It’s a funny thing, affiliates and partnerships.

When I started out in the world of advertising and media, I started in lead gen and affiliates.  I often celebrate this, and I credit a lot of my latter successes to my understanding of the sharp end of measurement. Of CPAs and LTVs. Of Basket Values and of ROIs. To add to this, I have always been a champion of affiliates being an opportunity for online brand growth, and its wider appeal to marketing teams and the board as a whole.

To that end, it makes sense for affiliates to be smart and aligned with a wider strategy, activated by a handful of partners to do a good job, and befit a wider audience and marketing plan. Let me explain:

Firstly – affiliates are a SMALL part of the LARGER wider mix

A good media plan, performance or otherwise, looks to distribute a message of brand awareness or direct response at scale to where the target audience sits. It’s as simple as that, and of course the more addressable the better. 

Chances are that many SMEs and larger companies will have an incumbent planning or buying shop for media, and affiliates have to work in step with that. If the incremental reach of select few large affiliates is there, that therefore represents an interesting percentage of the media plan. It is in the advertisers’ best interests to align with the audience’s needs and distribution strategy as much as possible. To go against this will only serve to negatively impact the brand growth, or at best confuse the messages and/or positioning to the user.

So the plan is in play – let’s take a sensible A:B test approach perhaps. Let’s say two affiliates. One for brand awareness with a tenancy / comparison site for consideration – one for more sales driving e.g. offers/cashback. Important to balance the brand equity and the direct conversions. But where to start?

80:20 approach – the smart way to scale?

Now the affiliate purists who preach the value of long tail and niche bloggers and affiliates  may dislike this – and for the record you are premature – I love all the above in context (see next section). However – there is a huge benefit and opportunity for advertisers in adopting Pareto’s principle and leaning into a few larger ones as a starter for 10. You know, the whole ‘80% of partner and affiliate sales are driven by 20% of publishers’ thing, probably more 90:10 if you ran the numbers!

We all know the big players. Cashbacks, discounts, comparisons and vouchers. Sometimes arbitrarily and unfairly classified as ‘high churn/low LTV’ channels, but used in the right way there are some huge benefits

  1. Larger affiliates have incredible reach – When thinking about your target audience and where they are, you can bet the overlap is tidy with one of the key players.
  2. Larger affiliates have a range of activation options – so yes you get your offer or your code on there, but the mechanism of social, of eshots and of push notifications, you can tap into more immediate distribution-ready scaling and in various guises. You can test which one works best.
  3. Larger affiliates are better plugged into tech and networks – automatically a less-hassled approach and subsequent integration, activation and reporting.
  4. Larger affiliates sit on a trove of insight – of course you are there for the sale or the target acquisition rate/figure – but the major players have sophisticated data and insights underpinning their offering – invariably driven by their eagerness for attracting bigger media budgets and tenancies, as well as proving their 1st party data readiness.

OK purists – NOW let’s get niche

We’ve come far here. We have activated offers and they’ve been pushed every which way but loose on the platforms. Cashback payouts are increasing, referral fees need paying and vouchers redeemed. The affiliate channel is looking healthy.

We need to transfer over such impetus to other sustainable pathways. Spread the acquisition eggs across smaller baskets.  A cohort of publishers, blogs and influencers that are befitting the audience(s) you are looking to penetrate – that you can call up on demand or build up slowly. But starting is key. Before you go too big into publishers with lower incremental capture and opportunity (not a great effort:reward ratio) –  it pays to think audience first.

For argument’s sake, you typically sell three tiers of product: cheap, medium and expensive. General rule of thumb dictates three different audiences will buy respective products. Could be entry, premium or enterprise as an example. You have gained plenty of traffic from a discount code site – and maybe predictably, you have seen the medium price point products redeemed against vouchers as price savvy buyers search out a deal on premium products. But 1. You want to capture higher value buyers while driving Lifetime Value and 2. You do not want to affect the health of the brand.

Thinking about the three parts as audiences will then inform how you scale. As you may decide to sell just the midrange products on voucher sites, the upper tier products on befitting sites which as niche bloggers / influencers (or even comparison aggregators), doubling down on this with tactics to drive revenue eg BOGOHP, or free delivery on +£XX basket value, leaving the Low price point as profitable acquisitions as an upsell to other higher yielding promotions.

Once you have identified the drivers, path to conversion and price point by segment, you can THEN ascertain buyer personas and use data points and demographic/psychographic insights from the larger affiliate platform, to understand the buyer personas and see which actions and mediums drive the relative sales.

THEN you can build out your cohorts of publishers for each area; influencers who engage, bloggers that capture authority, whatever the audience deems effective. They are the judge and jury, not us.

To summarise, with the need for connective tissue across all online brand touchpoints greater than ever in an e-commerce focussed post-pandemic landscape, it pays to be smart. To leave nothing to chance, to align big affiliates to deliver scale revenue aligned with plan, to know the audience, and with greater buyer insight, take the brakes off and increase the quantity of long-tail partners accordingly. So maybe, less is more with partners. Well, initially!