What if you could pay someone else to market your product without breaking the bank?
The idea might not be as crazy as it sounds. Customers are increasingly skeptical of brands when it comes to doing their own product research. Affiliate marketing has become a powerhouse marketing strategy for companies looking to find a new way to market their products to consumers.
Affiliate marketing is a digital marketing strategy where brands partner with digital creators to promote their products online. Businesses can sign up as affiliate marketing merchants via an affiliate network and connect with individuals who will market their products for a set commission rate.
Affiliate marketing merchant
An affiliate marketing merchant refers to any business that leverages an affiliate network to increase sales and brand awareness for their products or services. These brands often use affiliate platforms and software to find affiliates to market their products.
Once the brand believes they’ve found the right fit, the business and the creator agree upon a set commission rate. The affiliate then promotes the products to their audience using a special affiliate referral link. Commission rates are then calculated based on the number of items sold.
Affiliate marketing is popular among ecommerce retailers and online businesses, but brands across any industry can reap the benefits.
How to become an affiliate marketing merchant
When a business enters into an affiliate program agreement with a creator, they are paying for access to that influencer’s built-in audience. These affiliates are often bloggers, social media influencers, websites with large digital platforms, and any other digital creator with a large audience.
Building an audience around your product is time consuming and it takes patience. For some marketers, it makes more sense to partner with creators who already have a platform consistent with their ideal customer.
Affiliate marketing requires three different groups of people to work together:
Affiliate marketers: creators with a sizable audience that promote these products
Affiliate merchants: businesses that sell a product or service
Consumers: potential customers that fall within a target audience
This strategy works to the advantage of both affiliate marketers and businesses. Businesses can save themselves the trouble of finding the right customer by tapping into their affiliate's built-in network. And because affiliate marketers only get paid based on the number of sales they make, businesses can be sure they’re only paying for qualified leads.
For the affiliate marketer, it’s an easy way to monetize their platform. Many affiliate marketers have created large followings for their blog, social media platforms, or other personal channels. Affiliate marketing is an easy way for affiliates to generate passive income by sponsoring products.
Over the years, it’s become much easier for businesses to find and collaborate on brand partnerships with affiliates. While your approach to building your affiliate marketing program might be different depending on your brand, product, and industry, there are some key steps every business should start with.
1. Choose the right affiliate marketing platform
Affiliate merchants often want to know: how do I find affiliates to partner with on promoting my product? The best place to start is by finding an affiliate marketing platform where you can connect with affiliates and start building relationships.
An affiliate network is a third-party platform that connects affiliate publishers and affiliate merchants. These platforms make it easier for brands to find influencers with the right audience for their products. It also gives affiliate marketers the chance to find sponsorship opportunities in a single location.
Here are some popular affiliate marketing platforms you can use to begin your search:
CJ by Conversant
Shopify Affiliate Program
YouTube Affiliate Program
Affiliate networks offer merchants a variety of benefits, including tracking and reporting tools, payment processing, and access to a large number of publishers looking for work. For an affiliate marketer, it saves them time having to look for brands to partner with.
No matter which side of the publishing process you’re on, affiliate networks are the gold standard for finding partnerships.
2. Partner with the right affiliates
A great affiliate marketing partnership relies a lot on cultivating relationships with the right affiliates. Paying for access to an affiliate’s audience won’t do you much good if your product isn’t the right fit.
Always check for similarities between your target audience and the affiliate’s audience to ensure they are the right fit for your product.
of large merchants generated affiliate marketing earnings amounting to $5 million or more by investing smartly in the right affiliates.
You should also take the time to check out how experienced the marketers you’re partnering with are. The success of an affiliate marketing campaign depends on how the affiliate promotes your product on their channels. It would be smart to check out their social media platforms and look for previous affiliate work.
Ask yourself these questions before choosing affiliate partners:
How experienced is this affiliate? Does this affiliate seem responsive and willing to work with you?
What is their expertise with digital marketing concepts like blogging, email marketing, and SEO?
3. Decide on your affiliate commission rates
Once you’ve found the affiliates you want to partner with, you’ll need to agree to the terms of payment. Affiliate marketing payment structures vary depending on who you work with.
Merchants who are just starting out with affiliate marketing can choose the payment method that works best for their business. Some businesses use simple payout systems like Paypal, while others have a dedicated affiliate manager managing commissions.
After you’ve decided on the rates, you’ll need to agree on how payments will be distributed. Some affiliate marketing software solutions have built in tracking for affiliate commissions, making it easy to track how much money you owe each affiliate.
It’s also a great way to track the ROI of affiliate marketing. Simply tracking how much you spend on affiliate commissions vs. how much revenue you generate from affiliate leads can help show the effectiveness of your campaign.
Most creators get paid commission based on one of the following payment structures:
Pay per sale: the affiliate makes commission based on the number of sales made using their affiliate link or website (measured via cost-per-acquisition CPA).
Pay per lead: the affiliate makes commission based on the number of leads generated through their affiliate link or website (measured via conversion rates).
Pay per click: the affiliate makes commission based on the number of times their affiliate link or website is clicked by consumers (measured via cost-per-click CPC).
No matter which system you use, it’s important to make this information available to affiliates up front. so they can decide if your affiliate program is right for them as well.
4. Create a clear terms of service
One of the big risks with affiliate marketing is trusting someone outside of your business to promote your product. There’s a chance new affiliates don’t know your brand language or tone as well as your internal employees do. Providing your affiliates with clear terms of service ensures affiliates have distinct guidelines for marketing your product.
Creating your own terms of service ensures that you have control over the perception of your brand. This is especially important for large companies that manage hundreds of affiliates at once. If all of your affiliates are following the same guidelines, you can ensure that all of the user-generated content they are creating has the same look and feel as your branded content.
What should be included in your affiliate terms of service?
Detailed outline of affiliate partnership requirements
Overview of expectations for the affiliate
Necessary brand language or guidelines required of the affiliate
Clear commission structure and payout schedule
Finally, terms of service protect your brand from bad affiliate partnerships.
There’s always the chance that an affiliate doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain, spams your affiliate links in a way that damages your reputation, or does something else out of your control. With clear guidelines in place before deals are made, your business has an easy way to reference that expectations weren’t met. This makes it easier for your team to end bad partnerships without a mess.
Many businesses experienced with affiliate marketing opt to have a specific landing page outlining their affiliate program. These web pages give merchants a singular location to display their new affiliate products, terms of service, and other affiliate details.
Best affiliate software
Proving the ROI of affiliate marketing can be tricky for beginners. Affiliate software makes it easy to collect all of your affiliate marketing data in one centralized location. With affiliate software, it’s easy to track and manage affiliate marketing campaigns, as well as the commissions made by each affiliate partner.
In order to be included in this list, a product must:
Provide marketers a platform to manage multiple affiliate campaigns
Internal capabilities to track the performance of different partnerships
Manage tracking of affiliate commissions
*Below are the top six leading affiliate software solutions from G2’s Fall 2020 Grid® Report. Some reviews may be edited for clarity.
Impact is a partnership automation platform that helps marketers accelerate brand growth. Impact’s cloud-based system provides automation and integration along every stage of the partner lifecycle. Easily manage all of your partner recruitment, onboarding, and attribution in one easy-to-use platform.
What users like:
“Impact has an intuitive user interface that provides performance transparency between you and your affiliate partners. Reporting and analytics by partner, device and content that all track based on your customer acquisition stages. It also hosts a variety of ad formats that suit your partners needs and mix (banner ads, text links, email templates, etc). Impact also provides a flexible contract management platform so we can dynamically set commission structures by partner and manage at scale.”
“The reporting section can be difficult to navigate at times but this is common with similar platforms. Sometimes loading issues affect the speed that the reports load and on rare occasions, this can make the dashboard time-out.”
PartnerStack is a partner management platform that helps companies manage all of their external partner marketing in one easy to use platform. Leverage partnerships in order to grow revenue, increase the reach and distribution of your marketing, and go to market quicker and more efficiently with PartnerStack.
What users like:
“It was great onboarding experience – we have received a detailed plan and step-by-step guidance and were able to go live without any major issues. My favourite PartnerStack feature is the emails. It allows you to engage with your partners automatically, based on their activity or non-activity, and saves quite a lot of time, especially when you have to deal with a large pool of partners.
Groups feature is also great and helps to segregate your partners by type (Affiliates, Resellers etc). Another time saver is the option to send messages from within PartnerStack interface directly to partners (it will also send an email to notify them).
“The reporting function is good, but creating custom reports on specific advertisers has proven to be a little painful. Otherwise, there is much to like about PartnerStack. Hopefully they continue to add more advertisers; perhaps they could win some from the bigger competitors."
TUNE is a partner marketing platform that provides flexible solutions for SaaS marketing managers. With TUNE, you can build, manage, and grow your affiliate marketing partnerships. TUNE is trusted by some of the largest global performance advertising networks, including Shopify, Groupon, and Grammarly.
What users like:
“Most people I've spoken with on the advertising side use them to provide attribution for their campaigns. In that sense it does a good job, but it can be used for much more. What I like best [about TUNE] is the level of control you have over every event and where it can be sent to.
I can send events to my publishing partners, but I can also send events to my data warehouse for further analysis and correlation to the rest of my data. With that, I'm able to link my customers' journey through my product, towards engagement and revenue generation, and determine where those customers came from.”
“Reporting can be a bit slow having to jump between conversion reports, event tracer logs, and other pages, but this has been partly addressed with the conversion data now available with a click in the reports. The datalog time restrictions can also be annoying, but we set up an auto download of the zips, so we can store our data offline.”
Post Affiliate Pro is a top to bottom affiliate marketing platform. Marketers can manage all of their partnerships in one place while tracking the impact of their individual affiliate campaigns. Post Affiliate Pro integrates with over 200 CMS systems and payment processors, making it easy to integrate into your current tech stack.
What users like:
Post Affiliate Pro has top-notch customer service. Every time I reach out, either through email or their excellent 24-hour live chat, I receive a quick and friendly reply. They even offered to help me change the font and colors on the affiliate sign up page when I couldn’t do it myself. That was a huge weight off my shoulders!
The tracking function is very accurate. It is a little complicated for someone who is not tech-savvy, such as myself. I’d say it takes a little time to learn how to use it, but there are a lot of helpful tutorials to walk you through the process.”
“I think the price is too overpriced, especially for smaller affiliate programs like ours. We have less than less than 200 affiliates and less than 50 sales per month. There should be a package for small to medium affiliates companies”
Affise is a performance marketing software for creating and managing partnership programs and advertising campaigns. Affise makes it easy for advertisers, agencies, and affiliate merchants to create customizable dashboards to manage their affiliate marketing initiatives.
What users like:
“Being a small company, we got lucky to be Affise customers. Our onboarding manager helped us to set everything up, import the existing profiles of advertisers and affiliates we had, showed us a great demo and even gave our team training calls.
Thanks to Affise and its customer-oriented approach, we are able to develop our network and aim even higher.”
“The integration with third-party applications or platforms is more complex than expected and offers a disaggregated experience, which implies a lack of link between the integrations. I also think there are other functions that [Affise] can improve their integration with the end user.”
Partnerize is a leader in partnership automation. Powered by AI and machine learning, Partnerize helps marketing teams optimize their affiliate marketing efforts and drive faster, better results. More than 200 businesses globally trust Partnerize to drive and manage partner sales and payments.
What users like:
“Aside from how user-friendly the platform is, we really love how much support they provide. I have bi-weekly calls with our rep to discuss any issues we're having and to learn about new features coming down the pipeline.
They also have a support email that our affiliates can reach out to if they're having any issues with the platform or need help navigating it. Our team is very lean so this support allows us to focus on other areas.”
“If I had to be nitpicky and choose something it would likely be something along the lines of the reporting.
The more advanced reporting is somewhat limited when it comes to pivoting the data with certain attributes.You're only allowed to create report pivots with some of the standard attributes, not with custom data, like publisher references.
Not the end of the world though. Simply exporting the data from the Partnerize platform and opening it in Excel will let you achieve the same thing.
Building a base for your product is hard, but affiliate marketing takes care of the heavy lifting. Affiliates save your brand time and money by promoting your product for you in a cost effective way. Empower your affiliates with the right tools and watch your revenue skyrocket.
Lauren Pope is a Content Marketing Manager at Oracle and a former content marketer at G2. You can find her work featured on CNBC, Yahoo! Finance, the G2 Learning Hub, and other sites. In her free time, Lauren enjoys watching true crime shows and singing karaoke. (she/her/hers)
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