Just like everything else in life, finding a place to start is often the hardest part! In this section, we will outline five key considerations and decisions that need careful planning in order to get your program off to the best possible start.
You will need to consider the following five strategies before you start an Affiliate Program:
Part 2: Recruitment Strategy
No matter how large your brand, which Affiliate Network you choose, or how many tools you provide your Affiliates – your own internal recruitment strategy will be the most important factor in determining whether or not your program succeeds to the levels that you wish.
I’ve separated out recruitment strategies into two separate categories: Passive and Targeted. You will need both.
A. Passive Strategies
Passive strategies are those in which you set up processes and funnels one time so that prospective Affiliates have an easy route actually becoming an Affiliate. Once these processes are set in place, there is not a lot of action required on your part which is why they are referred to as “passive”.
There are four important pieces to this type of strategy:
1. On-Website Recruitment
On your own website, make sure there is a well labeled link (usually in the footer of your website) that describes your Affiliate Program, the benefits, and where a prospective Affiliate can sign up for your program (a link to your Affiliate Network). This is a critical piece – it shows the prospective Affiliate that your company is serious about their Affiliate program.
2. Target Your Customers
Some of the best Affiliates start by being great customers first. In each of your post-transactional receipts you should mention the opportunity of telling their friends, and readers (if they have a blog) about your program. You never know who is going to purchase from your site, and if there is a customer who has a blog with influence – this strategy will show them right away that your Affiliate Program is well thought out.
3. Post Purchase Real Estate
Similarly – I always recommend a post purchase notice right at the time of sale. A lot of retailers make uncalculated mistakes with this very important inventory – and instead will show popups of unrelated surveys such as BizRate, and earn pennies on the dollar compared to what they could do using post purchase real estate to turn customers into Affiliates.
4. Network Specific Tools
And finally, put together a good list of criteria that you would like to see come from your Affiliate Network. Every day, on ShareASale, there are thousands and thousands of Affiliates who browse the network looking for programs to join. You’ll want to use the tools available to you on ShareASale to filter out applications as automatically as possible.
Look at the feedback for an individual Affiliate prior to accepting them into your program. A rating of less than 0 should be an instant “decline” from the program.
B. Targeted Strategies
Targeted strategies are those in which you are going to be actively seeking out and recruiting potential Affiliates into your program. Try to remember to keep the focus on the quality of affiliates rather than the quantity. Concentrate resources on affiliates who are motivated and well matched to market your product or service.
There are three key elements in a targeted strategy, those include:
- Individualized Research
- Incentives & Bonuses
Put yourself in the shoes of your consumer – that is step 1. Where and how would your target customer typically find you? Think about that and use the internet to search, as if you were a customer, for your product. Take a look around and see what you find. You may in fact find a blog or website that talks specifically about the type of product you sell. If so, that is a very targeted potential Affiliate. You should probably introduce them to your Affiliate Program.
This is a key moment in any targeted recruitment campaign! You have just found a blog that you want to be on and the next step is to make contact. It’s of critical importance to do research on this potential Affiliate first so you can create a very personalized, concise message, with legitimate stats and very minimal sales jargon. Personalize it! Make sure to mention the exact reason you’d make a great partner. Don’t skimp on this step – or rely on any automated messaging (also called SPAM!)
Incentives and Bonuses:
This is the step where I have the most valuable advice to give – and the step that is most often skipped by those starting Affiliate programs.
To be very blunt, while you work for (or own) your retail site, and know how good the products are – most Affiliates have dozens, or even hundreds of solicitations coming in from retailers. For a blogger this can be overwhelming and turn any solicitation into an unwanted email, no matter what it says.
You MUST focus on overselling and overpaying for bloggers and websites that you individually recruit. Failing to do so will result in low-response rates. Bloggers are extremely valuable, and in high demand not only in Affiliate Marketing but across the board as brands try to reach out through other marketing channels. Use your individualized research to find the exact target that you want – and go after them with the best offer you can provide.
I’ve compiled a few options to help spark your creativity.
1. Double Commission Strategy:
Offer to double an Affiliate’s commissions for the first month. Before you discount this one – I know what you are saying! You’ve structured your commission rates to the maximum that you can and if you pay out any more in commission you’ll be losing money on a sale. I’ve had this debate many times, and I’ll try to convince you why I think that logic is flawed.
The blogger you recruit is going to send you traffic… sometimes a LOT of traffic. They are going to do so with the promise of a commission on the customer that they send. Most bloggers tell me they aren’t interested in spending the time to create a blog post for the minimal amount of commission they could earn on a costumer.
Not every sale is created equal. Some Affiliates may send a high number of return customers, such as those shopping at loyalty sites or discount/coupon sites, while some Affiliates may send you a high percentage of NEW customers, such as a blog with readership that you are anxious to reach.
Remember, this whole scenario started with you doing individualized research – and finding the exact website or blog that you thought would be a perfect fit for your business… don’t skimp on the final step.
2. Get the Ball Rolling Strategy
This is one of my favorite strategies. It involves a retailer that put together a budget of about $2,500 to test the following recruitment strategy…
In the worst case scenario, the test would end in about $500 of blog bonuses and zero sales. While this is not a good result, it is far from catastrophic and will help you shape your strategy in the future. In the best case scenario, you can determine how well these recruitment efforts work and how many customers to expect as a result.
New customers are valuable – you can’t just dream them up or hope that a blogger will write about your product just for goodwill. You need to overpay, it will help in the long run. You’ll end up with the residual effect of having word-of-mouth advertising about your Affiliate Program. So “Get The Ball Rolling” with this strategy and see where it takes you!
3. Make them feel special with product!
If your product is actually interesting to them, consider sending them some. Or go the extra mile and send a company t-shirt or other knick-knack for their desk.
If they end up signing up for your program and/or posting a blog – write a hand-written note thanking them for their time and effort. Remember, bloggers are in extremely high demand, but they are also human. They have the same set of emotions as anyone else! Making them feel special can go a long way in solidifying a long term partnership.
For any retailer or brand serious about Affiliate Marketing – attending conferences is an absolute must. With a quick internet search, you can easily find niche blog conferences and meetups in your area. Start attending local events to keep costs down while you master your pitch to local bloggers. It’s also good to let your network know which events you may attend. ShareASale attends anywhere from 6-12 conferences every year and often has promotional opportunities for Merchants.
Want a great way to impress a potential Affiliate? Utilizing research from IncentiveCentral.org – a study showed that “travel” was remembered longer than cash bonuses by 4 out of 5 respondents Use that data to create a really cool incentive opportunity for a potential Affiliate.
You could also create your own mini-conference or meetup with bloggers that you want to recruit. Offer to pay their expenses to travel to your home office, or possibly to meet at a conference they’ve always wanted to attend. (Make sure to pick a location that somebody would want to go!) I’ve used this strategy a number of times to great success and the long term benefits far outweigh the cost of a plane ticket.