Are you launching your first affiliate program and already anticipating high and constantly growing affiliate program performance? Your dream has the potential of turning into reality, and I was lucky enough to see it happen with numerous programs managed here at AM Navigator.
However, it is important to realize that, like all dreams, affiliate program performance requires efforts and investments. It’s not something you can accomplish overnight or by just snapping your fingers. Affiliate programs require careful molding and steering in the right direction to reach their potential. They are like snowballs.
Affiliate Marketing Programs as Snowballs
You know how you need the right kind of snow and gloves to form the perfect snowball? You need snow that is not too fluffy and floury but not too watery either. And it is important to wear gloves that do not stick to the snow and keep your hands warm and dry. It’s the same when launching an affiliate program: you need the right things to do a good job.
These would include:
- Products or services of at least average quality and reputation
- A high-converting, leaks-free website
- Attractive commission rates
- High-quality creatives
- Reliable affiliate tracking software
- A sound affiliate program agreement
- A solid affiliate program marketing plan, etc.
For more prerequisites, see our Ultimate Checklist for a Successful Affiliate Program Launch!
With all these in place, you should be able to form the perfect snowball, or, otherwise put, launch the perfect affiliate program, one that publishers will want to join. But the burning question is: what do you do with it? You don’t make snowballs just for the sake of looking at them, and you don’t launch affiliate programs just to see what doing it would be like. Depending on what you do with them once they’re ready, snowballs and affiliate programs have similar evolutions.
From Rolling Snowballs to Affiliate Program Performance
When you have the perfect snowball, or a great affiliate program already launched, you can do three things with it:
- Let it “melt” and never see what it could have become
- “Roll” it carefully through the “snow” until it grows and you can turn it into anything you wish
- Let it “roll” freely with the risk of it stopping in a tree, hole, or growing out of control and destroying everything in its path
I’m not a fan of snowball fights and I don’t recommend going to war with competitors either. I prefer winning competitors’ armies over in more peaceful ways so, in the following lines, I’ll focus on the three scenarios above only.
1. Melting Snowballs or Neglected Affiliate Programs
Many merchants mistakenly believe that in order to obtain performance all they need to do is to launch their affiliate program. Sure, the launch is important and should be done carefully. However, affiliate program performance takes much more than acquiring in-house tracking software or registering on one or several affiliate networks. It requires:
- Affiliate equipment – You need to provide your affiliates with creatives, product information, demographics, promotional calendar details, and more, all covered by our very own Geno Prussakov in his post on the 10 Things Affiliate Managers Should Equip Affiliates With.
- Affiliate program marketing – Publishers cannot join your program and promote your products and/or services if they don’t know you exist and reward referrals.
- Affiliate recruitment and motivation – Affiliate program performance requires recruiting new affiliates continuously and motivating both new and existing ones to start promoting you and expand their promotions once they’ve started.
- Affiliate program management – This part covers all of the above and more, it means having an expert to take care of everything related to your affiliate program and steer it in the right direction, ensuring its growth, protecting it from dangers, and adjusting to any market changes.
And, of course, all of these should be always backed up by a functional and high-converting website, excellent customer service, and more. Affiliates can only drive targeted traffic. It is up to you as the merchant to convert that traffic into sales. Without all these, your affiliate program, even if launched “by the book”, will not perform and not continue to grow.
It may look promising for a little while, as a snowball would if kept at the right temperature. You may even get a few affiliates to promote you, eager to try something new. However, when they don’t receive what they need and their efforts do not pay out, they will give up and not look back again.
With time, your beautiful snowball will melt and lose its shape. Your properly launched and promising affiliate program will get buried under competing programs and be forgotten by everyone, from publishers who briefly learned of its existence to affiliates who never received what they needed to activate and become productive. But, as mentioned above, there are other scenarios.
2. Carefully “Rolled” Snowballs and the Path to Program Performance
When we were kids, we used to form snowballs and then roll them carefully through the snow until they became huge blocks that we used to build defense walls, castles, giant snowmen, and basically anything that crossed our minds. You can do that with your affiliate program too: grow it and use it to build your brand and grow your business as you wish. All you need is patience, attention, knowhow, and, again, the right kind of “snow”.
At this stage, the snow would mean:
• Competitive intelligence – It is important to base all your actions on in-depth analyses of the market and competing affiliate programs and careful evaluations of the available opportunities and possible threats and obstacles.
• Tools to identify new affiliates and police the ones you have – It’s impossible to monitor the promotions of hundreds of affiliates and also find new ones without automating some of the processes. Also, some information is not readily available and can only be gathered with specific tools.
• Attractive offers for buyers – Nowadays 92% of U.S. shoppers use coupons and discount codes to save money on their acquisitions. If you don’t provide any, they may feel that they are getting better deals from your competitors. It is therefore important to have a good offer, one they will notice and want to learn more about.
• Attractive offers for affiliates – Publishers choose the merchants they promote carefully, taking into account not only reputation among buyers but also their reputation among affiliates, their affiliate program statistics, and especially their commission rates. In times when 95% of shoppers read reviews before buying, you want to win over as many reviewers and influencers as possible.
• Budget for paid placements and incentives – Some publishers charge one-time onboarding fees. Others prefer hybrid agreements that combine upfront fees with commissions. There are also paid opportunities with the different affiliate networks and content monetization platforms that could bring you huge exposure.
Do you have or can provide all of these? Great! But keep in mind that what you do with the available resources matters as well. Make sure you also have an experienced and dedicated affiliate program manager who knows how to make the most of the above and will use analytics to ensure the best affiliate program performance.
And don’t worry! If you choose your program manager carefully, they will use your resources as if they were their own, focusing on obtaining maximum return on investment and always having your best interests at heart. If you still have doubts, perhaps looking at what happens when you neglect management will help.
3. Out-of-Control Snowballs or Programs Run on Auto-Pilot
Some merchants build great affiliate programs and invest time and resources in them for a while. Then, as their programs grow, they see sales increasing and new affiliates applying to join, and they get the feeling that they are paying for or investing resources in services that they no longer need, like affiliate program management.
It’s like rolling a snowball down a children’s ski slope. The path is all leveled, and there are guardrails on the sides. The snow layer is perfect, and the inclination is steep enough to allow a safe descent but low enough to prevent excessive speed. People are always there to remove obstacles, prevent crowding, and ensure the snow layer is of the right thickness.
You see the snowball growing safely, and you love the results, without realizing that someone worked to make sure that the path is leveled and safe, that your snowball will stay on course and arrive safely at the finish line. So you decide to roll your snowball down a hill, or even a mountain.
The slope may seem leveled and safe, but you cannot know what hides under the snow. There could be holes, stumps, boulders, ice blocks, and other obstacles. Your snowball may stop at them, fall in, or be thrown off course, and, depending on its trajectory, destroy everything in its path.
While your affiliate program was managed, someone made sure only good affiliates would be allowed in the program and removed bad ones. They monitored promotions to make sure your brand reputation is kept intact and made efforts to ensure that you only pay commissions to those who deserve them, and according to their performance.
When you take away the management, you take away the filters, the protection measures, and you give up control. Sure, you’ll probably see some growth, at least for a while. However, the source and long-term effects of that growth matter as well. They could be:
• Fraudulent and parasitic activities that end up discouraging your best affiliates
• Deceitful advertising that ends up ruining your reputation and destroying customer confidence in your brand
• Abusive use of your trademark and other assets that ends up increasing your own advertising costs or negatively affecting your relationship with other partners.
How will you keep away affiliates using software to force clicks or overwrite other affiliates’ cookies and PPC policy violators? How will you prevent ads and reviews that promise features and benefits you don’t offer to drive sales and earn commissions, letting you deal with unsatisfied customers?
And there is another aspect you need to take into account when deciding how to manage your affiliate program and ensure its performance. Your affiliate program is not an independent component of your business but a part of the overall mechanism.
It can help your business grow and prosper or, on the contrary, sabotage its growth.
Affiliate program performance can and will have a snowball effect on your overall business performance. It is up to you to ensure that it will be a positive one.
The Snowball Effect of Affiliate Program Performance
Your affiliate program gives you the chance to have your brand, products, or services promoted by hundreds, maybe thousands of publishers. We’ve already covered how an affiliate marketing program benefits your brand in this post, so I won’t get into more details here. But it is important to understand that the benefits can grow exponentially and support overall business growth having a snowball-like effect.
Just think about it:
- The better an affiliate program performs, the more affiliates will want to join it. If you manage your program on an affiliate network like ShareASale, the better affiliate program statistics will bring you a higher position on their PowerRank and, in turn, increased exposure to network publishers.
- More affiliates mean more reviews, more links to your website, reaching a larger audience, and higher brand recognition. More links to your website and higher traffic mean higher rankings in search results. The higher rank, in turn, brings about even more traffic, which counts in the search engine’s ranking algorithms, and leads to an even higher rank and, implicitly, more traffic.
- Affiliate program performance also means sales and, implicitly, commissions. Affiliates happy with their earnings will expand their promotions to include more and better placements, which, in turn, will mean more links, reaching a larger audience, ranking higher in search results, etc.
- If your website performs and your products and customer services live up to the reputation your affiliates create, more traffic will mean more sales, more happy customers willing to buy from you again and recommend you to their contacts, especially if there’s something in it for them as well.
The bottom line is that one good thing leads to another, and a properly-managed, high-performing affiliate program leads to an avalanche of good things. Therefore, you should make it your priority to launch a solid, sustainable affiliate program and ensure its professional, close management.
This is especially true since poor affiliate program performance and poor affiliate program management can lead to an avalanche of bad things, again, the snowball effect. Here are a few examples:
- Good affiliates having their cookies overwritten and not getting sales will eventually stop promoting you or rank your better-performing competitors higher. This means fewer links, lower website traffic, fewer sales, lower ranks in search results, etc.
- The low program performance will reflect in low program stats and discourage new publishers from promoting you. They will promote your competitors, sending the traffic and sales you could have received to them, and helping them outrank you.
- Lack of management means coupon affiliates spreading discount codes you do not want them to spread, making promises you cannot keep, and stealing sales from good affiliates. It also means affiliate PPC campaigns bidding on your TM+ keywords, increasing the costs or your own campaigns, and encouraging other affiliates to do the same.
- The deceitful advertising, fewer reviews, and lower rankings will end up affecting your brand reputation and lowering your sales and, implicitly, your profits. Lower sales mean fewer people willing to buy from you again and further recommend your products or services.
- Since you’ll be paying commissions to affiliates who don’t deserve them and/or are negatively affecting your reputation, you’ll also lose money. In turn, this means a lower budget for marketing and other important investments, which will one way or another hinder the growth of your business. And we haven’t even touched on the subject of fraudulent transactions.
The lists of positive and negative effects could continue but the conclusion would be the same: the fate of your affiliate program and of your business is in your hands. No one forces you to start an affiliate marketing program, even though 81% of businesses do it, and, among them, your most prominent competitors.
If you decide to do it, though, do it the right way! No cutting back on initial investments, no running your program on autopilot, no half-measures, or any other mistakes, especially now that you know the stake! And if you still have doubts, questions, or need help with anything, don’t hesitate to reach out! We’ve launched and managed hundreds of affiliate programs, and we are here for you. Schedule a consultation to obtain the answers and advice you need!