Maximizing Your Affiliate Marketing Program Is More Critical Than Ever

  • June 5, 2020 at 8:50 AM EDT
  • By Matt Katz and Sujata Dantiki, SSA & Company
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Customer journeys have been disrupted by COVID-19 and acquisition costs continue to rise, making it increasingly difficult to connect with consumers. In the absence of in-store interactions, affiliates can help provide shoppers with guidance and move them through the purchase funnel. Today’s path to purchase can comprise of as many as 10 to 12 touch points, interrupted, unclear and far from linear. As consumers remove in-store shopping from their path to purchase, retailers need to shift in-store marketing efforts to online strategies. Prioritizing performance-focused marketing initiatives such as affiliate programs can help ensure profitability.

As customer spending starts to return, brands must understand their customer’s journey and how it continues to evolve. Especially now, those that can adapt will be able to bring customers back quicker.

Unlike many other forms of traditional marketing spend, when deployed properly, affiliate impact can be quantified. But despite its clear benefits, many companies struggle to maximize affiliate programs. We’ve seen affiliate programs consume resources and time, yet fail to deliver on the performance marketing promise. Succinctly put, the first step is to understand the key touch points in the customer journey and identify the right affiliate partners. Next comes developing win-win affiliate payment structures. Finally, determine the test period and assess the true financial impact of the program. Below we highlight common missteps and offer several best practices.

Understand Key Touch Points In The Customer Journey

Your customer journey will never be finished. Customer journeys will always continue to evolve, even more quickly during COVID-19. Affiliates can play a critical role in engaging with shoppers at touch points where shoppers commonly drop out of the brand’s purchase funnel.

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For example, if price is a potential purchasing barrier, affiliate reviews can reassure shoppers that the quality of your product for the price point represents a strong value. So start with what you know and continue to layer in additional information as you learn more. Ask strategic retailers about customer purchasing patterns during joint business planning sessions. Retailers must continually reassess to stay ahead of evolving customer behaviors. Brands that can continue to adapt will re-emerge stronger post-COVID-19.

Identify The Right Partners

Do not fall into the trap of trying to partner with every affiliate. Although brands might build validity by appearing on multiple affiliates, trying to partner with every affiliate could easily lead to a confusing brand message, not to mention wasted time and resources.

Tailor your affiliate program based on an understanding of your consumer persona and each affiliate’s followers rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. Identify key affiliates that align with your consumer persona to build mutual trust. Quantify the reach of the affiliates to develop credibility. Brands that align specific affiliates to products drive authenticity.

Once you choose key partners, build out custom campaigns with them. One of our clients saw their strongest day of sales by offering an exclusive promotion to an affiliate that aligned very well with a core product. The sales lift occurred at a time when this product was decreasing in sales in their product mix. By engaging the core demographic shopper, protecting the brand price point for all shoppers and strengthening the affiliate partnership, this promotion proved to benefit all parties. Even after the exclusive period ended, the sales volume increase continued, enabling the brand to raise the product’s price, a holy grail in this era of reactive discounting.

Develop Win-Win Affiliate Payment Structures

Brands should ensure that they are competitive. A frequent misstep is to have the same affiliate payout for either all products or all levels of performance. This creates a race to the bottom with your competitors, where affiliates have the power to play competitive brands against each other to continue to increase their cut.

The lesson here is that successful firms reward affiliates with tiered commissions for performance excellence. This builds a long, mutually beneficial relationship with the affiliate and credibility to readers.

Determine Test Period And Assess True Financial Impact

We’ve seen brands make the mistake of keeping promotional discount codes active after the intended promotional period. With the rise of coupon sites like Honey, shoppers find these discounts and the brand loses margin. Monitor the use of affiliate coupon codes to ensure they stay within the profitability framework. Additionally, establish an attribution model that pays affiliates only when they are in the path to purchase. Setting up promo codes with expiration dates keeps things attributable and profitable.

Compare acquisition cost of affiliates as well as their impact on other channels. For example, affiliates can amplify your touch points with prospective buyers by leveraging their social media and retargeting campaigns to push customers through the purchase funnel.

Successful programs require brands to identify where affiliates become key touch points in the consumer journey, align affiliates with products, structure mutually beneficial economics and build the right test conditions to measure and improve outcomes. Marketing leaders that successfully leverage affiliates build brand credibility through the customer research phase and ultimately increase revenue and EBITDA.


Matt Katz, Managing Partner,is part of SSA & Company’s executive leadership team and heads the Retail & Consumer Packaged Goods and Private Equity practices. He has more than 25 years of global management and advisory experience and has worked with many of the world’s iconic names in retail and consumer products. He can be reached at [email protected] Sujata Dantiki, a Director at SSA & Company, works in partnership with clients to diagnose strategic business opportunities and create measurable solutions for sustainable growth. She has experience in leading operational initiatives, launching national brands and driving digital transformation. She can be reached at [email protected]

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