“I’m in affiliate marketing.” It’s one of the hardest jobs to explain; not only to parents, friends and family but pretty much anyone outside of the performance marketing industry.

As the industry grows and we move away from digital media’s spectrum of grey areas, we are now seeing more and more traditional agencies and advertisers back the affiliate model – driving increased sales via the savvy customers of today.

The general concept of marketing is widely understood. We communicate with retailers and service/goods providers to attract customers and promote brands that we work with. For affiliates this is still, in very basic terms, the end goal – we’re just more results driven.

Despite this, a common theme I’ve observed from speaking with industry outsiders is this: no-one knows what we’re talking about. 

We’ve got a big issue at the moment in terms of hiring; although this is improving as time goes on. How can we recruit the right people if they have no idea what it is we do? The jargon we use every day, for example, is a huge barrier to these people understanding affiliate marketing.

Beyond limiting the talent pool, this is often a barrier to entry for winning new clients without an affiliate background too. Cost per acquisition increases, brand and voucher pay per click, earnings per click and so on, it’s a minefield of three letter acronyms that we could – and have – filled glossaries with. So let’s break it down. 

Affiliate marketing in simple terms

How we do it: 

Affiliate publishers (discount, cashback and content sites) earn commission on sales driven via a range of marketing activity. This activity is all tracked via affiliate networks where commission – either a percentage of each sale or a flat fee per sale – is paid for by the brand being promoted. 

A large amount of activity can take place via email sends – promoting offers to customers who have signed up to receive the latest and greatest deals. 

Social media provides our combined audiences across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (among others) with not only live updates but also any competitions, quizzes and blog pieces for more information on the best offers.

Search engines, predominantly Google, allow us to further increase reach through sponsored ads when customers search for a particular term such as ‘travel discount code’. 

Finally, with the vouchercloud app, we reach customers in-store when they may be passing by their favourite shop, with a notification straight to their mobile to “save today”.

The bigger picture:

As with traditional marketing, projects only get more effective over time. Unlike sales, however, marketing can’t be turned on and off with no impact. Customers will, more likely than not, forget about you. This is where arguably the most crucial aspect of an affiliate marketer’s role comes into play – building strong and long-lasting relationships. 

Individually, and as part of a wider team, we dedicate a proportion of time towards building relationships with brands, networks and agencies. This ensures that when a brand may be tempted to pause or hold off on running more activity, we can take a consultative approach; sharing data to highlight the impact this may have.

A good (hypothetical) example is a ski holiday company that may focus on promoting itself in the run-up to the season, when in reality a customer may want to book a ski holiday at any time throughout the year. By limiting when the activity is live, regular customer interaction is lost and it’s a ‘back to square one’ situation – building sales back up to previous levels after each pause. 

While anyone can preach about how a cost-per-sale model is beneficial, without data insights into why it works, and what happens when it stops, it’s harder to prove. The more awareness there is around the channel is key to success. 

Where we sit in the industry

Affiliate marketing sits in between traditional marketing and sales. We use cutting edge marketing strategies to drive interest and clicks, but we handle the process further down the marketing funnel too. 

In practice, this sees experts put brands in touch with a variety of publishers. Some examples of these publishers are online discount sites such as vouchercloud and Groupon, who offer discounts and incentives such as a gift with purchase – to further entice a user to make a sale with a particular brand.

Cashback sites offer a similar proposition in that they allow a customer to earn a percentage back on money spent with brands operating on their sites. 

Content publishers promote brands through writing articles that persuade a customer to shop with a particular brand based on its value for money, positive customer experience etc. which usually leans on saving by going via that particular content site.  

Creative results-driven success 

The main draw for brands to work with affiliate marketers is the low-risk factor – they only pay out a commission when a sale has been made. 

The benefit of being a marketing channel born in the digital age also means that there aren’t long turnaround times in getting campaigns live. For example, there may be an extra release of tickets for an event in London. A ticket brand likely won’t have time to promote this via traditional advertising such as billboards or get large budgets signed off to run their own expensive online advertising activity.

Affiliate publishers can, in a matter of hours:

  • Promote the offer on their sites
  • Send out an email to the relevant audience 
  • Alert a mass audience via social posts 
  • Issue mobile notifications to perfect targets

All of this activity, notably, is targeted at customers who will have already shown an interest in buying tickets to us. It’s niche marketing as opposed to broad advertising. 

With the level of tracking that is applied by effective affiliate networks, a direct link between how many sales made and what that has cost the brand can be formed. This then enables us to report back to the brand with specific ROI figures – all in a measurable and transparent way.

Affiliate marketing is just as effective outside of peak periods, as it is with peak marketing campaigns. Outside of peak isn’t the natural time when a brand anticipates promoting a deal to customers. Despite this, consistently targeting customers who have a proven interest in our offers can create a long term success story; not just one defined by peak periods. 

The better the affiliate market is understood, the more we’ll see the model rolled out. In turn, this correlates to increased resource and room for industry growth. Whilst there is certainly a talent pool within the sector, the only way it can continue to grow is if it is considered an essential element of a brands marketing strategy. 

Have something to say about affiliate marketing? Contact content@performancein.com to feature in our weekly Insider’s Column and share your knowledge and expertise to a wider community.