From its humble beginning back in the 90s, the affiliate channel has experienced steady growth in terms of spend and impact.

Last year, Forrester predicted that affiliate marketing spend would hit $4.5 billion by year’s end with other predictions that affiliate affects 14% of all e-commerce purchases in the US. Yet, despite this success, the affiliate channel remains an often overlooked marketing avenue within the greater digital space.

As we move into 2017, I see a massive opportunity for advertisers to harness the power of affiliate to enhance the overall performance of their marketing strategies. And the dynamic digital landscape that has emerged amidst a flood of data, devices, channels and technologies offers a fresh lens from which to examine its value beyond simply driving topline sales.

For those looking to make the most of this opportunity and gain buy-in for large affiliate initiatives, strategic identification of goals, education around new affiliate capabilities and effective communication of how affiliate programmes can drive long-term business initiatives are all critical.

Here are some tips to guide you through the process:

Step 1: Identify Immediate Company Needs and Clearly Define Goals Tailored to those Needs

As tempting as it is to jump into all of the new capabilities offered within the affiliate channel, a smart first step towards gaining buy-in is precisely defining the immediate goals for your affiliate investment. This foundation immediately grounds your pitch in terms of business necessity and provides a platform upon which to educate stakeholders on the higher-level benefits of affiliate.

  • Define Goals: Depending on business needs, you can drive a variety of consumer actions such as app installs, email signups for a weekly flyer, loyalty membership registrations, or private label credit card applications to help drive continued awareness and bolster brand affinity. You may even want to drive to phone calls or formal product inquiries for higher-end or more specialised purchases.
  • Tailor by Channel: It is also essential to account for the different channels affiliate can have an impact in, and to be fluent in what successful execution entails from a technical standpoint. For a mobile initiative, specific goals should be outlined (ranging from app installs to in-store visits) and complemented with an understanding of the various integrations and SDKs attendant to such a campaign. Considerations such as cost-per-engagement and reach should be highlighted for a social initiative. The takeaway should be to frame any discussion in terms that are familiar to outside teams in order to establish a comfort level and facilitate a dialogue with stakeholders.

Step 2: Expand Your Definition of Affiliate’s Potential Impact

The next step is to recognise and communicate how affiliate capabilities have advanced over the years. Massive tech innovation and the breaking down of data silos has enabled much greater visibility into the effect affiliate communications can have over the life of the consumer journey, which in turn helps to drive more personalised brand experiences. In today’s hyperconnected world, the importance of accounting for every consumer touchpoint is magnified.

Some of affiliate’s new strengths include:

  • Cross-Device: Enhanced cross-device capabilities to drive even more personalised and coherent messaging and offers across digital touchpoints;
  • Online to Offline: The use of CRM data to better capitalise on existing customers and identify the most promising new targets based on audience modelling;
  • New to File: Tracking new-to-file customers to better understand the impact your affiliate programme is having from an acquisition standpoint and adjust commission structures accordingly;
  • Content Optimisation: The ability to optimise content pre- and post-click to accelerate consumers along the purchase path more quickly and improve the overall brand experience.

Step 3: Align Goals to Overarching Direction of the Company

Well-tailored goals/KPIs and education around affiliate’s new capabilities might very well be sufficient to sell a plan in certain circumstances, but depending on the company and leadership, stakeholders may still be married to the historical view of affiliate as a simple, end-of-the-funnel tactic to expand sales, reach, or (worst case) prop up the end of the quarter. A well-articulated explanation of how affiliate can assist in the achievement of future business can diffuse this notion and pave the way for ongoing investments. Specific long-term objectives will vary by business, but here are two constants:

  • Acquisition and Retention: All businesses share the need to grow their customer base and foster continuing brand relationships. Strategically developing relationships with a diverse set of publishers is an easy way to amplify the reach of your messaging. Beyond deal sites and loyalty publishers, the affiliate channel taps the power of new sources of content, new influencers, comparison sites and various other types of data consumers use to make their purchasing decisions. Affiliate should be seen both as a means of engaging new audiences and a tool to strengthen existing customer relationships.
  • Maximising Programme Efficiency: The efficient use of marketing dollars is another business imperative that is constant. Marketers are increasingly looking to evaluate and allocate their budgets in a more holistic manner, which necessitates the analysis of broader sets of data. While not all purchases are influenced by multiple sources – and therefore don’t need to be considered for multiple influence recognition – having a comprehensive view of the many different consumer paths to purchase allows marketers to make much more intelligent decisions on how to drive overall sales and business growth, regardless of the marketing tactic or compensation structure.

Utilising this framework, affiliate project proponents stand a greater chance of not only gaining buy-in for immediate investments but sustaining those investments with an eye towards long-term success.