Affiliate marketing is traditionally understood as an acquisition focused channel – but is the time now ripe for the affiliate channel to shake off its reputation as a ‘new customer zone’?

Of course, it naturally operates well at a later stage in a consumer’s journey- and the nature of the usual top converting publishers on programmes tends to make it particularly appropriate for consumer acquisition.

But although customer acquisition is and will always be important to brands, building a solid consumer base that will convert more than once is as vital. At the end of the day it all comes down to the lifetime value of each consumer. Therefore, retention is as vital.

How should brands broaden their affiliate strategy to include retention? And how can affiliates, in particular those in the long-tail, offer benefits here?

Consumer lifetime value and approach

Understanding how your consumers behave and how they impact your business in the long-term should be the first step to building a balanced acquisition-retention strategy. Measuring value only from a revenue or margin prospective means you could miss out on the bigger picture. Lifetime value also encompasses brand loyalty, regularity of purchases, anticipating their future needs, brand ambassadorship to their relatives and social media. Look at data across different platforms and track the consumer’s journey from start to finish seeing where consumers are engaging with your brand.

Next map each individual by category and prioritise the types of consumers you want to target. In markets that are particularly volatile, you may typically want to concentrate your efforts on easy wins, but in most markets consumer retention is key. Think about who will bring the most value to your brand. This will help you to work out your optimum acquisition-retention strategy and how to approach your target consumer base according to what influences their purchasing decisions

Pro-active consumer acquisition

Although the affiliate channel naturally lends itself towards consumer acquisition, there are a number of techniques you can utilise to pro-actively target new customers and grow your consumer base:

Encouraging purchases

First, take a look at what drives consumers to purchase from your site. Is it a deal, a low price, a free delivery or a specific service? Also look at your top life-time value consumers, what was their first purchase and can you push this product more? After identifying the triggers, you can tailor your messaging accordingly. Consider rewarding a customer’s first purchase with a specific offer such as a high discount or a free gift.  

User targeting

Second, target users at the right time. You know that someone who just bought plane tickets will be likely to look at travel insurance shortly after. Why not utilise publishers that have a user behaviour or interest targeting capacity. There are a number of websites that hold members purchase information and who can target high converting propensity members with your products.

Consumer retention

If winning consumers is at the basis of any successful business, retaining them creates commercial value and stability. There are a number of ways you can retain customers through the affiliate channel:

Feeling valued

Your consumers need to feel valued and see the benefits of converting with you rather than your competitors. Advertisers are often reluctant to offer promotions to existing consumers, but when 70% of UK consumers are more interested in finding the cheapest price than purchasing with a particular brand (Future Foundation Study), it’s clear that consumers aren’t automatically loyal and that price is a key selling point. Consider offering incentives for return customers; free delivery, a gift or exclusive discounts are just a few of the ways you can recapture customers and retain their brand loyalty.

Promoting loyalty

Over the last few years many publishers have become brands in their own right, with a loyal consumer base. The users trust the publishers’ site and its quality, so partnering with the right publishers can make a real difference. By carefully selecting the publishers which have the most relevant target audience, you can start to reach out to consumers with simple promotions, gifts and freebies that encourage them to reiterate purchases with your brand. Think about working with longer tail sites which often have a specific target market. Not only can these sites help with acquiring customers at the top of the funnel but they can also assist with retaining brand loyal customers.


Do also consider using retargeting to retain consumers within the affiliate channel. Retargeting publishers give you the opportunity to narrow your existing consumer base and cleverly adjust campaigns targeting the users at the time where they’re the most likely to convert.

If winning consumers is at the basis of any successful business, retaining them creates commercial value and stability. Affiliate marketing is by nature an acquisition channel but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be used to retain customers across the consumer journey and meet your wider business objectives. A strong affiliate programme should be a mixture of both acquisition and retention, with the lifetime consumer value at the heart of this strategy.