With over two decades of practice and learning, affiliate marketing is nothing new, but the competitive online advertising landscape has drawn increasing attention to the channel. However, even as brands adopt this practice, best practices are changing, further developing the concept of affiliate marketing and its place in a changing media landscape.
Affiliate marketing managers can still achieve success, but simply focusing on the “affiliate” aspect of their job can limit options – for both the brand and the practitioner. For affiliate marketing programs and managers to make a real difference, they must move away from the old school idea of “affiliate” to the big picture exercise of “partnership development.”
The first place to start this transformation is to change the title of the Affiliate Manager. While brands are having success with traditional affiliate programs, the truth is that the functionality has been misclassified for a while now. What many consider to be a job search engine optimization is now a lot closer to business development, due to a shift in how brands and affiliates work together.
Successful and mature partnership programs can generate anywhere from 20% to 35% of a company’s revenue.
The change of title acknowledges this development for potential partners, while also updating the internal perspective, indicating a new approach to partnership management for the executive team and across the company.
The best and most relevant title options include “Global Partnerships Manager,” “Head of Partnership Development,” or even a simple “Business Development” title. This is what companies love Uber and Airbnb are already up and running in their teams. While potential clients engage with what traditionally falls under affiliate marketing, the term “affiliate” does not appear in their titles nor in their job descriptions.
Both companies have used partnerships to expand their global passenger/driver and guest/hosts groups very quickly. Airbnb’s shrewd strategy The focus is on partnerships that align with the concept of travel thinking, whether it’s travel brands or publishers pushing travel-oriented content.
In addition to the new title, associate directors must change their organization’s primary approach to partnership development. That’s exactly what BARK’s Kirk Houseman did, updating his title from Affiliate Marketing Director to Senior Growth Marketing Director, and inspiring the company to think outside the box by partnering with animal shelters. By selling subscription boxes to new parents of puppies, BARK saw revenue growth of 32% on National Dog Day, along with more than $96,000 that was donated to rescue organizations.
Achieving similar results requires overcoming the challenge of identifying and energizing new partners. To achieve this, brands must adopt a different framework for thinking about the growth of their partnership channels, which is centered around five key steps:
- Be open to different types of opportunities, from influencers to B2B partners, from nonprofits to strategic relationships.
- Find out which partners fall into these categories and align with the core strategy.
- Have a process in place for hiring these partners.
- Activate these partners to make sure they understand the brand and the products being advertised.
- Continuously engage partners to make sure both parties grow.
This approach isn’t too far off from what extended sales organizations have embraced years ago, with tactics such as the hunter-gatherer role. In some cases, fully adopting this new approach requires reorganizing the team structure. A modern partnership organization needs a manager, an analyst, and a business development role, all working together to achieve the same goal. The new path forward requires picking up the phone to nurture relationships, rather than waiting for them to register organically.
new technology stack
In order to support the needs of expansion programs that include thousands of partnerships, advertisers need to make sure they have the right tools for their teams. The main goal is to automate most of the required tasks. Implementing a well-managed program requires more than 500 tasks each quarter. If handled manually, this amount of work will severely limit the productivity of each team member.
It is important that the combination of technologies allows team members to automate the entire lifecycle of partnership management, including discovery, recruitment, hiring, contracting, tracking, and attribution analytics. Whether you plan to use an integrated vertical solution or a few different providers that work well together, you want to enable your partnership team to focus on growing relationships, not maintaining spreadsheets.
Limiting the role to traditional affiliate tactics is still valuable, but it is losing relevance in the broader market and not the significant revenue opportunity that many organizations are looking for. Successful and mature partnership programs can generate anywhere from 20% to 35% of a company’s revenue. Affiliate managers looking to transform their career prospects should be careful to steward this large chunk of revenue and become irreplaceable value to their companies, rather than pursue the smaller opportunities they can capture from a narrowly focused affiliate approach.
In September 2018, Impact acquired Mediarails, a provider of marketing automation technology to develop and sustain marketing partnerships, helping advertisers and agencies improve media revenue and performance marketing partnerships.