Affiliate Program Management: Definition, Approaches, Risks

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Affiliate program management is the process of overseeing and developing a brand’s affiliate marketing program.

There are various ways to handle it, and in this article I would like to look at three approaches which are quite popular among advertisers.

When talking about managing tasks, a fellow LinkedIn Learning instructor, Dr. Todd Dewett, likes to recommend that everyone, first, focuses on the most important types of work — those that yield the most result. Of course! That’s common sense, and prioritization is something that we all do our best to practice. But what do you do with the other work that still needs to be addressed? Dewett suggests that you always have 3 alternatives: (i) Automate, (ii) Delegate, and (iii) Outsource. I love these options, and particularly because they are perfectly illustrative of the three ways that most companies approach their affiliate marketing programs. Let’s dig into each of these — looking at them through the prism of affiliate program management.

3 Approaches to Affiliate Program Management

Approach #1: Automate

This is a very popular route that many brands take with their affiliate programs. The typical scenario follows these three steps:

1. Select an affiliate network
2. Start an affiliate program on it
3. Go into “set it and forget it” mode (expecting the network to do the rest)

Automated affiliate program managementThe common thought process behind such approach is that by starting an affiliate program on a network, you automatically (i) get your brand in front of a vast pool of affiliates, and (ii) that the network will take care of all your affiliate marketing needs. Both are, actually, wrong.

In a broad sense, affiliate network is a “network of affiliates” but, in most cases, you will neither get the visibility in front of all of them (not that you need that wide of a visibility, anyway), nor will affiliates automatically join your program upon its addition to the network. Secondly, many brands fail to understand that affiliate networks are in the business of providing advertisers with the technology to run your affiliate program. The vast majority of affiliate networks do not provide affiliate management services (at least, not by their standard contract). So when, a few months down the road, you do not see much/any incremental value yielded by your affiliate program, do not blame the network!

Approach #2: Delegate

This is another common scenario we observe within companies large and small. Once an affiliate program is launched, the advertiser tasks someone within their organization with the “management” of it. More often than not, however, it is not a person who is solely dedicated to the management of the program. Additionally, it’s often someone who isn’t appropriately trained either. Of course, they can be given a book to read or a video course to watch, which is often how it goes.

Delegating affiliate program managementHowever, when an affiliate program falls on the shoulders of a paid media manager or someone who handles display advertising (or anyone else seemingly related), they inevitably end up spreading themselves too thin, overlooking many important areas, not having the necessary tools and expertise, connections and experience to handle the affiliate program management effectively.

If you do decide to task someone with the management of your affiliate program, make sure it’s a professional. Hire someone who, actually, knows how to develop, grow, protect, and optimize your affiliate program. This marketing program of yours is a serious cross-channel endeavor, which must be treated as such. Otherwise, you run the very real risk of hurting the brand, cannibalizing your own marketing efforts, and flushing real dollars down the toilet.

Approach #3: Outsource

If you cannot hire someone internally, consider outsourcing.

Outsourced affiliate program managementThere are numerous affiliate management agencies — also known as “OPM” (outsourced program management) firms — out there (including mine). Their core competency is affiliate program management. The specific services may include competitive and gap analyses, affiliate program setup, affiliate onboarding, affiliate program optimization, compliance policing, etc. With OPM agencies, you don’t need to invest into training or factor in benefits or payroll taxes.

For an outsourced affiliate program management agency to truly add value, however, make sure it comes with the following 7 advantages:

  1. Expertise in the field of affiliate management
  2. Experience (and proven track record) with the types of “offers” that you have
  3. Connections (within affiliate networks and technology providers)
  4. Own affiliate database (segmented by affiliate types and niches)
  5. Robust tools (for affiliate discovery, management, compliance policing, etc)
  6. Representation capabilities at key industry shows and events
  7. Direct interest in program’s growth (structure your contract accordingly!)

There are plenty of options out there. As you evaluate them, besides the above-listed seven elements, remember Aldo Gucci’s “The bitterness of poor quality is remembered long after the sweetness of low price has faded from memory.”

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