One of the biggest changes in our industry over the past couple of years has been the explosive growth in international activity. We’ve now got more advertisers, affiliates and agencies crossing international borders than ever before – and these numbers will only increase as it gets easier to sell and distribute internationally.

This is something I’m welcoming with open arms and the potential opportunities for brands are huge. However, if you’re a brand looking to expand internationally via affiliate marketing, it’s important to hit a couple of prerequisites before doing so.  Launching an international affiliate marketing campaign before your business is ready is a sure-fire way of damaging your brand and scuppering an affiliate marketing opportunity further down the line.

So how do you know if your business is ready? It comes down to two things: capability and awareness.

First, capability

There is no point trying to setup your affiliate programme until your company is capable of meeting customer demands internationally. There are some key questions you need to ask about your ability to meet customer needs before your campaign:

  • Have you got international distribution under control? Is the postage situation reasonable? How about the returns experience?
  • Take a look at your website. Have you got language translation enabled? Are videos and banners appropriate for multiple languages?
  • How about your purchasing experience. Are you able to handle currency conversion?

If a customer clicks through to your website but it’s not translated into their native language, they’re unlikely to come back again. If they order something but have to wait a long time for delivery or want to return something but it would cost them a fortune to do so, then that’s a bad experience that will prevent them buying again. Moreover, they may tell their friends about their experience, undermining your reputation in a new market before you’ve even gotten started. These are things that customers really care about, so a successful affiliate campaign that ultimately leads to customers having a poor experience will be detrimental.

And second, awareness

The second key parameter is awareness. I am often approached by brands looking to use affiliate marketing to gain traction in a new market and raise awareness amongst target consumers. However, my advice is not to launch into a new country purely using affiliate marketing.

Fundamentally, consumers are more likely to buy from you if they’ve already heard of you, and publishers don’t want unknown brands all over their site. The very best affiliate marketing programmes form part of a wider marketing mix or campaign and I would recommend using traditional methods such as PPC to establish an initial ‘beachhead’ in the market before deploying affiliate.

As an affiliate professional, I want brands to get it right first time and for this, timing is crucial.

But, if you’ve read all this and you’re good and ready to go…

The best piece of advice I can give before starting your international campaign is to work with an agency with a genuine international presence, not just professed international capabilities.

To get the results your brand deserves, an agency should have on-the-ground relationships in the markets you want to enter. This is the only foolproof way to ensure that your campaign is adjusted for cultural nuances and translated correctly. Getting this wrong may create the poor customer experience that puts people off.

And you’re really cooking with gas when you’ve got a network of account managers who are all plugged into their local markets and all talking to each other, working to grow your business internationally rather than siloed off, withholding knowledge.

So that’s it. Affiliate marketing is a fantastic way to develop a loyal customer base internationally and create brand advocates that will spread the word. But I can’t stress enough how important it is that brands ensure they have the international capability and awareness before they start their programme. When you do start, prioritise local knowledge to ensure you get the results you deserve.

Pepperjam will be exhibiting and speaking at PI LIVE next week. See what’s in store from CTO Greg Shepard here.