2020 provided additional opportunities for marketers within the performance marketing space to capitalise on the spike in consumers shopping online, and, with that, came the launch of countless new affiliate programs.

Affiliate programs provide marketers with the opportunity to reach consumers at every stage of the buyer’s funnel. However, as many affiliate marketers know, in order to achieve and maintain a successful affiliate program, consistent program analysis and optimisations are required.

Affiliate marketing is often misconceived for solely being made up of coupon and loyalty sites, however, well-strategised affiliate programs invest in placements and partnerships throughout the buyer’s funnel; these partnerships can range from content placements and retargeting, to sponsored emails, listicles, and consumer review sites.

Here’s a few top tips for launching and scaling affiliate programmes in 2021:

Onboarding Experience

While it’s common to think the more the merrier when onboarding partners in the affiliate channel, quantity does not equal quality traffic. When onboarding publishers, it’s critical for marketers to focus on identifying and recruiting vertical-specific affiliate partners. In doing so, marketers can ensure the traffic that’s being driven to their placements is targeted and aligned with their consumer base.

For example, a beauty brand is looking to onboard new productive partners to their program, so affiliates such as Cosmopolitan, beauty vloggers, or makeup review sites could be great partners to target and recruit. Above all, focusing on affiliate partners who drive high-quality content that is aligned with the marketer’s positioning and acquisition goals is crucial to ensuring partnerships remain productive and provide ROI.

Ongoing evaluation and auditing of a program’s active partner base are crucial to the health of any growing affiliate program. If publishers become dormant or are showing a lack of growth, communication is key; actively engaging with partners to ensure messaging, branding, new product launches, or upcoming seasonality will allow affiliates to remain productive and active.

The partner onboarding process should be continually developing and evolving as any brand does. As marketers shift KPIs, product lines, or audience focus, their affiliate base should also shift to make sure their ad spend consistently reaches the right consumers and that those consumers are converting.

Investing in Paid Partnerships

When it comes to investing in paid placements, marketers often wonder where they should be allocating their ad spend, and, more generally, whether or not paid placements are right for their brand. Recent studies have shown an increase in brands investing in paid media placements worldwide, as many marketers aim to increase brand awareness in the global marketplace. Experts predict that over the next two years, paid media investments will increase globally by a staggering $75 billion.

Paid ads can range from content features and dedicated newsletters, to utilising niche bloggers, content aggregators, or sponsored mobile campaigns. Content partnerships, specifically, are a common way to raise brand awareness, and they can take various forms such as white papers, articles, videos, podcasts, and infographics. All forms of content are valuable and often utilised as a tool to draw in potential customers, and when suitable, gated content is specifically a staple for lead generation.

Paid placements also allow opportunity to avail the powerful marketing rule of seven, which implies that displaying the brand more frequently, seven times or more, can and allow consumers to “hear” of the brand before making a purchase. This way, consumers feel more confident when they’ve reached the decision stage of the buyer’s journey.

Similar to general affiliate recruitment, marketers who are interested in content partnerships need to identify content partners that align with their customer acquisition goals, as well as their target demographic. Upper-funnel content partnerships with big industry brands such as Buzzfeed, Conde Nast, and GQ can assist in boosting the number of consumer touchpoints in the buyer’s journey, while mid-and lower-funnel content partnerships with industries such as RetailMeNot and Ebates allow cash back options to solidify a sale after exposure.

Strategic Promotional Planning

When planning for the new fiscal year, there are several factors that marketers must consider. First, brands should acknowledge their customer base and the potential for expansion; if marketers are looking to expand into foreign or international markets, an Agency partner who is familiar with the region can be an invaluable resource during the planning process. Seasonality and new product launches should also be top of mind when strategising and allocating ad spend for various distribution channels in the new year.

International Expansion & Distribution

Expanding into foreign markets may seem daunting, but if increasing international consumer acquisition is among marketers’ primary goals for the year, there are a few simple steps to make the process more easily addressed.

As 2021 looks to be the year of e-commerce, marketers may consider expanding their reach to international markets to aid distribution in key regions that are consistent with the marketers’ target audiences. In 2019, e-commerce sales worldwide amounted to $3.53 trillion, with e-commerce revenue projected to grow to $6.54 trillion by 2022.

Online shopping has quickly become one of the most popular digital activities worldwide, and the pandemic has only acted as an accelerant for this growth. As studies project an increase of more than 100% in e-commerce sales over the next three years, online shopping could soon overtake social networking as the most popular digital activity Globally.

However, international expansion without prior knowledge or experience can require extensive research and conceptualisation of a region. Generally, consumer behaviour will vary from region to region with countless foreign holidays and traditions to bear in mind. For marketers who are not familiar with international distribution, but are interested in learning more, an agency partner can be a great resource.

Agencies with experience in international distribution will have the knowledge and industry relationships to make expansion into these new markets seamless. Existing affiliate relationships make agency partners invaluable, as marketers will not have to start partner recruitment and onboarding from scratch. As most agency partners work as an extension of marketers’ internal teams, the transition from in-house to external affiliate program management should be a smooth transition. Learn more about which questions to ask and what qualities to look for in an affiliate agency.

Planning Around New Product Launches & High Seasonality

For marketers whose brands have demonstrated annual high seasonality, promotional planning should begin at least a quarter prior. For example, if a fashion brand knows their highest seasonality falls during the week of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, that marketer will need to begin planning and purchasing placements toward the end of Q2 or early Q3.

By planning a quarter or more in advance, marketers have the ability to reserve premium placements with a reasonable price tag. The same goes for marketers with new products launching on a monthly or quarterly basis. Providing affiliate partners with a content calendar at the start of the year or quarterly can ease the burden of planning for both high seasonality and new product launches.


Although the new year always brings about uncertainty for what may come, marketers can get ahead of the curve by recruiting and onboarding productive partners early on. Marketers looking to make the most of their affiliate programs in 2021 should strongly consider promotional planning far in advance of any high seasonality or new product launches to increase ROI. Those marketers who are looking to expand into international markets in 2021 should plan to research the region, or consult an agency partner prior to investing in international distribution. 2020 was a year of uncertainties, but 2021 doesn’t have to be that way – learn more about this year’s forecasted digital marketing trends here. The affiliate channel is full of opportunity, and by following the recommendations above, marketers can achieve incremental growth and increased ROI within their affiliate programs.

Looking to grow your affiliate program in 2021 but not sure where to start? Reach out now to Perform [cb] Agency’s team of affiliate marketing experts to learn how our team of affiliate experts can optimise and scale your program today.

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