November 29, 2022

Can You Fix the Friction in Your Affiliate Marketing Program?

For many brands, this is the story of affiliate marketing. Because it’s a performance channel, there’s a feeling that if you just have all your pieces in place, it’ll be a speedy process. The tech set-up will be quick. Negotiations with publishers will go off without a hitch. It’ll be easy for an affiliate team to immediately understand the brand’s business landscape. 

When it doesn’t happen that way, there’s a lot of disappointment. In reality, programs can take months to go live and start to see results—and that’s if you do everything by the book. A very outdated book. 

The reason why it’s so frustrating is that when most brands decide to pursue affiliate marketing, they do so because there’s an immediate growth need. Something’s not going well. They need more signups, more subscribers, more revenue. There’s a clear urgency, and they need this channel to produce a quick result. In my days as an Account Manager, I always needed the channel to perform yesterday.  

When brands start their affiliate journey, they need to come to the table with a laundry list of decisions that already need to be made. They have to choose a tracking platform, complete applications for their desired partners and have signed agreements in place. They need to have worked with their engineering team to add pixels to the necessary pages and have performed the necessary testing. This all needs to be in place before the program strategy or budget is considered. 

This entire process is important, and I’m not advocating that we skip any steps. But in a channel where speed can clearly add value, it makes me question: is there a better way forward?

The easy answer is yes. It comes down to removing friction in the process, so we can go faster. Because we can go faster. 

And to do this, we need to look at the parts of an affiliate marketing partnership and where we can reduce those friction points:

Whose Job Is It, Anyway?

As affiliate marketing professionals, I believe we shouldn’t be putting the onus on the brands we work with to take full responsibility for having the necessary onboarding technology. 

Even if a company has an in-house tech team, the internal marketing team is having to fight to get this work in the engineering queue. If they don’t have an in-house team, they’re having to contract the work out—another expense and another bottleneck.

An in-house tech team or contracted resources shouldn’t work around the clock to wrestle with the complexities of launching an affiliate program. It’s my view that it should be an agency’s responsibility to provide most of the tech and engineering expertise to get these programs live and performing. These elements often show up as the most challenging friction points in implementing a successful program. After all, the faster these brands can start seeing the traffic they’re looking to see, the closer they are to reaching their goals set for the channel. 

Is It Really Who You Know?

I’ve talked a little before about the similarities between affiliate marketing and PR, especially when it comes to relationships. Like PR, you can’t control when a publisher will return your call. You can’t control when someone writes about your product—and yet these actions have to happen before you can start generating revenue. Affiliate is also similar to PR in that there’s a goal of exposure and brand building, but it also has to deliver growth. 

Being able to build and manage relationships is critical in affiliate. And just like the PR world, that all takes time. It’s not a speedy process. 

But this can be solved, too. Choosing an agency with its own in-house partner relationship management system that’s consistently updated—instead of relying on old Rolodexes with contact information that’s often self-reported—can streamline the time it takes to find, reach out to, and manage those contacts. This way, agencies have their own information, and they’re focusing more time on revenue-generating activity and speed toward ROI. 

Experience Threads The Needle

Experience in the affiliate world matters. Depending on your company’s size and program budget, the large legacy networks that manage affiliate programs, you might find yourself with a college graduate for an Account Manager that’s just learning the ropes.

Don’t get me wrong—we need more people who are interested in pursuing performance marketing channels as a career. However, a key element of speed is having a seasoned strategist who knows from day #1 how to handle your program. They know all of the intricacies because they’ve done it before, several times over.

Longevity ties back to the relationship component as well. Let’s say you’re an alternative music platform brand that’s looking for more brand awareness about your service. Would you rather have an account manager that’s able to say, “Let me talk to my contact at Rolling Stone—I know someone that might write a full review for you,” or someone that’s starting from scratch with a wish list that’s tough to execute? 

There’s more than one level we can pull in our quest to go faster. When we bring speed to the affiliate channel, we’re able to bring brands in sooner and keep them there long enough to show what it can do. In that way, speed isn’t just a precursor to value—it’s what creates the sustainable value of a clean, transparent affiliate marketing program. 

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