If 2022 caught you off-guard, challenging everything you thought you knew about affiliate marketing and causing you to wonder what your post-pandemic affiliate marketing success strategy should include, this post is for you. We all started 2022 with plans to match and exceed 2021 growth, but then the world changed, and affiliate marketing as we knew it changed with it.
Affiliate Marketing During the Pandemic
Allow me to skip the numbers and the technical details and paint a more intuitive picture:
- During the pandemic, home decor, electronics, and health sales skyrocketed as physical stores closed and people kept investing in their homes, health, comfort, and entertainment to make the lockdown easier to bear.
- Confined to their homes, people lived, breathed, and shopped online, following content creators’ guidance.
- As sales skyrocketed, merchants noticed that affiliate marketing is the most sustainable and profitable source of growth, so they started investing heavily in it.
- New brands surfaced and discovered the benefits of affiliate marketing, and competition became tougher than ever.
- Assaulted by brands looking to grow, content creators increased their rates and requirements and became more selective as to which brands they promote.
- With a fresh taste of previous profits and looking to grow further, brands kept paying and increasing their payouts.
- When restrictions were removed, after months of isolation, people rediscovered the joy of going out and visiting local stores.
- Then, they were faced with the perspectives of war, recession, job loss, and financial crisis, so they became more conscious about how and where they spend their money.
- Social media platforms and search engines updated their algorithms, causing huge shifts in content creators’ rankings and performance.
- E-commerce sales dropped, and affiliate marketing results started shifting.
- Used to the performance and payouts of previous years and assaulted with promotion requests, content creators kept the same rates.
- Spoiled by past performance and lacking other sustainable growth opportunities, well-established brands kept paying, even neglecting supplier invoices and customer feedback, to the point where some went out of business.
- New brands, with small budgets and lacking a concrete idea about the results they may achieve, found themselves unable to keep up and couldn’t grow.
Under the circumstances, you cannot help but wonder what’s next and how you can improve the outcome of your affiliate marketing efforts. We’ll cover the basics in the following lines.
Post-Pandemic Affiliate Marketing
The post-pandemic affiliate marketing industry is one of risks and challenges, in which only the strong and ambitious will survive. Miracles with your brand becoming viral overnight are unlikely to happen, and you shouldn’t base your strategy on them. Instead, build gradually, brick by brick, step by step, with your different teams communicating, brainstorming, and supporting one another. Show everyone that you’re taking the game seriously, you’re in the market to stay, and you’re worth promoting. How do you do that? The following ten tips should help.
1. Build a Solid Online Presence
Most affiliate marketing agencies won’t mind taking your money no matter what your website or overall online presence looks like. However, your website and social media presence represent your business card, the first thing affiliates and your target audience look at before deciding whether to promote you or, respectively, buy from you. If you fail to get their attention, affiliate marketing success will remain just a dream. Some must-haves for post-pandemic affiliate marketing success include:
- Beautiful product and lifestyle images and videos
- Customer and, ideally, 3rd party reviews/endorsements
- Customer support and an antifraud system
- Competitive prices and selling points
- Closely managed social media accounts
- Fast, dynamic, and responsive website, easy to navigate from all browsers and all devices
- Multiple payment options and streamlined checkout
- Heavily-tested, engaging, and smooth buyer journey
- Conversion optimization solutions: exit intent popups, shopping cart recovery, browsing abandonment recovery, paid ads retargeting
Affiliates know what their audience likes. Before deciding whether to promote you, they will assess your store and products from the customers’ perspective. Therefore, put yourself in both affiliates’ and buyers’ shoes, and make sure you meet all their needs and expectations.
2. Brand Awareness Is Key in Post-Pandemic Affiliate Marketing
Many merchants decide to start an affiliate program with the hope that, with their campaigns, affiliates will build awareness for the brand. While affiliates play a major, perhaps the biggest role in building brand awareness, in competitive industries, it often takes brand awareness to get their attention. Also, any efforts outside the affiliate program will help the latter as well.
Some ideas on building brand awareness:
- Press releases: any company news is worth sharing. Some press release distribution platforms we’ve seen used with good results include PRWeb, PR Newswire, Business Wire, and PR.com. Just choose an engaging, attention-grabbing headline, keep your release under 500 words, easy to read, and not too salesy.
- Partnerships with non-competing businesses and physical stores: being able to reach audiences in related niches or offline will help your long-term goals and affiliate programs. Just make sure your partners’ prices are similar to yours or higher, under no circumstances should they be lower.
- Charity/environment protection/volunteering campaigns: whether you donate products to charity, sponsor events, build houses for the homeless, or plant trees with your team, don’t hesitate to brag about it and make your efforts known to as many people as possible.
- Social media contests and giveaways: it doesn’t matter how small your social media audience is when you start, the goal is to grow as much and as fast as possible. Giveaways and contests that ask participants to share your content or tag their friends help, and content that followers relate to and are likely to share is gold.
- Offline/traditional marketing campaigns: flyers in the mail, digital signage ads, radio/TV commercials, and ads in printed publications help get your brand in the mind of your target audience and make them more likely to choose your products when they’re in the market for them. Don’t hesitate to brag about these to affiliates, they’ll appreciate your efforts!
- Industry events: any conferences, shows, or events suitable for your products are worth attending. They’re a great way to make your brand known to industry leaders and the public, not to mention that most of these are also attended by affiliates and media editors and covered in the news.
- Memberships and awards: all industries have related professional associations and awards. Becoming a member and participating in the awards will help you position your brand as synonymous with quality and value. Even if you don’t win the awards you target, you will likely get relevant feedback from industry experts and, hopefully, media coverage. If you do win, the opportunities are usually endless, and those industry experts could, in most cases, become your affiliates.
3. Ensure Continuous, Professional Management and Support
As the benefits of affiliate marketing became obvious, more and more brands rushed into launching affiliate programs and competing for affiliate attention. Quite a few tried to cut corners, taking the set-and-forget approach, auto-approving affiliates, not monitoring compliance, traffic, and sales.
Successful affiliates know that unmanaged programs mean:
- Low-quality coupon affiliates overwriting their cookies and stealing their commissions
- Fraud orders that the merchant will eventually catch and try to compensate by canceling commissions
- Insufficient or subpar creatives
- Broken links that ruin buyer experience
- Lack of communication on new campaigns and offers
- No technical support
As a merchant, you may save some money on management services, but you will lose a lot more on fraud orders, lost reputation, and lost sales, traffic, and brand awareness. Affiliates don’t promote brands that neglect their affiliate programs, especially in a competitive market where other brands beg them to accept samples, VIP commissions, and even paid campaigns. Therefore, professional management is key to a successful post-pandemic affiliate marketing program.
4. Invest in Omnichannel Marketing and a Holistic Approach
More and more merchants are dividing their marketing efforts by channel. Some even make their different teams and departments compete against one another or for budget, with zero communication between them. I’ve even seen brands start several affiliate programs on several platforms, ran by different teams.
That is a costly approach that will most likely fail in the long run, for several reasons:
- Affiliate marketing is not a channel, but can cover all channels, from PR to content, apps, paid ads, rewards, coupons, social media, email, and more.
- In many cases, your different teams and campaigns will reach the same audiences, and it’s important to do that with a coherent and cohesive message, otherwise, you may just confuse your affiliates and prospective buyers and drive them to competitors.
- By communicating, your teams can avoid overlaps and streamline their efforts.
- Different overlapping campaigns may end up cannibalizing one another and unnecessarily increasing your costs (think in-house and affiliate paid ads, exclusive discounts slipping on coupon websites, fraud transactions not caught, PR events and website promos not communicated to affiliates, retail partners with lower prices than your merchant website, sales touched by and paid to multiple affiliates from different platforms, etc.)
At the end of the day, you want to be perceived as a strong brand, with a solid marketing strategy, worth promoting on all channels, by any affiliate (you can and should, select your affiliates carefully). To make that happen, make sure your different teams work together, with the same goals, and send the same message.
5. Remember to Consider the Big Picture
Many merchants assess their margins and set a maximum commission they can afford to pay on every sale, so as not to lose money or still make a minimum profit. By not agreeing to exceed that limit for certain key affiliates, they close the door to endless opportunities. When assessing post-pandemic affiliate marketing partnerships, it is important to look beyond each sale, to consider:
- Potential – Some affiliates have the ability to refer thousands of website visitors and hundreds of buyers. Some of those buyers will browse incognito, use ad-blockers, or visit multiple affiliate websites before buying. Thus, by working with those particular affiliates, besides sales tracked and paid, you’ll also get sales with no commissions or on which you pay lower commissions to other affiliates in the clickstream.
- Influence on brand awareness and credibility – In order to send thousands of visitors to your website, big affiliates will most likely present your brand to hundreds of thousands of people who may have had no idea you exist. Moreover, if they’re industry leaders, their endorsement will become a selling point. Affiliates who are happy with their earnings will include your brand on lists of best products, and their endorsements could become badges, awards, and selling points by themselves.
- Impact on other affiliates’ promotions – When the most prominent reviewers in your industry endorse your products, others will follow. Even if they don’t notice and join your affiliate program by themselves, you can still reach out and use existing endorsements to earn more. Key affiliates’ promotions will also help with your presence in the media, as top editors often choose the brands to write about based on experts’ endorsements.
- Creative materials: When you can’t afford expensive photoshoots and videos, affiliates will often let you use the materials they create (don’t use them without permission, though). In some cases, their materials will have a greater impact than anything you could have created by yourself.
- In-house vs. affiliate ROI and investments – Some merchants invest the earnings from their affiliate campaigns in in-house marketing. For example, brands that see 4:1 or 5:1 average ROI with affiliates, invest most of their earnings in PPC campaigns with 2:1 or 3:1 ROI. While PPC campaigns are a necessity, instead of forcing in-house campaigns that don’t perform, it’s better to test running such campaigns through affiliates and re-invest the earnings in growing the most promising and profitable partnerships and building new ones.
- Impact on statistics – Affiliates often choose the brands they promote based on affiliate program statistics like network rank, category rank, average earnings per click, conversion, average commissions, etc. Sometimes, it’s worth paying a little more to a couple of key affiliates to build the image of a strong brand, likely to drive record revenues. You will see that, as your stats improve, more and more affiliates will join your affiliate program and want to promote you.
6. Think Outside the Box
Most merchants associate affiliate marketing with reviewers, content creators, and coupons alone. In fact, there are many more types of affiliates to target and engage:
- Employee Benefits Platforms
- Non-Competing Merchants
- Display, search, and social media ads specialists
- Conversion optimization affiliates
- Professionals in related niches
- Professional associations
- Email marketers
- Print media
- 2nd tier affiliates
We’ve covered 20 types of affiliates and how they can harm or grow your affiliate program here. Try to reach out and onboard as many as possible from each category, to make sure that you reach out to your target audience through all means, on all channels, to the point where they have no option but to buy from you and even refer you to others. That could guarantee your post-pandemic affiliate marketing success.
7. Don’t Try to Rule and Play Important
Affiliates don’t really care how you perceive your brand or what you want from them unless you’re willing to pay the asking price. For them, you’re just another brand begging for attention. Yes, you may be bigger and more successful than others. However, at the end of the day, they will prioritize:
- Brands that make them the most money, be it due to really high conversion rates, high payouts, or a combination of the two.
- Affiliate programs managed closely, with no room for affiliate fraud and parasitism.
- Merchants/managers providing prompt support and ensuring excellent communication.
- Brands that are financially stable and dedicated to growing and building long-term sustainable partnerships.
- Products with excellent selling points, for which there is considerable demand in the market.
Don’t be surprised if some affiliates will join your affiliate program and remain inactive for months. They often monitor stats and communications before putting in any effort. Some receive your messages and don’t even bother to reply. When they do answer and start to promote, don’t try to impose certain placements or govern their content, tell them which brands to promote and which to remove. It’s ok to ask what it would take for them to include your brand in certain articles or increase your rank, to suggest certain tests.
However, always remember that affiliates own their website and their content, and it’s their choice where and how they promote you (as long as they comply with your program terms). All you can do is motivate them to choose you over competitors and give you what you want. Treat your affiliates as equal partners and show respect for their work and commitment to their success. Your efforts will be rewarded in the long run. After all, affiliates are humans too, and they have their soft spots.
8. Stay Open to Affiliate Requests
Some affiliates will ask for products to review. Others will want backlinks, free content, trademark bidding rights, exclusive discounts, custom creatives, or co-branded campaigns. You’ll also receive tons of offers for paid collaborations and pay-per-click or EPC guarantee campaigns. It goes without saying that you won’t be able to honor all. However, many of those could open new opportunities, so keep an open mind and look for workarounds. Meeting affiliate needs could play an important role in your 2023 affiliate marketing success.
If you can’t (and you shouldn’t provide backlinks from homepage), you may be able to add them somewhere out of sight, perhaps in an old blog post, not exposed to affiliate traffic. When exclusive discounts are outside your margins, offer vanity codes or give the affiliate the option of sacrificing commissions in exchange for the higher discount so that you can stay within margins. Affiliates who offer paid campaigns may lower their expectations if you throw in samples, a higher commission, or a vanity code.
9. Warn Affiliates of Anything Impacting Their Promotions
Sometimes, despite your best efforts and best interests, you cannot avoid stock or supply chain issues. You may be forced to increase prices or your website may break down. Don’t play dead, praying that no one will notice! Warn your affiliates promptly, so that they can adjust their promotions and minimize their losses. They will understand the situation, appreciate the heads up, and start promoting you again when your problems are over. If they do find out the hard way, they will feel cheated, betrayed, and adjust their promotions anyway, most of the times without looking back.
10. Act on Feedback, Monitor Competitors, and Optimize
Your affiliates are a priceless source of information on best practices, competitors, and buyer behavior. Ask them for feedback and get their opinion on what you’re planning. Make them feel part of your processes, and they’ll be more likely to promote and stay by your side. And by all means, try to implement their feedback. After all, they are the experts in your industry and, unlike you, they’ve worked directly with your competitors and tested tens or hundreds of competing products.
And do keep an eye on competitors and try to keep up! If your products are not competitive, they won’t sell. Affiliates won’t be happy with their earnings, and they’ll stop promoting. Always monitor competitor activity, performance stats, and market trends, and use your findings to optimize your own activity. The learning process never stops, and your ability to learn, optimize, and grow will be very important for your post-pandemic affiliate marketing success.