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How to Sell Affiliate Marketing to Your Peers

Posted on 10.09.2016

:: By Jamie Birch, JEBCommerce ::


Many channels have experienced the loneliness of being left out of key strategic discussions. Whether you've been managing SEO efforts for a decade or are new to the scene optimizing mobile landing pages, odds are you've personally experienced the frustration of being left out of key decisions.

The affiliate channel has experienced just this problem for the entirety of its existence, with a reputation that precedes it. Since the early days of the Internet, affiliate marketing has always been a part of the marketing mix. Its biggest selling point, on the side of the affiliate publisher, has been the low barrier to entry. Create a website, post links, build traffic and the checks will come. To this day that hope of a full-time check with part-time work is still touted by gurus and “experts” from one side of the 'Net to the other.

The Arguments

That strength quickly turned into one of the main weaknesses of the channel, however. Along with the solid business plans and strategies came an onslaught of poorly designed and executed websites that did nothing more than annoy the channel managers and create more work to turn them away. Add to that the history of many bad apples overwriting other affiliate publisher’s commissions, dropping cookies on advertisers’ other campaigns (in effect taking credit for sales that wouldn’t otherwise be attributed in addition to increasing overall digital marketing costs) and using other nefarious means to “earn” commissions and it’s easy to see why many have viewed affiliate marketing with a skeptical eye. 

There’s another trend in the affiliate channel that lowers its likelihood to be considered a top channel. And that’s the tendency among different players in the space to consider the affiliate channel as unique and somehow above the scrutiny advertisers place on other channels. This sort of arrogance hasn’t helped the affiliate industry earn its rightful place among the many digital marketing options on the table.

The Reality of the Channel

The affiliate channel has been one of the pioneers in the areas of display, SEO, SEM, retargeting and every other marketing tool available. Forester has projected the channel will grow to $6.8 billion by 2020. The State of Retailing Online Report reported this year that 38 percent of online merchants noted affiliate marketing as one of the top five strategies and tactics for online customer acquisition. And in 2016, Commission Junction by Conversant, a major affiliate network, surveyed its 4,200 advertisers globally and reported that 72 percent responded that they were likely or extremely likely to increase their spend on the affiliate channel in the years to come.

The affiliate channel has a few characteristics no other channel can claim. Within any well-managed affiliate program exists tremendous expertise, experience and years of demonstrated success in every single channel. It’s the only channel that offers you this breadth and depth of experience. And hundreds of organizations are available to expand marketing, sales and new customer acquisition. It is also proven to be one of the most cost-effective and targeted channels.

Stating Your Case

So why isn’t it firmly seated at the table when discussing overall strategy? The path for those in the affiliate channel is the same for any marketer that shares this pain. If you’re experiencing this yourself right now we hope this helps you deal with something we in the affiliate space have dealt with for a long time. Here are five steps to get a seat at the table.

The first step is education. 

As with any channel, education within your organization is key. The other departments and channel managers need to know what you do, how you do it, how it helps the company achieve its goals and how it can help them achieve theirs. Too many times emerging channels, as well as long standing ones like affiliate, refrain from shouting their successes within the organization. Leaders of these channels need to inform and educate across the board.

Second, the channel needs the same scrutiny other areas receive.

Affiliate programs need to be measured with the same metrics in mind as the other marketing channels. Too often the channel is grouped together as one entity, but each partnership needs to be evaluated on it’s own merits. One bad apple really should be one bad apple, not a bad channel.  

Third, channels need to share their successes, concerns and when they self-police, that needs to be public as well.

The affiliate channel does a horrible job of sharing each other’s successes as an industry. When it is done, data is limited and a theme of protecting ones secret sauce is always apparent. For any digital channel to be viewed in the proper light, our broader industry must be able to see real successes.  

Fourth, channel managers must cooperate.

All too often digital marketers get isolated within silos, and the affiliate channel is no different. This breeds a hesitance to work with other departments in your organization. This isolation leads to misunderstanding of the channel, its strengths and weaknesses and is a huge part why it is marginalized.

And finally, how we speak about the channel that matters.

The affiliate industry has always had a familiar tone in how it talked about itself. It’s done the channel a disservice and kept the outside world from understanding the true power and skill of the affiliate industry. This lexicon needs to change internally before the greater digital community fully understands and appreciates the unique skill set and abilities the affiliate space brings to digital marketing.

Missing out on key strategic discussions is a common challenge to all digital channels at one point or another. But with a little bit of work, it can be just a quick pause on the way to your rightful seat at the table. 


Jamie Birch is the CEO of JEBCommerce.com, an award-winning performance marketing agency. Birch has been running marketing programs for Fortune 500 companies for more than 15 years.

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