at worst?

A trustworthy agency partner is one that understands they’re not only accountable to the brand, but also that brand’s customers—and it’s a role they take seriously. 

It’s Time To Reaffirm The Trust

Instead of accepting affiliate marketing’s formerly “Wild West” practices, let’s actively adjust our expectations of this high-ROI driving channel so it delivers the outcomes your brand deserves.

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